Meme Magic: “OK, Big Brother”

When they say there is no evidence of v*ter fr**d:  “OK, Big Brother.”

When they say Global Warming is settled science: “OK, Big Brother.”

When they say Science proves we need Covid restrictions in order to be safe: “OK, Big Brother.”

When they say we need the Great Reset to save the human race: “OK, Big Brother.”

And so on.

Apply as needed. Your mileage may vary.

[In case it’s not obvious, the allusion is to Orwell.]

40 thoughts on “Meme Magic: “OK, Big Brother”

  1. “Whatever enableth a people to dominate and conquer and shine . . . that is regarded as the high, the first, the standard . . .” (Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1885))

    “If he is a person naturally orthodox (in Newspeak a Goodthinker), he will in all circumstances know, without taking thought, what is the true belief or the desirable emotion.” George Orwell, 1984 (1948)

    The discomfort of adjusting to new lies is how we little people know there has been a change in upper management. Inability to make that adjustment and become a goodthinker is how the new upper management decides who to fire.

  2. This is a very Boomer form of the meme. Maybe it works for your generation, but it falls flat to my ears.

    Which is fine, because that’s how memes work. They have to engage their target audience, and the target is almost never everyone.

    • “OK Boomer” is said by Gen Z (or Millenials), at Boomers. And if they can say “OK Boomer,” they can say “OK Big Brother.”

      It’s not a generational thing. “Big Brother” is a trans-generational concept.

    • It might be more effective if 1984 was not required reading for most high schoolers. When Big Brother owns the insult and forces you to read the inside scoop, it defangs the book.

      • I don’t think so. It’s like a conman who wins your confidence by warning you to be on the lookout for conmen. If my public school teacher gives me a book that warns against Big Brother, I will tend to think that Big Brother is something quite different than my public school teacher. On top of this, the most penetrating critiques can be dulled by turning them into platitudes, jokes and clichés. I think this is what is meant by “owning the insult.”

      • My three children were taught nothing about communism in school. They did learn a lot about Nazis, though. My sense is that the Left coopted 1984, or at least its Newspeak vocabulary, when they retconned totalitarianism as a right-wing phenomenon. But now that the Left is Big Brother, words like crimethink are mostly heard on the dissident right.

      • Bonald asks “ Don’t people still sort of have the impression of 1984 as an anti-communist book?”
        I’m a high school English teacher, and I’ve always taught it as an anti-communist book. I believe my coworkers who teach it do as well, although I wouldn’t be surprised if leftist teachers preferred not to teach it at all. They’d probably condemn it as “white male literature that doesn’t relate to our students” rather than explicitly deriding its anti-communism.

      • I’m glad to hear that you and your colleagues teach it that way, and will confess to a penchant for the lugubrious. But the erasure of communism is astonishing. Well, not astonishing, appalling.

      • Every English teacher teaches it as an anti-communist book. The only problem is that English teachers, apologies Cleary, don’t tend to know anything about anything. So communist = “dictatorship” as opposed to “democracy” or “that thing that happened in Russia” or some silly nonsense. What fraction of high school English teachers can define democratic centralism?

      • Josh, I agree with your assessment of how it’s taught, and would generally question the wisdom of separating Literature from History.

        T. Morris, while I find [i]Brave New World[/i] less engaging from a literary perspective, it seems more applicable to present circumstances.

      • It’s more anti-Stalin than anti-Communist as such. Orwell was on the Red side for the Spanish Civil War (see, of course, his Homage to Catalonia). Social control has become very subtle with the advance of technology. One of the problems with communism (among many, to put it mildly) is that utopia is never achieved, but lives are destroyed and erased on the road to achieving heaven on earth where everyone is equal and justice is done and racism, sexism, nationalism, homophobia, transphobia and whatever else are abolished and the human race can exist in a zombified state of equal bliss.
        I can’t believe this wonderful goal has yet to be achieved. I wonder what the problem is?

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  4. ‘Meme Magic’ words and phrases are usually physically satisfying to say and I find that’s a crucial ingredient to staying power. It has to be fun to say. If you start testing epithets that have been around for a while you’ll find they all have this feature.

    With Boomer, you can practically spit the word out as you say it; which is of course the very sentiment attached to it. Go ahead and ape the action of spitting a bad taste out of your mouth and on to the ground as you say ‘Boomer.’ Very satisfying for a bitter generation to say.

