Big Brother Is Watching
"Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimetres inside your skull."
—George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four
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Now, Tropers, don't worry. We won't abuse this power. We'll just watch a few of the trouble makers. But nobody will know when we're watching, so we'll all have less to worry about. I know there are problems in the world, but they can all be sorted out.
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Anime and Manga
- The Skypiea arc in One Piece featured a self proclaimed god who used his lightning powers to monitor and dispense quick "justice" among the citizens living on "his" land.
- 20th Century Boys. You cannot trust anyone, EVER.
- In EL, thousands of "eyebots" float around the city observing its citizens at all times, even in their most intimate of moments. The observation is part of the "Megaro Earth Project", which aims to restore humanity since this series takes place After the End. While they are ostensibly there to maintain security for the populace, it is shown that some of them have a more sinister purpose...
- Bleach: Wait, you're telling me that badge Ichigo got was really monitoring his powers? And that Ukitake was watching him!? And the Soul Society could have EXECUTED Ichigo at any moment!?!
- And much earlier, Aaroneiero stated that Aizen build an artificial sky to keep an eye on his Espada. Then again, everything else Aaro' said was, well...
- Fresh Pretty Cure: Moebius sees and controls everything in Labyrinth.
- The Leader from V for Vendetta.
- In Batman and the Outsiders Annual #1, Well-Intentioned Extremist B. Eric Blairman (inspired by Nineteen Eighty-Four) launches a satellite called the Omni-Cast, which turns every television set in the nation into a surveillance device and allows him to monitor every computer.
- The Black Dossier, a sequel to The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. London is just wriggling out from life under a dictatorial regime; they had in the pubs!
- Transmetropolitan is more Big Advertiser. A major plot point revolves around advertisers exploiting momentary 'dead spaces' in the law to pump out ads that are literally poison. The internet had been overtaken by ads as well. To a lesser extent the government tries to take over the major news casters; however the littlest part of the internet that was free broke the story.
- In All Fall Down: Being a Digitized Hacker, AIQ Squared is able to monitor all the main characters on a steady basis—to the point of eavesdropping in the Pentagon.
- Buck Godot: Zap Gun for Hire bonus art has a little twist on this: "A Gallimaufry Security Reminder" poster with unamused face of the station's security chief, inscribed "I KNOW what you're doing. Do YOU?"
- In the 1959 Santa Claus film featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000, Santa has device from space that can watch every kid on Earth. The machine itself is creepy too! It has giant lips!
- Not just that. He also has a satellite with a human ear in the center, and a telescope with an eye.
- The leader in Equilibrium was called Father. And he suppressed human emotion to maintain control.
- In The Lives of Others, the main character serves as Big Brother.
- Minority Report actually has consumer-based ubiquitous surveillance as a plot point. People can have customized ads targeted at them based on retinal scans-triggered by walking through a mall-and at one point the cops send tiny little robotic spiders to scan everyone in an apartment building they suspect the protagonist is in. Not to mention the premise is that people can be arrested and imprisoned in a And I Must Scream prison simply due to clairvoyants seeing them committing crimes in the future.
- Eagle Eye has the U.S. Government employing a spy Master Computer to monitor everything, including financials, to create profiles of citizens. Over the course of the movie, this computer decides the human government isn't doing a good enough job and decides to usurp it. How? By using hundreds of thousands of people's profiles to force them to do it or trick them into doing it.
- In G.I. Joe the Rise of Cobra, the Joes (an international police force) identify the Baroness by using Facial Recognition Software against pictures of every person in the world... an image library built up by secretly copying every digital photograph ever taken by anyone.
- The Dark Knight features Batman, driven to the edge in his pursuit of The Joker, using a machine that turns every cell phone in Gotham into a sonar imaging device. Subverted in that Lucius Fox is absolutely disgusted by the device and threatens to tender his resignation... but stays behind, as Batman himself is only using it in the most desperate of circumstances, and ensures that it's destroyed once his hunt for The Joker is over.
