Over the weekend I read George Orwell’s gripping novel, 1984. To give you a brief summary, the story follows a middle aged man named Winston Smith as he wrestles with oppression in Oceania, a place where the ‘Party’ scrutinises human actions with ever-watchful Big Brother. Working, eating, talking, thinking, procreating and simply living, all are controlled by the state. Any hint of obedience or dislike can be detected by various apparatus such as the Thought Police, telescreen, or even your children, who will not hesitate to betray you to the authorities. Even language is modified in such ways that you cannot express yourself, since individualism is a crime.
It was a great read, and all the while I couldn’t help but reflect on the connection between the book and a number of advertisements that I had seen made for ‘Scarfolk Council’, which is a fictitious dystopian town in Northwest England. Scarfolk Council is a hilarious but twisted blog of 70s-era posters, ads, product labels, book excerpts, and other media. The town and its prodigious output of nonsense are from the imagination of Richard Littler, a designer and screenwriter. Highlights include textbook excerpts on male and female reproduction systems, a twisted auto safety poster, and the “Don’t” campaign.
After some research into the connection between 1984 and Scarfolk, I found that the Scarfolk blog features a newsagent and music shop called ‘W.Smith’, named after the protagonist of 1984. The story behind the store is this:
When Winston Smith retired from the Records Department at the Ministry of Truth, he decided to open his own high-street Records Department in Scarfolk. Daily newspapers were updated every 3 minutes and anyone possessing an out-of-date edition was arrested, prosecuted for dissent, and declared a “Scarfnot” (An “unperson” in Scarfolk).
Books were also constantly rewritten and “unbook” tokens were available. These tokens could be exchanged for any given book’s amended pages. Indeed, some books were corrected so frequently that maintaining a single book could run into hundreds if not thousands of pounds.
A book’s contents could change drastically. For example, by 1979, the erotic sci-fi thriller, “Affordable Brothel of the 9th Moon of Jupiter,” bore little resemblance to its first edition, which was originally titled the “New Testament,” a story about a Galilean carpenter who opens a budget furniture store in Sweden.
Most people found it easier not to buy or read books.