    OK ____ ‘s magic is in the complete dismissal it conveys and it makes sense that it started as ‘OK Boomer’ – since it linguistically moves the demographic towards irrelevance. Big Brother is one too many syllables for something you’re completely dismissive of, and it’s not a denigrating term either, it’s an ominous one. No good for the OK ___ format.

    I wish I could come up with the right analogy, because a crucial event has occurred: the ‘acceptance’ stage of grief over the loss of America. I think those with vital energy are turning their attention to other affairs now.

    • I think you are right that the explosive first syllable is fun to say, especially in a derisive way. For those who go beyond phonetics, the semantic connection to “boom town” is also satisfying. It is fun to puncture the self-image of a boomer with the suggestion that they are the generational equivalent of a mining camp–a big deal for a while, but soon to be forgotten. I say this as a late boomer.

    • If one is going to try this tack, I think it would be wise to change the second part. “OK, comrade,” jumps to mind as a possible replacement.

      But anyone over 30 is just going to be laughed at, except as a comeback to “OK, boomer,” possibly. Memes have a short shelf-life, especially in the age of the Internet.

      • You are right about the short shelf life, but this is a serious problem for those of us who try to write popular cultural commentary. We can’t invent a private jargon for use among ourselves, since that would not be popular, but we need “condensation symbols” to efficiently communicate complex ideas. The phrase “Big Brother” is obviously a condensation symbol that expresses ideas that it would take a few hundred words to express in discursive form, and it is a symbol most literate people recognize and understand. This is because most people read 1984 in school. Allusions to pop culture of more recent date are tricky because pop culture has fragmented and there are now very few books/movies/songs that everyone knows, and therefore very few common condensation symbols.

      • I could see ‘OK, Comrade’ holding some popularity. Calling people comrade sardonically has been in the air supply for a long time. I don’t know about Gen Z, but the intent won’t be lost on millennials. We had Yuri, the cartoonish, take over the world, mind-controlling communist from Red Alert.

        It’s dismissive without being insulting. It binds your opponent to your level, taking away his sense of superiority by his own logic, (comrade, we are equals, your ideology says so.) It alludes to the totalitarian eye on all conversation. (This isn’t an argument because I am not allowed to disagree with you.) And, it deprives your opponent of a sense that their argument is their own – because they are just repeating the party line.

        If you throw Yuri in there, you’re going to gross out a lot of youth: A boomer memeing Yuri contaminates the fantasy that they’ve marched sufficiently forward to escape your generation. He’s juuuust recent enough to inflict Narcissistic Injury.

      • Not to be gross, but if you were to say “OK Yuri” you’d probably get a fair few of the younger crowd wondering why you’re talking about lesbian anime.

        It’s also not as euphonic. Your reply needs to bite or bark to dismiss, and Yuri is full of soft sounds.

        That said, I think the “OK, ” meme is played out.

      • For today’s youth, a “meme” is a picture with a memorable phrase superimposed. Its point is expressed without making an explicit argument, but in the best case, the meme makes a vivid assertion which is true and the reader grasps it by intuition, bypassing his rational defenses.

  5. I’m picturing a scene like this:
    Me, a normal person: climate change is real and we should do something about it.
    You, a meme magician: OK, Big Brother!
    Me: Gadzooks! My totalitarian ideology is completely flummoxed by this astonishing incantation!
    You: [ performs a small dance of triumph; casts further cognitive spells on his enemies ]
    Big Brother: I detect a troubling disturbance in the memepool, perhaps my slaves are getting restive.
    Me (terrified): oh no sir, never fear, I will block my ears against the poisonous memes of this evil magician.
    Big Brother: good, good, and take note of his IP address, we will need to start a file on that one.
    You: Your Evil Empire of lies cannot stand against the power of my mighty meme magic!
    [ cosmic battle ensues ]

  6. I think we have generally ignored Alan’s point, which is valid and important even if boomerish or calculated to draw sarcasm from a.morphous. All of the topics he names function as shibboleths that identify crime thinkers who, as the old lefty bumper sticker put it, “question authority.” Not only do they identify crime thinkers; they also set goodthinkers on a holiness spiral to outdo one another in their testimonials of loyalty to the orthodox creed. I doubt it is possible for us to talk about climate change, for instance, because we would, despite our best efforts, end up talking about Climate Change. And Climate Change has nothing whatever to do with atmospheric science. It is a shibboleth that singles out nonconformists for demotion in social status, and a credo or pledge of allegiance for goodthinking conformists.

