Rereading 1984

By David Michael Newstead.

Last summer, I unexpectedly found a first edition of George Orwell’s 1984 in a used bookstore in Washington D.C. The novel had been buried in a pile of miscellaneous paperbacks, hiding in plain sight. For how long? I’m not sure. So when I realized what it was, I immediately grabbed it and headed to the register. I guess I was surprised to even see something that rare. Then again, finding the book in 2016 might have been an omen of things to come. Eagerly, I bought it and re-read it. The story, of course, was the same: Big Brother, the Thought Police, and the rest. The difference was that the world around me had changed since the last time I’d read it. It’s a book that only becomes more relevant with each passing day. And in some countries, it isn’t far from reality as it is.

Besides the narrative though, the paperback itself started to intrigue me: the look, the feel, how the pages smell, how it fits in my hands, the original cover art, and the signs of wear and tear from over the years. This particular copy was slightly beat up, but still in good condition for something printed in the late 1940s. And that’s when I thought about it more. Here’s an object – almost 70 years old now – that’s an analog relic in an increasingly digital world. It is a lingering connection to and a warning from the distant past. When it was first printed, World War Two had just finished and the Cold War was in its earliest stages.

Plenty has happened since then and who knows where this book was for all those years before I got it. Regardless, today some Orwellian themes are just a description of disturbing norms across the planet: widespread government surveillance, propaganda, and political doublespeak. Maybe the methods have been updated overtime, but there’s a reason 1984 and other dystopian novels have had skyrocketing sales lately. George Orwell, for his part, fought against fascism and oppression and passionately believed in objective truth. Safe to say, that battle continues.

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Toxic Masculinity in Focus

By David Michael Newstead.

As part of an on-going series about Toxic Masculinity, I’ve been speaking to a number of women I know regarding their day-to-day experiences with men. Below is a conversation with Abigail (not her real name) on the realities of living and working in Washington D.C.

David Newstead: So, how prevalent are misogyny and sexism in your life?

Abigail: I don’t mean to laugh, but it’s basically everywhere.

David Newstead: Can you describe some of these daily run-ins?

Abigail: Funnily enough the amount of run-ins I had decreased quite a bit once I left my old job. But in general getting hit on or stared at if I wear anything “too” short or revealing, being told to smile by strangers, random sexist graffiti like on the metro.

At my old job, it came out a lot in job roles. Automatically being given “housework” tasks like setting up/food ordering/event planning. Men on my team and others being given a lot more platitude to fuck up or voice concerns while women were not. All while knowing that just about every single man was making more (usually much more) than women in the same position or higher. That doesn’t really happen at my new job, or if it does I don’t notice it.

But other things that are more general include worrying that if I don’t put on makeup to go to work I won’t be taken as seriously. Or when I was negotiating my offer the fact that I had to consider my boss’ “feelings” and make sure that I wasn’t being too forward in my time while I was daring to ask for more. But overall in my experience men are given more opportunities and are given a lot more room to fuck up before anything is done about it. Not just in work, but in all aspects of life.

I’ve been asked in a job interview if I was planning on getting married or if I was in a serious relationship. Men who hit on me only stop if I lie and say I’m married or have a boyfriend. I literally wear my mom’s wedding band on my right hand and switch it to my left when I don’t want to be bothered by someone. Getting honked at, followed in cars, cat called and followed down the street.

Oh and my favorite is guys at a bar who think their best version of an opening line is to introduce themselves and then start to criticize something about me. Then shortly thereafter ask my friend and I if we’ve ever made out. Again, funny enough, this type of thing doesn’t happen when I’m out with guy friends. And if a guy does try to hit on me while I’m out with male friends, he almost always asks one of them if it’s “okay” first. Because a lot more men than you wouldn’t see women as equals, but as means to an end. An entity that exists solely to support them. And if you aren’t supportive at all times, even to complete strangers, you’re a bitch or a whore.

I know toxic masculinity exists because it’s been ingrained in me to constantly be thinking about other people’s feelings. And horribly enough, even more so men’s feelings, to protect myself. I have to be polite and smile when I tell men I’m not interested because otherwise he could start yelling or turn violent. I’ve seen it happen.

It’s been happening basically all my life so unfortunately you get used to it. It helped that I went to an all-girls middle and high school, so the experiences didn’t really ramp up until college and post grad. I didn’t really have the terminology for it until recently to be honest. You kind of just accept it as how the world works. If I let myself get angry every time it happened I wouldn’t be a pleasant happy person. But when asked I can definitely tell some stories as you can see.

Walking home alone is not a thing, especially if wearing anything remotely close to revealing. Same with late night metro rides: not a thing. I mean I don’t get hit on every single day at least overtly, not counting silent stares or whatever. But I think that’s only because my commute is mainly other people going to work so everyone is focused on their phones or whatever.

The New Russia: Book Review

By David Michael Newstead.

Mikhail Gorbachev’s book, The New Russia, offers a glimpse at history from a decidedly rare point of view. Few Russian leaders have lived for so long after their time in office. So then, few others could ever provide the kind of perspective that Gorbachev gives as he reflects on the end of Communism and his last day in the Kremlin to the tumultuous years that followed and events right up to the present. Of those first years after Communism, he lists off a string of crises that plagued the nation as it transitioned to a new form of government.

  • The collapse of the Soviet Union; the rolling back of democracy in almost all the republics; chaos in the economy, exploited by the greediest and most unscrupulous, who succeeded in plunging almost everyone else into poverty; ethnic conflicts and bloodshed in Russia and other republics; and, finally, the shelling of the Supreme Soviet of Russia in October 1993.

The book is filled with letters, speeches, photographs, and interview excerpts from throughout these years. But in all, it shows a man trying to defend the decisions he made and watching from the sidelines at the people who came to power after him, for better or worse. He explores the war in Chechnya, the economic turmoil throughout the 1990s, the eventual rise of Vladimir Putin, NATO expansion, the rollback of democratic reforms, the war with Georgia, Ukraine, and more. As Gorbachev thought about the past as well as the present, two passages stuck out at me.

  • Already I was aware of just how deeply rooted the legacy of totalitarianism was, in our traditions, in people’s mindset and morality. It had seeped into almost every pore of the social organism. That deeply troubled me in those days and, more than 20 years later, still does.
  • We are living in the twenty-first century, a century of new technologies and new challenges. Conservative ideology has no answer to these. Traditional, conservative values do, along with others, have their place in society. But where have conservative policies taken us in the history of Russia? They have led, as a rule, to stagnation followed by upheaval. Sometimes the years of stagnation have been relatively prosperous, living off reforms carried through earlier and favorable external factors. Sooner or later, however, that energy runs out, the external factors change.