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The Phenomenon of Mass-Emotion



It's just over two years since the terrible atrocity carried out on the 11th of September 2001. For some, even the mere mention of the numbers nine and eleven in the same sentence spark a powerful emotional response. (On the ministry while working in a local street, the do-not-calls were read out as 9, 11, and 77… One poor sister almost fainted.)

But without undermining the gravity and great sadness of what happened, if we personally did not loose anyone to the attacks, should we really hold this date in such reverence? The 14th of August is not held in the same estime. Do you even know what happened then? … Hiroshima, 1945… I have no doubt that many know that it was in 1945 but I doubt many would know the exact date. To the point, we do not know the Hiroshima atrocity carried out by America as 8-14.

In fact 9-11 has begun to be treated with irreverence. Many a time I have heard, “Where were you on September 11th?” What has that got to do with anything!? It has become a mass emotion not unlike that elicited from the media when Diana, Princess of Wales died. There was even a song that became cliché after only a week of being aired on the television. All the crying, sobbing, blubbering, and carrying on, was it genuine? No doubt Diana did many good things for child victims of landmines and many others benefited from her kindness, but how many people wept profusely and publicly in the street when Mother Theresa passed away a week later. Reflect on the fickle nature of humanity…

The Two Minutes Silence held at 11 o’clock on the 11th day of the 11th month of each year prompted everyone in Lewisham Shopping Centre to stand still and ‘reflect’. Reflect on what may I ask (again not in any way underestimating the importance of such a remembrance.). One lady was so upset that a young boy continued to ride his skateboard, that she actually broke the silence herself in order to strongly reprimand the boy. “How dare you disrespect what they did for us in the War. People died for your freedom,” she said. In my opinion the Silence is a subtle form of mass-emotion because it is merely a ceremony that has completely lost it’s meaning for all but a small amount of senior citizens and a scatter of appreciative others. For most people it is just a meaningless ritual that must be carried out every year because it is expected of them. It is the antithesis of the Orwellian Two-Minutes-Hate…

If you have read the book ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ by George Orwell, you will no doubt be familiar with the notion of mass emotion. Under the oppressive regime of The Ingsoc Party, Britain (or Airstrip One as it is referred to in the book) is caught up in a mass emotion of hate for the enemy and love for it’s political leader Big Brother (the origin of the now clichéd term). Every day, the citizens of Oceania are brought together to carry out the aforementioned Two Minute Hate. This consists of shouting abuse at one of the enemies of the government. Here is a short excerpt from the book:

    The next moment a hideous, grinding speech, as of some monstrous machine running without oil, burst from the big telescreen at the end of the room. It was a noise that set one’s teeth on edge and bristled the hair at the back of one’s neck. The [Two Minutes] Hate had started.

    As usual, the face of Emmanuel Goldstein, the Enemy of the People, had flashed on to the screen. There were hisses here and there among the audience. The little sandy-haired woman gave a squeak of mingled fear and disgust. Goldstein was the renegade and backslider who once, long ago (how long ago, nobody quite remembered), had been one of the leading figures of the Party, almost on a level with Big Brother himself, and then had engaged in counter-revolutionary activities, had been condemned to death, and had mysteriously escaped and disappeared. The programmes of the Two Minutes Hate varied from day to day, but there was none in which Goldstein was not the principal figure. He was the primal traitor, the earliest defiler of the Party’s purity. All subsequent crimes against the Party, all treacheries, acts of sabotage, heresies, deviations, sprang directly out of his teaching. Somewhere or other he was still alive and hatching his conspiracies: perhaps somewhere beyond the sea, under the protection of his foreign paymasters, perhaps even—so it was occasionally rumoured—in some hiding-place in Oceania itself.

    Winston’s diaphragm was constricted. He could never see the face of Goldstein without a painful mixture of emotions.

    […Goldstein] was abusing Big Brother, he was denouncing the dictatorship of the Party, he was demanding the immediate conclusion of peace with Eurasia, he was advocating freedom of speech, freedom of the Press, freedom of assembly, freedom of thought, he was crying hysterically that the revolution had been betrayed—and all this in rapid polysyllabic speech which was a sort of parody of the habitual style of the orators of the Party.

While our society has not reached such a blatant level of hysteria, we are constantly bombarded by images and phrases designed to induce mass emotion.

    “Allied troops liberated Iraq and sustained collateral damage through use of highly advanced targeting systems.”

There’s nothing wrong with this sentence you might say. But try translating it into English; try to understand what really happened.

    “American war troops invaded Iraq and killed innocent men, women and children in a brutal bombing campaign.”

The sad thing is that neither Winston the protagonist, nor the people actually knew why they hated Goldstein so much and what he had done that was so wrong. In fact if you read the last paragraph again, he was advocating what we would think are extremely desirable things; peace, freedom of speech, of thought, of assembly, and of the Press. Reflect on the power of mass emotion…

Essay Submitted 1 December 2003
Written by Dorayakii


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