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"Just as Orwell said": The Emergence of a "Dystopian Framing" in French Conservative Media in the 2010s

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Article

English

ID: <10670/1.t7r39w>

Abstract

International audience In recent years, dystopian fiction has experienced a boom in popular culture. Those fictions served as powerful narratives for political activists opposing human rights infringements – e.g. Hunger Games in Thailand or Birma, or The Handmaid’s Tale for feminist movements all over the world. Dystopia can yet also serve as a narrative for conservatives when denouncing a present “gone too far” and leading to a frightening future. In contemporary France, dystopic fiction, and George Orwell’s 1984 in particular, has become a recurring reference in the vocabulary used by conservative journalists, intellectuals and activists: “political correctness” is criticized as “newspeak”, liberal journalists are described as members of a “thought police”, and the recent changes in family laws are criticized as “unnatural”. This use of Orwell as an analytical scheme in conservative media discourse – although Orwell was far from being a conservative himself – can be explained through the linguistic concept of “framing”: using a specific vocabulary to define a social artefact (Lakoff, 2004). Based on a corpus which gathers articles of major conservative press outlets and websites in France, the purpose of this study is show how this “dystopian framing” has developped in the French public sphere, and how it serves the right-wing discourse. We will identify two key moments: (1) the emergence of right-wing online media at the end of the 2000s, which reframed mainstream media content with an “Orwellian” perspective; (2) a broadening use of these references to Orwell during the protests against same-sex marriage in 2013-2014. Same-sex marriage was depicted by the movement’s key activists as a realization of dystopia against “Common Sense”. This reception of Orwell in the context of new “cultural wars” served as unifying device for various movements opposing the socialist government in power until 2017. In the right-wing online media and the traditional conservative print press alike, references to “Orwell”, “1984” or “newspeak” are still used to oppose any societal reforms shifting the balance of power between majority and minority groups, particularly along gender and race lines.

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