Winston was dreaming of the gym.
He remembered thinking it would only be for 15 days, when Big Expert closed it. Everything was closed in those days. “Safe at home” was the message. “Safe at home,” we had all repeated. Then it stretched to 30 days, then more, and then finally Big Expert started to allow people to leave home again. But gyms stayed closed. Big Expert and the Inner Party also shut down parks, blocked hiking trails, closed beaches, filled skateparks with sand, padlocked basketball courts, yellow-taped playgrounds, and arrested paddleboarders.
He could not remember what had happened, but he knew in his dream that in some way people’s ability to stay physically fit had been sacrificed for the sake of their health. It was, he perceived, a sacrifice foisted on them by Big Expert and taught to them by the ever-present Party screens of the Ministry of Information. The changeover was so gradual it was hardly noticed, he recalled, thinking back.
He remembered the government school teaching him the “food pyramid,” which he learned later had taught him to overconsume the food groups that tended to make people unhealthier. Carbohydrates — breads, pastas, grains — were to be the base of your diet because the government wanted to maximize your caloric intake. Limit protein and stay away from fats and oils. Meat was bad for your heart, and if you objected, then it was bad for the environment, and if that didn’t bother you, then cooking it would give you cancer. There always seemed to be some new expert study declaring a standard food staple dangerous. Winston remembered especially the campaign against eggs, which were going to kill you with cholesterol. It was always something, and it was usually wrong.
It was from this background, Winston recalled, that Big Expert emerged. Health advice was confusing, pointing in many directions at once like an octopus directing traffic. What was quackery, what was fad, and what was scientifically based? People wanted one trustworthy source of advice, and government seemed to provide it.
Only a few saw through it. Inner Party members were just as susceptible to quacks and fads as everyone else, Winston thought, but because they wielded so much power over other people, they were uniquely susceptible to lobbyists. Our “social allies” for health, Big Expert called them. By and large, however, the proles trusted Big Expert, and he turned that trust into power. Then he and the Inner Party members used that power for building wealth.
The biggest threat to the Inner Party’s money and power were the individualists. Winston remembered when the researchers finally answered the question of why advocates for individual liberty rather than collectivism were healthier. Their belief in personal rather than social responsibility, or private ownership rather than common property, also extended to ownership over their own health outcomes. Even in matters of personal health, they were less trusting of government guidance — and of Big Expert.
Winston remembered how the Inner Party had made it imperative to demonstrate hatred for things individualists liked. Soon this impetus for signaling Party-approved thinking reached the ideal of physical fitness. Ministry of Information organs began to insinuate that anyone interested in personal health and fitness was linked to “far-right extremists,” even “fascism.” Big Expert’s campaign against “Goldsgymism” was intertwined with the Inner Party’s need to demonize and stamp out anything the individualists liked.
Still, it wasn’t enough for them to vilify healthy behavior outside of Inner Party dictates, Winston saw. They had to provide the proles substitute behaviors to celebrate. The substitutes spun out of the symbiotic relationship between Big Expert and the social allies. They raised up unhealthy behaviors as healthy, and the contrast between dutiful proles and suspected enemies of the Party became more and more evident.
There again the Ministry of Information took the lead. Magazines promoted obesity as the “Future of Fitness,” proclaiming “This is healthy!” Entertainment media cheered when obese celebrities gained more weight, and even sports media championed the new message of antihealth. Winston had always thought it shameful behavior to ostracize, mock, or discriminate against people for being overweight. It wasn’t that long ago when media had set different unhealthy beauty standards, especially for young girls, leading to eating disorders, plastic surgeries, Botox injections, and a host of other deleterious behaviors. But thoughtful people spoke out against the dangers of those things and that impossible beauty “ideal.” The new messaging, however, was more than an overcorrection, Winston realized, because the Inner Party expected you not only to affirm and agree with the message, but to live it.
“Unhealthy proles make healthy bankrolls.” The social allies’ rhyme suddenly popped into Winston’s head. He thought ruefully about the many ways that Big Expert’s Ministry of Information worked with their allies to stifle things that promoted good health. It wasn’t just closing gyms, parks, and playgrounds while promoting obesity. It even included praising proles who found empowerment in “safe” fentanyl and heroin use. On the other end, if research found an off-patent medication to be an effective treatment when the social allies needed consumers for their new treatments, that research had to go into the virtual Memory Hole, and anyone who mentioned it was denounced as an enemy of the Party. Meanwhile, the Inner Party bribed proles with free beer, fries, pizza, donuts, hot dogs, cheesecake, even dessert-on-a-stick to consent to a vaccine for an illness in which those who faced the greatest risk for contracting it were obese.
Winston’s mind was just wandering back to the day the Ministry of Health changed the definition of vaccine when suddenly an ear-splitting whistle came from the device on his wrist. A loud female voice sounded from his Fatbit: “One-sixty to one-eighty group! One-sixty to one-eighty group! Take your places, please!”
Lunchtime had come for Winston’s weight class.
Winston retrieved the half-pound cheeseburger with bacon, double fries, nachos, and a fried egg. It was Big Expert’s ration for “our scrawny comrades.” Winston had perfected the art of spitting half his lunch into his napkin and dropping it silently on the floor as he ate, but he still nearly choked. The reflux was getting worse.
“Bite and chew, comrades!” rang out the voice on the Fatbit. It belonged to an imperious pair of close-set eyes in a sea of flesh. (“This is healthy!” said the magazine.) “Bite, two, three, four! Bite, two, three, four! Come on, comrades!”
Winston spit, wadded, and dropped again.
“Smith!” bellowed the voice. “21.9 Smith W.! Yes, YOU! Eat harder, please! You can do better than that. You’re not trying. Here, watch me.”
The flesh engulfed a burger and began a methodical chew. A sudden cold sweat broke out across Winston’s body. His face remained completely inscrutable. Never show dismay! Never show nausea! A single esophageal spasm could give you away.
Winston soldiered on until lunch came to a merciful end. Then the one-forties to one-fifties filed in for ritual humiliation. Winston noticed their double fries had been given fresh coats of ranch dressing. With a few discreet kicks he sent the bits of his discarded lunch scattering.
Now quiet again, his Fatbit faded to its resting display of the Party slogans. War is peace. Inflation is prosperity. Fitness is fatness.