George Orwell, and especially his dystopian novel 1984, has long been appropriated by neocons and (before that) Cold War hawks in the West. It's almost heartwarming to know that international despots still consider it dangerous. Seemingly oblivious to their own irony, police in Egypt last week arrested a 21-year-old student near the entrance of Cairo University for carrying a copy of 1984. It is unclear if the student, identified only as "Mohamed T," will face charges. The Egyptian Interior Ministry actually issued a statement explaining the arrest, innocently and not quite accurately saying that the novel "talks about military regimes which rule in corrupt countries." (The Week, UK, Nov. 10)
Now it emerges that since the military took power in Thailand on May 22, banning public gatherings, protesters have been attempting to outwit authorities by holding silent "cultural" protests—such as groups sitting around in public places reading 1984! In more unintentional irony, the regime responded by banning the book—and at least one student protester from Bangkok University has been arrested for sitting quietly reading the novel in defiance of the ban. More recently, the opening of The Hunger Games movie in Thailand has been similarly seized upon by protesters, with the film's three-fingered rebel salute becoming a symbol of dissent. It has now similarly been outlawed—leading to five arrests so far. (The Conversation, LAT, Nov. 21)
Strangely, McDonalds corporation is also decrying use of its corporate logo by Thai protesters. At a rally shortly after the May putsch, protesters gathered outside a McDonald's in Bangkok, carrying signs that read "democracy"—only with the M replaced by Mickey Dee's iconic gold arches. (Time, May 30) Is this to be read as an ironic appropriation, or a statement of how corporate rule has degraded Western democracy? Probably not, since they were earnestly calling for a restoration of democratic norms. Or a naive embrace of the golden arches as a symbol of globalization actually associated with democracy in their minds—which they have hopefully been disabused of by the corporation's own protestations?
We really aren't quite sure.