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How did the expression 'big brother' originate?


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Answered 2008-04-06 01:36:39

'''Before we were bombarded with the Television reality series, "Big Brother" described any overly-inquisitive or overly-controlling authority figure, or attempts by government to increase surveillance. So where did the term originate?''' "Big Brother" is a fictional character in George Orwell's novel "Nineteen Eighty-Four" (penned in 1948). Big Brother is the enigmatic dictator of Oceania, a totalitarian state taken to its utmost logical consequence.

In the society described by Orwell, everybody is under total surveillance by the authorities via telescreens (combined camera/screens) and spies. The people are constantly reminded of this by the phrase "Big Brother is watching you", which is the core "truth" of the propaganda system in this state. The physical description of "Big Brother" is reminiscent of Joseph Stalin or Lord Kitchener.

In Orwell's novel, it is not clear if he actually exists as a person, or is an image crafted by the state - a personification of the totalitarian Party ruling Oceania. It is stated in the book that "nobody has ever seen Big Brother. He is a face on the hoardings, a voice on the telescreen… Big Brother is the guise in which the Party chooses to exhibit itself to the world. His function is to act as a focusing point for love, fear, and reverence, emotions which are more easily felt towards an individual than towards an organization."

In the essay section of his novel 1985, Anthony Burgess states that Orwell got the idea for Big Brother from advertising hoardings current during World War II for educational correspondence courses run by a company called Bennett's.

The original posters are claimed to have shown Bennett himself - a kindly looking old man offering guidance and support to would-be students, with the slogan: "Let me be your father."

When Bennett died, his company was inherited by his son, whose rather aggressive-looking face appeared on the posters instead, accompanied by the unappealing slogan: "Let me be your big brother."

The ideological basis for Big Brother likely comes from Leo Tolstoy's novel War and Peace, particularly the discussion of the science of history in part two of that book's epilogue. Napoleon Bonaparte and various other military and political figures traditionally revered as geniuses, are presented in the theory of history Tolstoy opposes as the cause of the movement of humanity and nations. Orwell appears to call upon this previous work by his invention of just such a patriarchal figure.

The historical background during which Orwell wrote his work included several national leaders who had held considerable power, including British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, German chancellor Adolf Hitler, and Soviet premier Joseph Stalin. Stalin, among other leaders, is often cited to have developed a cult of personality around himself.

Additionally, Big Brother's omnipotent, omniscient, eternal, and non-verifiable nature (as well as his demand for absolute obedience) have led some to suggest that Big Brother may have been a parody of God.

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