Thursday, May 13, 2021

‘Orwell’s Animal Farm’ stays a bit too close to source material

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George orwell Animal farm: a fairy tale is a beloved parable set on a farm in England, where rebellious animals are the critics of the corruption and downfall of the Communist Revolution in Russia. It is also a story that has often been designed to serve different meanings for different groups of people.

In 1946 Orwell received a letter (documented in the book George Orwell: a life in letters) by a colleague, Dwight Macdonald, who reported that anti-Stalinists around him “claimed that the parable of Farm animal meant that the revolution always ended badly for the underdog, “so to hell and salute the status quo”. In his response, Orwell made sure to clarify his thoughts, writing: “If people think I am defending the status quo, it is, I think, because they have become pessimistic and assume he is not. there is no other alternative than dictatorship or laissez-faire capitalism. He pointed out that if there was one lesson behind his parable, it was “you cannot have a revolution unless you do it yourself; there is no such thing as a benevolent dictatorship.

Imre Jele, co-founder of The Dairymen, video game developers Orwell Animal Farm, seems to share much of Orwell’s feelings. In a letter sent as part of the game’s press kit, he reflects on his own upbringing in Communist Hungary: “George Orwell’s words spoke to me. Somehow, I felt his fantastic story of talking animals on Manor Farm reflected life under authoritarian rule. In light of his history, and in light of the contemporary world’s shift towards strongman, fascist politics, Erle and the rest of his team felt the need to “bring to gamers Orwell’s study on the ‘iniquity, control and corrosive power’.

My own reading experience Farm animal and playing his video game adaptation is, of course, colored by my personal history with Orwell’s story. I learned the book in an American elementary school in the 1990s, from teachers who had known the American side of the Cold War and who, like Macdonald’s colleagues, saw in large part Farm animal as a work of support for capitalism, western democracy and the status quo. During this time my own radical parents raised me with a healthy fear of the capitalist forces that blew up American markets at the same time as budgets were cut in almost every social program, including the schools where I was educated. pro-capitalist.

Under these conditions, it was hard not to associate the book with the many institutions I despised (and surely Orwell would too): a neoliberal government loving austerity, as well as conservative teachers in underfunded public schools; one of them approached me once during class for not correctly reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, as was required in every public school class in America. She took me outside and asked me sternly if I wouldn’t rather starve in bread fillets in Communist Russia, somehow still stuck in the personal paranoia of a place that at the time I was at school no longer even existed.

These self-serving interpretations have largely marred my ability to appreciate the wit and intelligence of Orwell’s edifying tale, nor his admirably sharp political analysis. This, after all, is the weakness of all satire: it is made or undone by the way it is delivered and subsequently received. As successful as Orwell’s feat may have originally been, he also exists in a world and alongside an ever-changing politics that are more than happy to twist and manipulate his narrative for purposes entirely different. After Orwell’s death in 1950, for example, Farm animal and 1984 were adapted into films, both funded and significantly modified by the CIA.

Given the curious malleability of a work with such a seemingly simple message, I entered the video game adaptation curious as to how the additional interactivity inherent in the medium would influence or alter the meaning of Orwell’s original words. . I was interested to see if a story that had been taught to me as a lesson in why a better world just wasn’t possible could, instead, offer something more open and less normative, like that was Orwell’s original intention.

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