- You're leaving out the most important part; Batman himself cannot use the device. Only Fox can, and his disgust in such methods is why Batman chose to give control of it to him.
- San Angeles in Demolition Man. Subverted in that most of the populace is more than eager to live under this surveillance.
- "He sees you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake..."
Santa Claus: Kindly old elf, or CIA spook?
- Calamities of Nature points out the similarities of Big Brother and Santa Claus.
- The Bible has of course God, who watches you masturbate from all places at once, which makes this trope Older Than Feudalism. Good thing God doesn't abuse this power (Or does he?)
- The mythical Christian emperor Prester John was believed to have among his treasures a mirror through with he could view any part of his realm or any of his subjects.
- Big Brother, who is still watching, from Nineteen Eighty-Four is, of course, the Trope Namer.
- From 1921, twenty-eight years before Nineteen Eighty-Four, comes Yevgeny Zamyatin's We, set in the One State, a nation almost entirely built of glass, allowing the secret police to spy without needing cameras.
- The whole point of Kafka's short story "Before the Law" in the book The Trial.
- IT, from the A Wrinkle in Time. IT definitely existed and was watching, no question at all about IT.
- The Eye of Sauron in The Lord of the Rings, even though he can only see you when you wear one of his rings.
- The Stainless Steel Rat is a criminal who operates despite a surveillance-heavy society.
- UNICOMP in This Perfect Day didn't bother watching people with cameras, but it did require that they touch their nameber bracelets to scanners whenever going through a door, so that UNICOMP always knows where everyone is at all times. Thought Control was accomplished through a system of mandatory drug treatments, genetic engineering, and weekly visits to an "advisor", a sort of combination psychotherapist, parole officer, and father-confessor.
- AM in I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream. He's quite honest about wanting the characters to suffer. But they'll suffer his way, think his thoughts, and play his . As he watches them. Forever.
- In Bad Monkeys by Matt Ruff, Panopticon watches and records everything...Or do they?
- Once Katniss and Peeta become contestants in The Hunger Games, cameras are waiting to capture every move they make.
- While not exactly a surveillance device, The Great Gatsby has "the eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg," a prominent ophthalmologist whose billboard advertisement features a gigantic pair of eyes with glasses over them.
- Lilith uses mirrors to this effect in Witches Abroad.
- In Matched by Ally Condie, the Society watches most things people do. Even their dreams are recorded for irregularities and to gather statistics.
- MC in Domina tracks people by the GPS in their phones. She means to get permission, but forgets.
- The Ministry of Magic in Harry Potter, especially Delores Umbridge.
- The Poul Anderson short story Sam Hall had the government doing, among other things, tracking where everyone in the country was from day to day. It all falls apart when the the system fails to track down the title character, who is completely fictitious and was added into the system by the protagonist as a joke.
- A Certain Magical Index:
- Aleister Crowley constantly monitors Academy City using a network of nanomachines called Underline. This makes him borderline-omniscient within the city.
- One volume has the villains using Free Compound Eyes, a program that lets them see through the camera of any internet-capable device.
- iCarly: One of the new policies in the episode "iHave My Principals".
- Monty Python's Flying Circus: Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.
- They have several main weapons.
- Among them are such diverse elements as fear, surprise, ruthless effeciency, an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope, and nice red uniforms.
- They have several main weapons.
- The alternate universe Manservent Neville from The Middleman episode "The Palindrome Reversal Palindrome." Notable because it turns out that the alternate Wendy Watson is The Man Behind the Man.
- Big Bunny from The Goodies.
- Classic British TV goodness The Prisoner.
- Arguably, those camera-speakers that pop up out of the ground on Teletubbies.
- Firefly was an ironic inversion of this. Big brother was a big nuisance to "Big Brother".
- Persons Unknown: There are security cameras constantly watching the captives.
