Last week in my Weekly Dithering, I noted that the book Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury was life changing for me. It is why I teach English (as opposed to band or even some other occupation entirely.) This quote is from that book, delivered by the fire chief. (Who may be the villain or who may be sympathetic to Montag.) I can’t say that it is my favorite quote, but it’s up there.
Ray Bradbury IS my favorite author. Another significant quote by him that sticks with me is, “I don’t try to describe the future. I try to prevent it.”
What draws me to his writing and his beliefs is the truth that he exposed. The novel was life-changing, because it was terrifying, and in my lifetime, it’s all coming true. Yes, book banning (and probably burning) happens. And even when those bans are reversed, it doesn’t matter. The damage is done.
Yes, there are a few of us bibliophiles still out there. Plenty of books are still sold, and most of those are read and not just stacked in the corner. But the truth is, our culture as a whole does not read. There are too many distractions, and for whatever reason, many find reading to be boring. Of those that do, the highest percentage read what I would consider “fluff” or at least books that require little to no intellectual investment.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with that kind of book. However, without pushing our intellect and questioning what we know and believe, culture devolves. Where besides books (or at the very least movies and podcasts and blogs made by people who DO invest their brains into books, then create other mediums that make the audience think), where are we going to grow? Where are we going to evolve? The media? Our politicians? The big summer blockbusters? No, we are mindless sheep and believe any old hash slung in front of us.
It has been said that we are in an anti-intellectual era. If it isn’t true, we are darn close.
Some of those anti-intellectual things in the novel (written in the 1950s) that terrify me:
-TVs that take up the entire wall. (The Montags own three, and she wants the fourth.) And the shows? There’s talk, but nothing really happens. There’s usually a lot of shouting.
Reality TV and daytime talk shows on a 72in 3D screen, anyone?
-The lack of books.
First they were abridged, then a page summary, then a little blip. Any little communication is a few sentences at most. (Sound familiar? It reminds me of. The 140 character limit of Twitter.)
-The ostracizing of people who think and question.
What did happen to Clarice? (And why doesn’t anyone today believe scientists, especially in regards to global warming? Why are smart kids picked on?)
-The Seashell ear pieces, with the constant stream of babble and music.
As a teacher, I see hordes of music zombies in the hall, students walking around with headphones clamped over their ears. Yes, they choose their own music, but they are tuning out the world. If it’s not music, it’s YouTube, or texting, or something.
-Overmedication, drug addictions and overdoses.
No surprise that Mrs. Montag can’t sleep with sound bombarding her all the time. No wonder that one sleeping pill isn’t enough so she takes the whole bottle. (And us? I’m not saying that sometimes medication isn’t necessary. But an over drugged, undereducated population is easy to control. For example, I believe ADD and ADHD DO exist, but I don’t agree that every kid diagnosed with it has or it or that there aren’t alternative treatments/therapies that some would benefit from that are NOT pills. And how many people have been prescribed medication they then took too much of? I can list at least 10 without thinking, and those are just celebrities!)
-A war that may or may not be happening and no citizen really knows who it’s against or why.
No comment here. It speaks for itself.
-A constant barrage of invasive ads for products people don’t necessarily need.
Again, no comment.
That’s pretty bleak, so I’ll end by clarifying a common misunderstanding about Ray Bradbury. He was not a science fiction writer. He was just a writer. Yes, many of his stories and novels deal with dystopia or Mars or the horrific and warnings against ignrance, isolation, and too many machines.
But so many more were about the good things in life. He didn’t just warn us, he also taught us about how things could be. Look to Dandelion Wine or any of his stories set in Green Town (nostalgically based on his hometown of Waukegon, IL) or any of his Mexico stories. In the body of his work, he tells us what to watch out for and prevent, but he also tells us what things can be.
For 10 little known facts about Bradbury, visit http://mentalfloss.com/article/52385/10-things-you-should-know-about-ray-bradbury.