    We Orthospherians admit that there was a time when ignoramuses got into heated arguments, and even wars, over arcane theological points. But we see that this is because ignoramuses are disputatious, and not because theology especially invites dispute. We Orthospherians admit that there was a time when the state used religious orthodoxy as a shibboleth and a credo. But we see that this is because the state requires conformity, and not because religion is especially intolerant. Ignoramuses nowadays get into heated arguments about sciences they do not understand, and genuflecting to Science has become the new certificate of respectable piety.

    I think Alan is right to identify Electoral Incorruptibility, Global Warming, Covid Dread, and the Great Reset (i.e. revolution) as key articles in the Ingsoc credo. Although we are not of course talking about Orwell’s English Socialism, but rather International Socialism. So perhaps Intsoc credo. I would not, however, encourage anyone to vocalize this understanding by actually saying “O.K. Big Brother” out loud. This is because I agree with a.morphous that Big Brother doesn’t disappear when you call him by name. He just puts you on his list of those who never will be missed.

    • There is no combination of words that will win others to our way of thinking. I am active in my young adult ministry, and either a result of (or, more likely, exaggerated by) covid, is that no one cares about being involved in the young adult ministry. The Habit Breaker has been terribly true. Thanks to the internet, people who read something they don’t like can scurry off to find a combination of words that better suits their interests. Figures like a.morphous are rare in that they seek out the disagreeable words but generally use it to affirm their own superiority rather than engage substantively with ideas. This phenomenon has seeped into our “IRL” lives as well, reducing tolerance for contrary thought.

      I don’t even think Big Brother is an entity, even by analogy. Brave New World, the sister tale to 1984, paints a picture of a society that is willing to put you down the memory hole simply because it’s socially convenient. I don’t know what is more terrifying: An amalgamated big brother, positively intent on doing evil; or a society of Alpha’s indifferent to anything remotely resembling truth.

      People generally want what they agree with and it takes a catastrophe to shake them lose from comfort. The Orthosphere is less a firemans ladder rescuing imperiled people, but rather a safety net that catches them once they are already falling.

    • Epsilon Theory, which started as a financial analysis blog by way of applying game theoretical understanding to the market and ended up … well, somewhere, has done a lot of work conceptually separating the Narrative or the Cartoon of a thing from the thing itself, and exploring why and how Cartoons are promulgated. Climate change may be real, but the only thing that matters for political discourse is Climate Change, the cartoon. This is true for all objects of widespread political consciousness, including many on the so-called right: the Economy, the Constitution, the Second Amendment, etc.

      Rule of thumb: if you can plausibly imagine someone carrying a placard praising or blaming , is a cartoon.

    • Thank you for amplifying my main point, JM.

      As for the saying itself, “OK Big Brother” is to be spoken to someone who has shown himself to be invincibly ignorant, not to an actual card-carrying minion of BB. It expresses disdain for one who doesn’t know what’s really going on and consequently loves Big Bother.

      • The intended effect is to shift the burden of proof. Instead of you having to prove you’re not a racist, your interlocutor is challenged to prove that he’s not a totalitarian. Will it work? I’m guessing these shifts are only effective if a large part of the audience is sympathetic or at least neutral, so that one guy in particular is thus thrown off by being asked to prove that he doesn’t just like to boss people around. If you’re in a room full of establishment-thinkers, calling them all “Big Brother” probably won’t accomplish anything useful. Probably nothing works in that case, because the very fact that they are such a large majority is powerful social reinforcement. The best you might do in that case is to throw out a rhetorical question that might prompt a bit of self-doubt. (“Isn’t it funny that you rebels agree with all the large corporations?” “Isn’t it amazing that all you independent thinkers managed to reach identical conclusions, which happen to be those of the MSM?”) Not that I think that would be likely to help either. When you find yourself in an argument with a roomful of Leftists, your main thought has to be not “How do I win?” but “How do I keep my job?”

    • “Commie” is not the same as “Big “Brother.” The former is just an individual with a bad ideology, but the latter is a supporter of tyranny.

  7. Pingback: The Amorphous Soul – The Orthosphere


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