By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer
The National Archives and Records Administration apologized for altering an iconic image from the 2017 Women’s March in Washington, D.C., BBC News reported. Signs held by protestors that were critical of the newly inaugurated President Trump had his name blurred out. Authors like George Orwell explored themes of editing history.
According to BBC News, the National Archives and Records Administration apologized and removed the altered image from an exhibit display, replacing it with the original image. The Washington Post broke the original story about the image being censored. “In the original version of the 2017 photograph, taken by Getty Images photographer Mario Tama, the street is packed with marchers carrying a variety of signs, with the Capitol in the background,” the Post article said. “In the Archives version, at least four of those signs are altered.”
One edit involved blurring the word “Trump” from a sign that originally read “God Hates Trump,” thus making the protester appear to be holding a sign that says “God Hates.” In other edits, words describing female anatomy have been blurred from signs.
Many organizations cried foul, prompting the removal of the edited image and its subsequent replacement with the original. Louise Melling, Deputy Legal Director and Director of Center for Liberty for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said in a statement on January 22, “Doctoring the photo was nothing less than Orwellian. Instead of documenting history, the National Archives had altered history to mask criticism of the president and erase our bodies.” The reference to George Orwell includes his dystopian novel 1984, in which a constant erasure of history by a totalitarian regime keeps a populace under control at all times.
Altering History for “Adjustment to Reality“
The main character in Orwell’s 1984 is Winston Smith, who lives in Oceania. He works at the ironically named Ministry of Truth in the Records Department. Smith’s job is to correct historical records.
“For example, say the chocolate ration is at 30 grams per week, and one day it is lowered to 20 grams per week,” said Dr. Pamela Bedore, Associate Professor of English at the University of Connecticut. “What Winston’s office does is go back and change the record to show that the chocolate ration has always been at 20 grams—that way no one can complain.”
This may seem like an arbitrary amendment to a law, but it’s a microcosm of Oceania.
“Not only can no one complain—at a certain point, when the historical record of a society is constantly being updated with accuracy toward the present, it’s not just that no one can complain; it’s that no one can remember,” Dr. Bedore said. “So what might seem dishonest or inaccurate is really just an adjustment to reality.”
Changing historical records is clearly at least inaccurate and, maybe, intentionally dishonest. However, Oceania’s ruling government—the aptly named Party—justifies it to themselves and to their employees. Obviously, chocolate isn’t the only thing they adjust. Eurasia and East Asia are the two other nations mentioned in the book; one is always an ally and the other is always an enemy. However, occasionally, the Party tells the public that they’ve been duped by their supposed ally into thinking the third nation is the enemy; when in reality, the supposed ally is the enemy and have been tricking Oceania into working against the third nation which is actually their ally.
This pattern of the Party altering history and changing the public’s understanding of reality repeats throughout the novel. If the Orwellian concept were to exist in real life in a dystopian society, the U.S. National Archives’ censorship of the 2017 Women’s March image could be considered an example of how history might start being altered.
Dr. Pamela Bedore contributed to this article. Dr. Bedore is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Connecticut. She holds undergraduate degrees in English and Education from Queen’s University, a Master’s from Simon Fraser University, and a Ph.D. from the University of Rochester.