Make no mistake, Ray Bradbury is a master of science fiction.
I read Farenheit 451 back in my high school days. Long before the Internet, iPods, MP3 players and all the other nifty little technology we sport these days.
Little did I know.
It is claimed that Farenheit 451 is a “book about censorship.” I do not dispute that claim. As a matter of fact, I wholeheartedly agree that this is the primary directive of this novel.
Wonderfully written, the story focuses on Guy Montag, a fireman. But he is a fireman of the future.
You must understand, the book was first published in 1950. Therefore, the “future” Mr. Bradbury refers to in the book is, well, now. By the way, Mr. Bradbury is alive and thriving at the age of 91.
Firemen n the future do not extinguish fires. They start them.
They start them by burning books.
Montag is of an age that he does not recall a time when firemen didn’t burn books. He has never read a book himself since the reading of books is illegal.
Upon reading the book a second time after all these years, the burning of books is not the only chilling aspect of the novel.
In this futuristic society, Bradbury has devised the Seashell – a device which fits into the ear. It delivers the news, information and music and people use them almost all the time.
A shame we don’t have these Seashells –
Wait a minute. We do have these devices. We call them iPods. MP3 players. Cell phones.
And there are people who walk around with those blue tooth devices on their ears, looking like Borgs from a Star Trek movie.
We have not, thank God, implemented the banning of books en masse and I pray that we never do.
There are those who would remove, among others, all the Harry Potter books from the library shelves and they pursue this goal relentlessly. If you don’t want your children reading particular books, don’t allow them to read them, but don’t infringe upon anyone else’s right to read them. Furthermore, what are you doing putting your time and energy into trying to ban books when you should be spending that time and energy with your children?
The more connected we become via communications devices, the more disconnected we become: physically, emotionally and spiritually: the more disconnected we become from humanity, compassion, sympathy, empathy with each other and with ourselves.
Which is exactly what happened in F451.
The world had become apathetic; an apathy which was characterized in Mildred Montag, Guy’s wife. So plugged in to all the technology was she that she unplugged from reality and from life, metaphorically and almost literally. When we first meet Mildred, she has taken an overdose of pills. Whether intentionally or accidentally is uncertain. Mildred has so plugged in to the electronic devices that she ceases to pay attention to the real world, her husband or to what she herself is doing.
Mildred spends so much time listening to the Seashells in her ears and with the wallscreens that she doesn’t really take the time to think about anything.
The wallscreens fascinate me. The walls of the living room are actual screens for the “televisor.” The televisor not only shows programs, but also allows people to communicate, create and interact with programs and with each other. Does that sound familiar? It should. We call it the Internet. The technology to combine the Internet with the television set is already in use.
So inundated in these wallscreens is Millie that she refers to the people she interacts with as ‘family,’ completely ignoring the husband she has as family.
Why did they begin burning books to begin with?
Ah, there lies the real crux of the story, though Mr. Bradbury may not have even been aware of it at the time. Bradbury has admitted that his subconscious was at work, having named one character Faber – after a pencil company – and another Montag – a paper manufacturing company. What he may not have realized is that his subconscious was working overtime.
It is not only a book about censorship. It is also a book about brainwashing.
The burning of books came about because it was believed that books kept people unhappy. Books promote thinking and feeling and ideas. Books made people realize how unhappy they really were and unhappy people are more difficult to control.
So the reading of books was deemed illegal and homes were “fireproofed” and firemen were out of a job.
Until someone got the bright idea (no pun intended) to put them to work burning libraries. And any homes which harbored books.
Books were replaced with electronic communications devices, to keep people’s minds occupied. It relieved them of the responsibility of thinking for themselves so they would not realize whether they were happy or not.
It was not until Montag thought about it – really thought about it – that he realized he was not happy.
The platitudes uttered today sometimes sound like brainwashing. “Be happy with what you have” is one of my personal favorites. If you actually think about it, it is really saying, “Stop trying to achieve more and settle for what you’ve got.” It’s a philosophy to which I have never subscribed.
To complicate matters, this platitude is a direct contradiction to another: “You can accomplish anything you set your mind to.”
One says, “Don’t Try” and the other says, “Keep Trying.” It keeps people so confused and not knowing what to do that, generally, they end up doing nothing.
While we are civilized enough to not burn or ban books, we are at the point where we are replacing them.
Instead of being taught the joy of reading, children are handed the instruments for video games, MP3 players and cell phones.
While still enabling people to read books, electronic reading devices are stil that: electronic.
Unfortunately, this rush to electronic oblivion will not be halted or waylaid. It is inevitable at this point.
Is it me or is it getting hot in here?