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George Orwell: A literary celebrity in the age of PRISM
Sales of 1984 have spiked in the wake of recent revelations about the NSA's surveillance programs
 
It's George Orwell's world and you're just living in it.
It's George Orwell's world and you're just living in it. Signet Classic

George Orwell would probably be shocked to see sales of his books skyrocketing in the summer of 2013, 63 years after his death.

But with the recent revelations about the government's clandestine intelligence-gathering operations, that's exactly what he'd find.

Sales of 1984, his classic dystopian novel about an all-seeing oppressive government, shot up 3,000 percent on Amazon since last week. And by Tuesday, the book had peaked at number 194 on the site, up from 6,750 one day earlier.

The sudden uptick has been attributed to the frequent mentions of 1984 and comparisons of President Obama to Big Brother, the novel's insidious personification of the state. A single opinion piece in The Hill last week cited "Big Brother" eight times.

Still, this is hardly the first time Orwell has enjoyed a renewed popularity thanks to controversial government actions.

George W. Bush drew comparisons to Orwell's works throughout his presidency. Bush's authorization of a warrantless wiretapping program led Keith Olbermann, among others, to liken him to Big Brother.

"Uncle Sam is watching you," Olbermann warned, tweaking 1984's well-known slogan.

A Seattle Times editorial also panned Bush's record on civil rights following the NSA revelations, contending that Orwell "wrote Bush's script."

Even before that, Bush's critics had compared many of his policies to Orwell's foreboding visions. With the U.S. firmly entrenched in Afghanistan and eyeing Iraq, the San Francisco Chronicle asked in 2002 if Bush had plagiarized 1984 by pursuing an endless war, justified in the book with the slogan "War Is Peace." And in a Los Angeles Times opinion piece that same year, Jonathan Turley, remarking on government databases of personal information, declared, "Long thought dead, it now appears that Orwell is busy at work in the darkest recesses of the Bush administration."

Later in Bush's presidency, Salon charged that even Orwell "could not have invented a more Orwellian tale than the actual story of the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq."

Democracy Now! made perhaps the most thorough comparison, once airing a segment pairing footage of Bush with snippets of the text.

It's not just American leaders who get the Orwell treatment, either.

The Tea Party has been called Orwellian. So, too, have the British Parliament and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, to cite only a few examples.

And if you thought Obama was only now being bashed as an Orwellian goon, think again. Critics have drawn the connection for years, over everything from his drone program to his speeches.

All of which is to say that Orwell has become shorthand for warning against any perceived tilt toward authoritarianism. And his name is sure to pop up again and again as states around the world use new technologies to ramp up their surveillance efforts in the digital era.

 
Jon Terbush is an associate editor at TheWeek.com covering politics, sports, and other things he finds interesting. He has previously written for Talking Points Memo, Raw Story, and Business Insider.

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