- There was a Benny Hill sketch that played with this trope. A couple would be lying on the bed watching the late night newscast (the newscaster was Benny, of course), and would roll over and decide to start getting amorous. Unknown to the amorous couple, Benny could see what they were doing from the other side of the TV. Benny would start staring and making rude noises in the middle of his newscast, then would call over the weatherman, cameramen, etc. to gawk and ogle at the couple (and they'd all pretend everything was normal when the couple would look up).
- A hilarious version in Sherlock. Sherlock's big brother works for the government, and yes, he is watching. What? He's concerned.
- The omnipresent and plentiful security cameras in the New York City of the Person of Interest universe, which ends up making NYC look like London.
- Leave It to Beaver: The squeaky-clean 1950s sitcom had an episode alluding to Big Brother—1962's "Lumpy's Car Trouble," where Wally breaks the rules for borrowing Ward's car for a track meet; he allowed the driver, Lumpy, to take a "shortcut" on the way home, causing damage to the exhaust system. One of Ward's co-workers sees the boys push the car along the highway and tells Ward. That evening, Ward confronts the boys and after Wally admits what happened, refuses to reveal his informant. Ward's reasoning: By not knowing that person's identity—and thus, being able to track down and question him about what he "might have seen"—the boys will always be on their best behavior, because someone might be watching.
- Everything in the Blake's 7 Federation is taped, logged, and recorded in triplicate. Woe betide you if one of those recordings shows you conspiring or plotting or thieving or, I don't know, passing a political criminal the salt. You will vanish and no-one will remember you ever existed.
- Person of Interest: "You are being watched. The government has a secret system, a Machine that spies on you every hour of every day. I know because I built it." Specifically, it's a supercomputer that processes data from everything in New York City—security feeds, emails, bank statements, flight registrations, everything—and weeds through it to find the titular persons of interest.
- The morality of the Machine is examined in detail: on one hand, the Machine was specifically designed to detect acts of terror and has averted several, and the protagonists are secretly able to use it to help the helpless; on the other hand, everyone involved with the Machine, including it's creator, is scared witless by the Orwellian potential, and the US Government department who oversees the Machine isn't squeamish about getting rid of those who discover its existance. To this end, when Finch created the Machine, he specifically designed it so even the government couldn't access the hardware or software, preventing them from using the Machine for anything other than its original purpose.
- Pet Shop Boys' "Integral" is about a dystopian police state where everyone has a number and is constantly being spied on by government computers, written as a Protest Song about the proposed government ID cards in Britain.
- Filk based on Yevgeny Zamyatin's We (see above).
- "Eye in the Sky" by The Alan Parsons Project.
- Referenced (and averted?) in Stevie Wonder's "Big Brother".
- "Open Secret" by DJ Malente is all about this.
- Big Brother' by the Italo dance group Aleph (from the 1980s) is about this trope.
- Spoofed in The Burkiss Way, in the episode "Love Big Brother The Burkiss Way": Here, Big Brother Is Up Your Nose, and indeed he mocks his opponent in the "Big Brother elections" who claims they're going to watch people instead. Everyone under Big Brother's rule talks as though they have stuffed up nostrils: Winston Smith's act of defiance is to speak normally.
"Winston! How can you speak like that with Big Brother up your nose?"
- In Misspent Youth by Robert Bohl, a game where you play a group of teenage anarchists out to change the world, the group creates Systems of Control that are sci-fi-ish details about the world that The Authority uses to mess with your lives. These frequently include universal surveillance.
- Orbital Mind Control Lasers are part of the multiple wacky conspiracies of Steve Jackson Games Illuminati
- The Computer in the Paranoia Tabletop RPG.
- I think you mean Friend Computer, you Commie mutant traitor scum.
- Warhammer 40,000's Adeptus Arbites (think if Judge Dredd worked for Big Brother), as seen on the quotes page. And the Ecclesiarchy, ever-vigilant for signs of heresy, and who'd like to remind you that The Emperor is watching. And the Inquisition, though if you've caught their interest you're pretty much screwed. Even the Tau Empire gets in on this, to help them fit in with the setting.
