Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Orwell. Huxley. And LaGuardia.

I had a conversation with someone yesterday, a rare person in advertising whom I actually respect. He's a smart guy and he has a larger view than that of most of the myopics that rule the business.

We talked--briefly--there can be no spontaneity in our Microsoft-meetinged-world, all time is apportioned out in 15-minute increments and I had been granted just one. He told me he wanted me to be more of a mentor, to help people become better "story-tellers."

I pushed back and said, I think it's more elemental than that. I can't even comprehend most of the "I'm leaving the company" memos that go out. I think we need to start with Orwell's 6-principles of good writing.

So in the interest of starting, here they are, from Orwell 1946 essay "Politics and the English Language":

"I think the following rules will cover most cases:
  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never us a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous. 


    While we're on the topic of Orwell--always a dangerous subject when you're in the tyranny of a medieval American airport, I thought I'd quote a little Neil Postman from his modern classic "Amusing Ourselves to Death."

    "What Orwell feared were those who would ban books.

    "What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one.

    "Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much information that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism.

    "Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us.

    Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.

    "Orwell feared we would become a captive culture.

    Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy.

    "As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny 'failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distraction.'

    In "1984," Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In "Brave New World," they are controlled by inflicting pleasure.

    "In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us.

    Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us."



dave trott said...

Love the last two sentences George.
Obviously Huxley was right.

Ciaran said...

Yes, and Mr. Trott is right again.

Tom C said...

Isn't the real point that they're both right///

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