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Fahrenheit 451 May 15, 2011

Posted by Jeff in Uncategorized.
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I think everybody’s at least heard of this novel, Ray Bradbury’s 1954 winner of the Hugo Award. If not, it’s the story of Guy Montag, a fireman in the not-too-distant future. But in this future, firemen don’t fight fires, they start them. Specifically, they burn books, which are illegal in this future. (I would be a Class One outlaw in this future.)

This novel shares a slightly similar theme to A Canticle for Liebowitz, in that there’s a small group of people trying to preserve the knowledge of a forgotten past. But in this case, it came about through a natural occurrence of events. Mr. Bradbury’s vision of how this future comes to pass is chillingly prophetic, and for that I give him large credit.

Wait a minute. I just thought about that phrase, “how this future comes to pass.” Something wrong with that structure. Oh well, never mind.

As I was saying, Bradbury’s foresight is made more striking by the fact that, at the time this was written, television had only been around for a few years. In the novel, television has gradually taken over the attention and the minds of the people. Books are feared and hated not only because of the knowledge that they contain, but also because of the questions they raise in readers. And society slowly evolved,  helped along by the mass media exploitation of this trend, to the point that the images on the screen were all that mattered to many. Those in power controlled the images, and thereby controlled society.

And now take a look at today’s society, where everything is Flash, and Now, and What’s The Hot Thing Today? Feed my senses, not my mind.  Things and people of substance and thought are scorned and ridiculed, to some degree or another. This is the author’s prophecy come true. Long-time readers of science fiction will have seen this for themselves when they tried to share their passion with others not of like mind. S-F was for a long time a “fringe” genre. It’s only in the last few years that it’s starting to shake off this mantle, but there are still many who, knowing very little about it, tend to regard not only this field scornfully but also intellectual pursuit in general. As one bit of evidence of this, consider the term “nerd,” derogatorily applied to someone who was generally more well-read than others and therefore more intelligent, and importantly more capable of critical thought.

And I fear the trend is growing because we are now in the second and third generation of this phenomenon, and parents are raising children in this atmosphere, not knowing the value in books, and learnedness. I’ll always remember the words of the late Ann Landers who said, “Those who do not read are no better off than those who cannot read.”

In reviewing my own words here, I realize that this novel resonates with me because in ways it’s a diatribe against anti-intellectualism, of which we see so many symptoms today. This thought is bolstered by the author’s own afterword, in which he relates a few anecdotes concerning the attempted editing of his work by otherwise well-meaning individuals, in order to make his work more palatable by a larger audience. In other words, a “dumbing-down” of his message. Television is full of this; it’s called “lowest common denominator” programming, a concept created by Fred Silverman, former head of CBS in the sixties and seventies.

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