- Feng Shui's 2056 juncture, in keeping with 1984-style dystopian fiction, is all over this trope. The Buro uses bugs called Loyalty Roaches which are basically genetically-engineered roaches with miniature cameras and microphones to monitor the populace for signs of traitorous activity. The "ecologically safe" pesticides of 2056 won't kill those things, but bug sprays from the contemporary juncture do a bang up job on them, and are a nice sideline for secret warriors who operate in 2056.
- The Ministry of Panopticon of the Seers of the Throne. Their purpose is described as twofold. Use Space magic and advanced surveillance equipment to monitor and control the flow of information, and release just enough of what they learn through this into the public consciousness to create a pervading sense of paranoia, which will alter how people will act (if people think they are constantly being watched, then they will not act in a manner they don't want others to see). Their symbol is, of course, an enormous eye.
- In Shadowrun, everyone is near-constantly being monitored - but it isn't the big scary government that's watching. It's the big scary Megacorps. Every transaction you make, every ad you show interest in, your habits, your demographics, everything about you is observed and filed away so that they know how to get you to buy more stuff from them. Only if you make them lose money will they give a damn about you otherwise.
- ...And they suck at it. See, the big thing about private ownership is that they loathe loaning out information to other megacorps, which becomes a problem when one of those corps is Lone Star. Add that to the interdepartmental rivalries, the hackability of camera networks, and the fact that most runners have two braincells to put together, and a runner can be halfway across the continent after Mr. Johnson (a term for an anonymous employer) has erased all record of transactions.
- Exalted has the Orb and the Scepter, two mighty artifacts that can be (and one of them is) used to control the population of a great city-state by making them perfectly obedient to the laws and orders of the ruler. Those who disobey get punished (based on the severity of their crime) by pain, agony or horrifying death, and all of this is inescapable. The population even has a magical eye-shaped mark on their left hand, and there are proclamations of "His eye is always upon you" everywhere in the city. There are also laws on dress code, with bright colors being forbidden for anyone who is not a memeber of the aristocracy. Veeeery creepy...
- I, Robot has an eye of the Big Brother watching the Unhappy Interface Robot #1984 above of the incomplete pyramid. If it catches the robot jumping, it'll zap the robot to pieces.
- Averted in Portal. The Vital Testing Aparatus is crucial to your success, and is not monitoring you at all. Please do not destroy the Vital Testing Aparatus. In addition, Aperture Science must also note that the windows overlooking all testing chambers are not used for observation purposes either. After all, how could the scientists observe you if all of them are dead?
- Episode 3 of the Back to The Future adventure games features First Citizen Brown, whose face is put on every poster in town and seems to rule the town with an iron fist, with hundreds of surveillance cameras. Then it turns out that he's a misguided Reasonable Authority Figure and his wife has been deliberately playing this image up to keep everyone in line.
- The Batarians seem to have this kind of society. They are known have an extensive propaganda program, travel within their space is highly restricted, and the Batarian worlds you can visit are all noted to be circled by spy satellites on the lookout for "enemies of the State."
- Might be more a case of Properly Paranoid, given what happened in "The Arrival" DLC...
- Deus Ex Human Revolution has (at least) a sly little Shout-Out to this trope, in the form of a security camera labelled "Big Bro Security Systems" in an opening cinematic.
- While poking around the ruins of Washington D.C. in Fallout 3 you can explore a demo Vault, in which the audio guide assures you that if you're "Concerned about security? Our Eye-On-You camera allows the Overseer to watch your every move. You'll never be alone again!" There are also the mysterious Eyebots roaming the wasteland, blaring patriotic music and propaganda about the Enclave, and which can sometimes be spotted silently staring at people.
- In Vega Strike Confed IntelSec apparently has these posters (in one Loading Screen). Sleep well, citizen! The image was moved around a little, but made in 2003 (see Real Life section for possible inspirations), according to its metadata.
- Naev is a subversion. The Empire frequently broadcasts "The Empire Is Watching You", but the Empire doesn't actually (appear to) operate like a surveillance state. The Empire doesn't interfere with your autonomy unless you attack them or commit galactic piracy (the same as most other factions in the game).
