Tuesday, 2 September 2003

The New Europe Looks a Little Like '1984'

This week Europe paid homage to George Orwell, whose 100th birthday fell on June 25. Europe tipped its hat to Orwell in a different way as well. Orwell, of course, is famous for his writings about the rise of the totalitarian state in the name of a utopian ideal. Well, this week Europeans got a taste of that when the Financial Times uncovered a secret directive dreamed up by the European Commission’s Social Affairs Commissioner Anna Diamantopoulou.

In the name of ending sexual stereotypes of men and women, she opined that some European media and advertising should be banned. In her grand scheme, the official arbiter of what are stereotypical portrayals of men and women would be the EC’s Big Brothers and Sisters in Brussels, or, if necessary, the courts.

The secret draft was immediately denounced by a range of media groups that, according to the Financial Times, “reacted with disbelief” that the EC was considering censorship of television programming, mass media and advertising.

It also comes at a time when Europe considers its new Constitution and tries to envision what kind of a society it will become under a powerful new transnational political organization. Will Europe remain an open and free society? Or will it bend to politically correct directives from a Eurozone bureaucratic elite that “knows best” for its citizens?

This is the most disturbing context of the Diamantopoulou initiative. From one of its most powerful commissioners, we get a glimpse into the attitudes of Europe’s ambitious, new, young post-war leaders. While the incident may be considered a “European affair,” it does grab at the heartstrings of Americans who believe in free speech and oppose government censorship. It also can serve as a guide for Americans who want to understand Europe and see where it is heading.

Through a source, I obtained Diamantopoulou’s detailed and secret, single-spaced, 26-page draft. The document is well thought out, indicating a sizable amount of work had progressed within the European Commission to advance to this late stage. It was not the work of an aberrant or idle commissioner. Apparently, no member of the European media knew of its existence as it passed through the EC labyrinth of bureaucratic offices, reviewers and officials.

Article 4 of Diamantopolu’s proposal is simple but sweeping. It attempts to censor all mass media and advertising in the Continent. The Greek socialist commissioner said her office is seeking to “avoid throughout all forms of mass media notably all stereotypical portrayals of women and men as well as any projection of unacceptable images of men and women affecting human dignity and decency in advertisements.”

It’s not a suggestion. It’s a directive. In Orwell’s dictionary, “avoid throughout” is to censor or ban, and the subsequent paragraphs spell out it is to be enforced by the EC bureaucracy and the courts. It specifically considers it the EC’s jurisdiction to eliminate what it considers the negative “image of women and men portrayed in advertising and the media.”

The most breathtaking thing about this plan is that none of the terms are defined. Just what are stereotypical portrayals? In whose eyes is a television program or movie depicting an “unacceptable image?”

This is the world Orwell created for us half a century ago. In Oceania’s Super State the Party elites decide what is truth. In Orwell’s new order totalitarianism was invoked in the name of utopianism. And language was the first casualty, where “Newspeak” commanded, “War is Peace,” “Freedom is Slavery” and “Ignorance is Strength.”

What kind of mass media could fall under Diamantopoulou’s charge of stereotyping: the movies “Charlie’s Angels,” “Chicago” or “The Producers”; HBO’s “Sex in the City” and “The Sopranos”; re-runs of “All in the Family” or “Taxi,” or even NBC’s “Law & Order,” which portrays thugs, rapists, child molesters and mentally ill criminals.

What is the societal virtue in all of this? It will become a European version of media “ethnic cleansing,” justified in the name of “implementing the principle of equality between women and men.” Even late night comedy talk shows that ridicule, well, virtually everyone, would be vulnerable. Society would become correct but sullen, humorless, lacking any spark or creative expression.

Unfortunately, Diamantopoulou has many European co-conspirators, whose handiwork can be seen in the new European “Constitution.” In the American Constitution, the Bill of Rights stipulates that individual rights prevail over the collectivist rights and the power of the State. In the European Constitution, the new European statists turn it on its head, and collectivist or group “rights” trump individuals and individual rights.

This is the “New Europe”. It’s the world Orwell, a socialist, warned about 50 years ago. In the name of some vague utopian goal, the lifeblood of society is drained. Society becomes an empty shell, obedient only to the order of the state.

Michael Chapman