Saturday, February 14, 2009

Fire Alarm

Fahrenheit 451 Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
I have no idea why it took me so long to get around to Fahrenheit 451. Just one of those things, I guess. Yesterday I was waiting for a train and I had nothing to read. I had just finished The Martian Chronicles. I stopped into a comic book shop and there was good old Ray Bradbury.

It was published in 1953 and is, if anything, more relevant today. The book is, of course, about censorship, but the real meat of it is on the question of what makes censorship happen. Bradbury shows us a future where mass media is so pervasive that people don't think, feel, or make significant personal connections. It is a future of big screen TVs and little radios stuck in our ears. Deep thinking and feeling are outré. They can lead to unhappiness. It is a culture of the elementary school where the outstanding nail is hammered down and anyone shown to be smarter or better or different is bullied into conformity. In such a culture books are a threat, but a minor one. The job of the censor is easy where the people don't read.

I finished reading the book when I was still a couple of hours away from home. I began to pay attention to the people around me. The woman to my right was watching a movie on her computer. A woman ahead of me tried to get her kids to read their homework assignments, but they begged to play with their computers. The books stayed with the luggage. Mom spent much of the ride playing Tetris. The guy beside me was listening to something on earphones. When I got up to stretch I saw the woman behind me was playing with her phone, smiling into the screen.

Are we amusing ourselves to death, as Neil Postman famously phrased it? Perhaps not quite yet. But Bradbury surely meant this to be a cautionary tale. We risk much by not heeding his warning now.

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