- Nobody Scores: in one series, the NSA produces a tentacled, many-eyed machine that is installed in your home and tracks everything about you for marketing purposes. It also detects terrorists "before they happen". People buy them quite willingly.
- In Gunnerkrigg Court, Jack thinks the Court puts tracking devices in food. So he's now starving himself to slip under the radar. As it turns out, he's absolutely right.
- Then there are Tic-Tocs whom Zimmy calls "Thousand Eyes", but nobody knows who controls these, if any (even the court robots can only identify them as "mythical ornithonics"). And "witness model" robots.
- In the webcomic Masters Of The Art, Jackson, "King of the Perverts," does this all the time.
Dirk: Crap, I never got her number!
Marie: Oh, look, Reed's facebook status says he's applying for a job! Wait, mine says I'm at your place. I don't remember writing that.
- The Omnoculus device from Heist was designed to bring this about.
- Sinfest had fun with these: It's flip-off time! Flip-off time again. Office assistant. And now, bomf-off time.
- Pip in Sequential Art points out another side of this problem: if only they'd just watch, but then, they aren't competent enough to keep it to themselves.
- The six Flash videos about the Vahki enforcers, more than any other piece of media in the series, depict Makuta's reign (when disguised as Turaga Dume) like this. And they weren't shy about it, with taglines like "Turaga Dume sees all -- Thoughts can be dangerous" or "Obedience is happiness".
- Later touched upon in the web serials, when Makuta took over the entire Matoran Universe. Or rather, he became the universe, gaining control over the very forces of nature, and of course supervision over his entire body.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender: "There is no war in Ba Sing Se."
- Springfield became like this in one episode when they hired a man from Great Britain to install cameras all through the town. Ned Flanders was employed as one of the monitors and soon has the Big Brother complex. In fact, in his My God, What Have I Done? speech, he lampshades it by saying that he just wanted to be a Little Sister instead of a Big Brother. And he, along with Homer, go about the city shooting the cameras with shotguns.
- In The Powerpuff Girls Rule, Buttercup fantasy of how the world would be if ruled by her included a propaganda titled "Big Butter is Watching You" where she threatened to punch anyone who didn't follow her rule.
- 2013 was The Year The Paranoids Were Proved Right. Edward Snowden, a contractor for the United States' National Security Agency, began releasing hundreds upon hundreds of pages of classified documents he had stolen from NSA computers, revealing that if anything the paranoids had been too calm and relaxed about things. Since the enactment of the PATRIOT Act in the aftermath of 9/11, the NSA turned out to have wormed their way into just about every communications channel in the world, tapping phone lines, subverting encryption programs, hoovering up details on every phone call and email that passed through American-based servers, bugging the leaders of allied countries, and even dispatching agents to play MMORPGs to make sure terrorists weren't pretending to be elves and orcs. By the end of 2013, Snowden had released only a few thousand of an estimated million or more pages of incriminating documents, each wave more outrageous than the one prior to it. The cumulative effect so far is so great that even the author of the PATRIOT Act wants the NSA brought to heel. Stay tuned for more details—unless they start censoring the news channels.
- Truth in Television: During Stalin's rule in the Soviet Union, especially apparent with Stalin Freund Genosse.
- The British Secure Beneath Watchful Eyes poster, as seen above. Made even creepier considering the fact that someone thought this would make people feel safer.
- They didn't, they just knew it's harder to complain about something presented like that - it's "This store is monitored by CCTV for your security" applied to a whole city.
- Did they have to make it look like every fake propaganda poster from every dystopian movie ever? (Or is that a Take That from a Genre Savvy graphic artist?)
- It's possible they were consciously trying to copy WWII propaganda posters (which may have been the Trope Codifier for the graphics in the dystopian movies.)
- Actually it was based on dystopian propaganda. The artist used several designs and the people who put them up felt the secure beneath watchful eyes poster was the best.
