Last Thursday I met with a brilliant new student. She is working on a paper for the novel 1984, and wanted to bounce ideas off of me. It was very fun, because she had so many wonderful ideas already. She was talking about George Orwell’s rejection of totalitarianism throughout the book, but had many questions she was just dying to explore the answers to. Unfortunately, she is only a junior in high school, and her paper is only supposed to be 3-4 pages. Working with her made me want to go back to graduate school though. It was so refreshing to have that type of conversation with someone so young, who has so many ideas and questions. She was also very excited to learn a new vocabulary word during our session- hegemony.
After she learned about hegemony and how she could use it while conceptualizing her paper, she smiled and said, “I like that word” before typing furiously for ten minutes on her computer. I was glad to know that learning a new word like that could help inspire her writing so much. It was a very cool moment. I know I have mentioned hegemony here before, but I am not sure it really gets used very often in regular conversations, so I have decided to define it for you as well.
Hegemony, as I understand it, means the oppression of others by a larger dominant, overarching (and widely accepted) force that creates a structure of sameness and difference. All societies have hegemony, and the tools to create what is deemed “normal” often belongs to the people/ entities in power. Hegemony can be both cultural and political, and its presence can be seen in books, movies, and society as a whole, since a small percentage of the population controls what movies are made, which books are published, and who wins elections.
One small group of people, usually the ones with the most money or political influence, can influence the way the society as a whole thinks and acts, even if they are perhaps acting against their best interests as individuals. Perhaps the easiest example of hegemony at work is in media portrayals of “average” people, ethnicities, places, politicians, love interests, gender identities, religions, music, rituals, and cultural practices.
Here is an interesting article that discusses hegemony’s role in relation to media theory which might interest you.
In our conversation, my student and I were discussing Orwell’s subversion of hegemony. Totalitarianism tries to enforce and reinforce a strict hegemonic culture from which to work from. Any variance must be destroyed so that people don’t question, don’t think, and certainly don’t make connections with each other independent of the state.
In many ways, I like to consider this blog as a variance from hegemony. My interests include things that the hegemonic parts of Western culture accepts, like Jane Austen, but this blogging project also builds various connections with others based on individual interpretation and experiences. That, to me, does subvert hegemonic influence in many ways, and has been one of the primary benefits of the internet.
What do you think? If you have any more examples of hegemony in our modern times?