Six Decades after Fahrenheit 451
Ray Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 nearly sixty years ago, but it is as eerily relevant today as the day it came off the press. The dystopian America of Bradbury’s breakthrough novel is a place where floor-to-ceiling televisions blare fake reality shows, where the minimum speed limit is 55 mph, and teenagers get their kicks killing each other.
This America is a police state that is forever at war or on the brink of war, including nuclear conflict. It is also, famously, a society in which books have been outlawed, and the job of firemen is to burn not only books but also the houses that conceal them and, sometimes, the inhabitants.
The plot is well known: a fireman, Guy Montag, is shocked by his wife’s attempted suicide into wondering why a society so preoccupied with instant gratification produces so many murderous, suicidal, and lonely people.
He begins to read the few books he has been secretly collecting, stolen from the scenes of the fires he’s started during his 10 year career. He finds an old professor of English, who tries to explain why books are both valuable and dangerous. “Books were only one type of receptacle where we stored a lot of things we were afraid we might forget,” says Professor Faber.
“There is nothing magical in them at all. The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us.”
In a wonderful bit of thematic juxtaposition, the professor tells Montag the same thing his commanding officer, Captain Beatty, tells him: the effort to ban the printed word didn’t originate with a repressive government; it was bottom up, stemming from the public’s desire to ignore difficult information.
“Remember, the firemen are rarely necessary. The public stopped reading of its own accord,” he explains. “I remember the newspapers dying like huge moths. No one wanted them back. No one missed them. And then the Government, seeing how advantageous it was to have people reading only about passionate lips and the fist in the stomach, circled the situation with your fire-eaters.”
We don’t have a state-run media, and there’s a wealth of great journalism available to the American consumer today, although finding it takes more effort than it should. Sadly, few people make the effort. Many more choose, instead, to read and watch only the media that presents the world in a context with which they personally agree. So, the Right watches FOX News and reads The Wall Street Journal, while the Left watches MSNBC and reads The New York Times. Is there not something similar in the manipulation of information described by Captain Beatty?Continued on the next page