English writer George Orwell’s 1984 has inspired many artists; from David Bowie to Radiohead.
But Incubus’ 2004 single “Talk Shows on Mute” stands out, not just for the lyrics’ homage to the book but also because the song’s music video’ takes a similar theme to the dystopian 1949 novel.
“The book scared me, but in a good way,” Incubus’ singer Brandon Boyd said, according to an MTV.com article. “It scares you into vigilance. A lot of people don’t get it. They’re like, ‘That’s so passé, 1984. I mean, it’s 2004.’ But I think that right now, it has a poignancy that it otherwise wouldn’t have because it definitely seems like Big Brother is watching closer than he ever has. And television culture is at an all-time high or low, depending how you look at it.”
Even though Boyd sings in the ballad “Come one, come all, into 1984,” it was his own dystopian thoughts that reminded him of Orwell’s most famous novel. The singer was mocking a talk show on a plane ride and as the TV was on mute he “decided to start narrating for the people.”
“I realized a time will probably come when television will watch us if we’re watching it,” Boyd told MTV.com. “If that hasn’t already happened, figuratively or literally. It sounded like some sort of pseudo-Big Brother nightmare, so I wrote it down.”
Of course 1984 takes a place in a society where the government known as Big Brother is watching its citizen through televisions.
To continue the Orwellian theme, the single’s music video has an animal-operated TV show where humans are used as pets. This reversed role also exists in Orwell’s short novel Animal Farm.
“Floria Sigismondi did this video. And she gave the song her interpretation, and she created this Orwellian kind of scene,” the band’s bass player Ben Kenny told a Netherlands music journalist. “It is in a world of animals, the world is controlled by animals and the humans are the pets.
“We are doing a performance shot on one of the animals’ talk shows. It is just like a human talk show, just a disgusting way for people to look down at other people that are worse of than them. And in the story, the host turns into a human and that is one of the worst things that could happen in that world: you turning into human. It is a little abstract.”
Another factoid is that Boyd made a reference to Philip K. Dick’s science fiction novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Boyd penned similar lyrics as he sings, “the electric sheep are dreaming of your face,” and “the electric sheep are dreaming up your fate,” in the second and fourth verse respectively.