The Seduction of Winston Smith

In Ezio Di Nucci & Stefan Storrie (eds.), 1984 and Philosophy. Open Court (2018)
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On the first page of 1984, Winston Smith is confronted with several posters featuring the face of Big Brother and the famous sentence, “BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU.” This may not seem like a promising way to seduce someone, but the seduction of Winston Smith by Big Brother in 1984 is a most unusual love story. I call it a seduction because Winston’s mind and heart are slowly won over in the aptly-named Ministry of Love. Moreover, in the final scene of the novel, Winston gazes, with tears in his eyes, up at Big Brother on the telescreen. The last sentence of the book states, simply, “He loved Big Brother.” How does Big Brother seduce Winston Smith? He certainly does not employ stereotypical methods. Big Brother is not particularly sexy, and his incessant angry shouting does not seem calculated to foster adoration. On top of that, Winston never meets Big Brother in person. His only access is through media: posters, stories, and the telescreen. We all know that it’s hard to maintain a long-distance relationship. Long-distance seduction is even more challenging. So how does Big Brother manage it? To answer this question, I use the theory of seduction first articulated by the philosopher John Forrester (1990, p. 42), who argues that “the first step in a seductive maneuver could be summed up as, ‘I know what you’re thinking.’”
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