- They didn't, they just knew it's harder to complain about something presented like that - it's "This store is monitored by CCTV for your security" applied to a whole city.
- Saw ads for a program to teach kids to clean their teeth in East Germany: involved a cartoony stickman with a camera who would always know if you hadn't been doing what you were told.
Q: How do you know that the Stasi has bugged your apartment?
- Speaking of the Stasi: After the storming of its headquarters and the discovery of its documents in the wake of the 2011 Revolution, Egypt's State Security Investigations Service (SSIS) proved to be nearly as bad as the Stasi in terms of spying on the people: some records indicate that at least three million Egyptians worked for the police services, of whom the majority were informants.
- To put it in perspective, the Stasi, according to conservative official estimates, employed 174,000 informants, or about 2.5% of the country's population of 16 million. Out of Egypt's population of 80 million, the police employed 3.75%. Even when you subtract the number (no more than a 1-1.5 million) who were official police and paramilitaries, that's still pretty damned high—higher than any state of the old Eastern Bloc except perhaps East Germany: the official ratio of informants to citizens in East Germany was 1:66; Egypt's ratio is on the low end (with 1 million informants) 1:80 or on the high end (2 million) 1:40. And then you consider that these numbers only count those who were on the SSIS payroll as full-time informants...yeah.
- The concept of the Panopticon prison subverts this. Big Brother probably isn't watching you, but he might be, so you'd better be on your best behavior!
- Real Life examples are never as extreme as fictional ones, though (yet!). In real life, watching everyone takes a lot of time and resources that would be better used elsewhere. Big Brother is expensive, Dystopia Is Hard and only the most paranoid of the paranoid will consider doing this after they see the price tag. Also, real villains are not exempt from obstructive bureaucracies, malfunctioning equipment, delays, and plain bad luck.
- British humorist Alan Coren wrote a short story, back in the late 70s, titled something like "1984 Has Been Unavoidably Postponed." Immediately below the title was the explanation that "totalitarianism could never work in Britain. How could it, when nothing else does?" It included a scene in which Winston Smith phoned (getting several wrong connections) to complain that his telescreen wasn't watching him.
- One of the reasons a lot of people in various fields laugh whenever someone shouts Big Brother is coming is due to the awareness that while the technology may be there, the funding, personnel, sufficient training facilities and motivation is not. You need all five for it to work, and even then it would be so inefficient that malefactors are more likely to be missed.
- "A bomb won't go off here because weeks before a shopper reported someone studying the CCTV cameras."
- Total Information Awareness, a project to combine all of the various US government data mining projects into one big scary monolith. Just look at that logo! The motto translates to "Knowledge is power".
- Note that the IAO was cancelled within months for looking too Orwellian. But most of the proposed activities are still being carried out by other agencies.
- "It sees all. It knows all. The Reaper (automated surveillance plane) is watching." This is a commercial by...the Air Force? They show it at the movies.
- The new[when?] French "LOPPSI" law, known for enabling arbitrary Internet censorship like China and Australia, also officially renames "videosurveillance" into "videoprotection", quite reminiscent of the british ad.
- Facebook. The government isn't surveilling you, but your actual big brother just tagged you in all of the photos that anyone ever took of you.
- According to the Terms of Service; Didn't Read website, as of August 2019 Facebook tracks you on other websites even if you don’t have a Facebook account. If you do have an account, they use your identity in ads that are shown to other users, and provide personal data to third parties by default.
- Red light and speed cameras, used by many large cities purportedly to enforce traffic laws, particularly in areas prone to speeders and/or intersections with high accident rates due to motorists running red lights. Defenders of the cameras insist they have helped cut down on accidents, while detractors will play the "Big Brother" card.
- In 2012 National Security Agency built a massive Utah Data Center, because they simply did not have the room to store the massive amounts of data they started to acquire after 9/11. They copy pretty much the entire US communications network as well as those ones they can tap in other nations. If you do anything on the internet or over the phone, there is a good chance they have a copy of it, somewhere.
Remember: just because you finished reading the article doesn't mean we're not still watching you.