First, let’s start with a handy explanation of “orwellian” from wikipedia:
“Orwellian” is an adjective describing a situation, idea, or societal condition that George Orwell identified as being destructive to the welfare of a free and open society. It denotes an attitude and a brutal policy of draconian control by propaganda, surveillance, misinformation, denial of truth, and manipulation of the past… …practised by modern repressive governments.
George Orwell is a political writer, most known for his dystopian sci-fi novel “1984”, which managed to remains a frequently referenced piece of work in academia, politic discourse and popculture. To label something as “orwellian” is basically an indictment of the oppressive methods of the respective real or fictional government. Orwellian imagery therefore often has overlap with facist imagery, while usually not being as militaristic.
It is frequently used in popculture to establish an oppressive government for the protagonist to rebel against – usually with the twist that the protagonists themselves and the citizens around them have yet to realize that they are being oppressed, since Orwellian tactics are much about the control of informations and opinions. It creates a fertile environment for anti-heroes and vigilantes – popular protagonists in action driven games – since the “system” can no longer be trusted.
Frequent themes are secret agencies, abuse of information technology, spies, propaganda, corrupt media, secret and militarized police, mind control. Often combined with fascist military imagery, consumerism, classism and capitalism, as well as street art and underground culture – often youth culture – to fight those systems.
key ideas/tropes of Orweillian Fiction
- governments oppressing their own citizens, with many citizens accepting it
- brutal and militarized, often secret police, security forces and agencies
- abuse of information technology, surveillance, broadcasting, print and public surfaces
- control of public opinions through political propaganda, manipulated information, silencing of dissent and the constant threat or surveillance and punishment
- suppression of free thinking and individualism
- individual citizens rebelling in public or via underground movements
- street art and vandalism in opposition to government controlled media
Examples of media with heavy use of Orwellian imagery and themes:
adjacent genres / subgenres
- masked vigilante
- fascist aesthetics
- super cop