Comparative Essay: "Panopticism" vs. "1984"

Essay by BanditKongCollege, UndergraduateB-, March 2007

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Although Michel Foucault’s "Panopticism" has a different form of control in the society as portrayed in George Orwell’s 1984, they both have many similarities among one another.

“Two ways of exercising power over men, of controlling their relations, of separating out their dangerous mixtures. The plague stricken town, transversed throughout with hierarchy, surveillance, observation, writing; the town immobilized by the functioning of an extensive power that bears in a distinct way over all individual bodies-this is the utopia of the perfectly governed city” (224, Foucault)Foucault’s quote describes the society in Oceania in Orwell’s 1984, where it describes the controls put on the citizens through control of relation, surveillance, and separating out their dangerous mixtures, which helps Big Brother obtain a government system. Although this “utopian” society relies on more than one means of control, the most significant method would be through surveillance. In 1984, the surveillance is achieved by the painful, constant presence of the telescreen.

No individual was free of the thought that the watchful telescreen would catch you in some act, which would lead to punishment. Foucault writes: “This enclosed, segmented space, observed at every point, in which the individuals are inserted in a fixed place, in which the slightest movements are supervised, in which all events are recorded.” (223, Foucault) Foucault’s concept of the panopticon and Orwell’s telescreen serves the same purpose in which the constant threat of being punished will cause people to behave as the society is told to. To have the threat of being watched present, but not knowing whether or not you are being watched is what leads you to become that ideal member of the “utopia” which in essence is exactly what the government wants. The effect of the telescreen was simply complete control over Winston’s every move, thought, and word...