“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
I’ve read a lot of books on leadership but there’s only one that I’ve read more than 5 times. Everytime I find myself in a situation where I wish I was in control, I dust off my copy of Animal Farm by George Orwell.
Written during the Second World War as an allegorical case against Stalinism, Animal Farm found itself immediately banned in the USA for putting our ally, Russia, in a less than positive light. That quickly changed as the war ended and tensions rose between the US and the USSR. After the War, the book was banned in communist countries. It remains banned today in North Korea and Cuba.
Why? Because it’s full of truth. The kind of truth that topples empires.
Originally published as a “fairy story,” Orwell’s allegorical masterpiece drives home one of the most consistently true patterns in human history: When a group of people who want power finally achieve power, they face a near-irresistible tension to rule others in the same destructive manner that made them seek a rebellion in the first place.
This dark reality is true in geo-politics and office politics, in boardrooms and classrooms, and in factories and families. For those of us who know the power of story, it is no surprise that this short little fairy tale about a rebel gang of pigs has not gone out of print for 70 years.
Animal Farm is not banned in the USA anymore. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t read it. Indeed, a strong case could be made that it is needed now more than ever. Orwell himself warned against the most dangerous form of censorship in a now largely unpublished foreword to the book:
“The sinister fact about literary censorship in England is that it is largely voluntary…. Things are kept right out of the British press, not because the Government intervenes but because of a general tacit agreement that ‘it wouldn’t do’ to mention that particular fact.” – George Orwell
There it is.
Governments banning stories is bad. But self-censorship out of fear, complacency and self-preservation may be the worst mistake any of us could make.
Silly Rabbit, Trix is for Adults!
Two years ago General Mills made a very grown-up and courageous move. They took one of their flagship cereals, Trix, and removed the artificial colors in it. Specifically, they traded Red 40 and Yellow 6 for coloring made from turmeric and radishes.
And people hated it. The colors were muted. It tasted different. They got grief on social media for turning a childhood treat into a “bowl of salad.” So finally, they relented and gave the people what they really wanted all along…chemicals!
“We heard from many Trix fans that they missed the bright vibrant colors and the nostalgic taste of the classic Trix cereal,” said General Mills rep Mike Siemienas in a statement to The Wall Street Journal.
There you have it. So what’s the lesson for us storytellers?
People are nostalgic, sentimental creatures. Very few people are eating Trix because they think it tastes better than eggs benedict. We eat Trix for the story – to go on a journey back to simpler time when our biggest concern was trading duplicate Garbage Pail Kids cards for Fruit Roll-Ups. We eat Trix to be a kid again. And when you mess with the tastes, smells and sights of our childhood you’ve gone too far.
General Mills came to their senses this week. They realized were never selling Trix to kids. They were selling memories to grown-ups.
Silly company, Trix is for sentimental aging Gen-Xers.