George Orwell's 1984

Ivan Radic/Shutterstock (Licensed)

The satirical progress of ‘1984’ memes

The creation of '1984' memes can be traced back to 2021, shortly after the Capitol Riot on January 6.


Kahron Spearman


Posted on Dec 27, 2023   Updated on Dec 14, 2023, 4:26 pm CST

In 2021, the digital landscape was awash with “1984” memes. Referencing George Orwell’s dystopian novel, “1984,” these memes have become a lens through which modern instances of censorship and authoritarianism are critiqued and explored in a lighthearted manner.

Let’s explore this phenomenon that intertwined political satire, social commentary, and a well-known literary reference.

The birth of ‘1984’ memes

The surge in the popularity of “1984” memes can be traced back to a specific time. In 2021, shortly after the Capitol Riot on January 6, political cartoonist Gary Varvel created a comic that depicted a man who was shocked to realize that he was living in “1984” after hearing about Donald Trump’s Twitter suspension and the removal of the app Parler from app stores.

The cartoon was a direct reference to Orwell’s “1984,” a novel that has long been a staple in discussions about government overreach and surveillance. Soon, the comic transcended its original format to become a versatile meme template ripe for internet users to adapt and modify.

Internet communities quickly seized upon the “1984” meme format, especially on platforms like Reddit and Twitter. They began creating versions that altered the dialogue of the original comic to reflect various modern issues and concerns. The meme was used to satirize multiple topics, from everyday inconveniences to significant political events, all while maintaining a humorous edge.

The novel in modern digital discourse

Orwell’s “1984” has long been regarded as a critical work in literature, particularly for its exploration of themes such as authoritarianism, surveillance, and the suppression of free expression. The novel’s depiction of a dystopian society under the thumb of a totalitarian regime continues to provide a framework for understanding and critiquing similar governing bodies in the real world.

The popularity of “1984” memes highlights the enduring relevance of Orwell’s vision. These memes offer more than just entertainment; they are a conduit for engaging with and reflecting upon contemporary events and societal issues. As they have evolved to cover a broader range of themes and topics, they have become an ideal vehicle for commentary on political issues and various aspects of modern life.

“1984” memes underscore the novel’s continued importance as a tool for understanding and critiquing the modern world. Adapting these themes into a meme format has helped keep the conversation around these critical issues alive in the digital age. As online communication continues to evolve, these memes ensure that Orwell’s cautionary tale remains relevant to the cultural and political discourse.

Share this article
*First Published: Dec 27, 2023, 6:00 am CST