Freedom: From Rockwellian to Orwellian

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Perpetually stolen identities. Hacked elections. Digital pandemics. The scourge of fake news that’s actually fake, though it’s not the “fake news” that the president tells you is fake.

The internet has done incredible things for the world—but it has also introduced incredible complexity into our lives and society at large.

On Jan. 6, 1941, Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered the State of the Union that is now widely known as the “Four Freedoms” speech (which was said to draw inspiration from Leo Friedlander’s Four Freedoms sculptures, created for the 1939 World’s Fair in Queens). The speech took place on the eve of major U.S. involvement in WWII, as conflict burned throughout the world in a series of ever-increasing brush fires.

In his address, Roosevelt said:

The future of all the American Republics is today in serious danger. …That is why every member of the Executive Branch of the Government and every member of the Congress face great responsibility and great accountability. …In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.The first is freedom of speech and expression—everywhere in the world.The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way—everywhere in the world.The third is freedom from want—which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants, everywhere in the world.The fourth is freedom from fear—which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor—anywhere in the world.Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere. Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights and keep them. Our strength is our unity of purpose.

Roosevelt had declared a set of American values—and there was no one more American to visualize the Four Freedoms than Norman Rockwell. His four paintings were featured in The Saturday Evening Post, and subsequently appeared on postage stamps.

In light of the new frontier that the internet has ushered in, The Daily Heller asked Viktor Koen to create a set of modern-day freedoms. Koen, who is a faculty member at the School of Visual Arts, has created work for a wide range of outlets, including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Esquire, National Geographic and Wired.

We caught up with him for a few quick questions about the pieces, which appear below, and can be downloaded as high-res files here: No. 1, No. 2, No. 3, No. 4 and No. 5.

What do these freedoms mean to you?A humanistic call to reassess the existing (ab)use of technology.

Do you feel the same urgency that Rockwell felt when he painted the Four Freedoms?Unsure about the sameness, but definitely urgent. Rockwell’s images depicted the wholesomeness of what could be lost. Working in a diametrically different way, I opted for a more Orwellian approach.

What was your thinking in terms of style and tone?Keeping war propaganda posters in mind, I thought an increased sense of danger and urgency was more suitable for this edition. After all, very little is truly bright and colorful in the cyber sphere.

Did we miss any freedoms in this selection? Are there others that are threatened?Freedom from online addiction. Freedom from corporate predatory behaviors. Freedom from pointless waste of time.