November 6, 2008
A Burning Dystopia:
Response to Fahrenheit 451
Why would anyone want to reflect upon the ways of their certain society without any restrictions, if they were truly happy? Why would anyone advocate for a universal sense of individualism being practiced along with the freedoms of expressing themselves, if they lived in a society where everyone was created and treated as an equal? In Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and its film depiction, the notions of control, knowledge or the lack there of, and power relations are all concepts that were a intricate part in his portrayal of what a 24th century society might entail and one can argue that these ideas definitely hold true in relation to the contemporary society in America, during the 21st century.
The government controls the citizens of Fahrenheit 451 by burning books and erasing any sense of an educated mind that one can possibly gain and positively pass on to another. Books offer conflicting points of view and to the government of Fahrenheit 451, books imply that a possibility of superiority, amongst those who may not understand the information that is gained from them in general, may arise. Why then should a society be divided by something, regardless of how current societies view books within the never-ending realm of powerful possibility, that may leave half of its people feeling incompetent and not worthy of existence?
The premise of the novel revolves around a fireman named Montag who instead of putting out fires starts them with his fellow, what I like to call “Arson-causing, Knowledge-fearing” firefighters. Montag goes about his daily endeavors without any qualms until he realizes that his life is based upon emptiness, therefore he has this dire need to find significance and comprehension into it by reading the information branded upon these books, though his occupation is to rid his society of them. Unlike his wife Mildred who with her suicide attempt, whether or not she was aware of having attempted it, needs psychiatric help and has become so obsessed with the figures upon the television screen, the powers that be, who make her feel bright and worthy of existence. Michel Foucault, philosopher and writer of Discipline & Punish, once stated, “In a sense, I am a moralist, insofar as I believe that one of the tasks, one of the meanings of human existence - the source of human freedom - is never to accept anything as definitive, untouchable, obvious, or immobile. No aspect of reality should be allowed to become a definitive and inhuman law for us. We have to rise up against all forms of power - but not just power in the narrow sense of the word, referring to the power of a government or of one social group over another: these are only a few particular instances of power. Power is anything that tends to render immobile and untouchable those things that are offered to us as real, as true, as good” (Foucault). Knowledge is power and it has been for centuries. Montag wants to break free from the sense of ignorance that his boss, Beatty who is one of the gifted ones having known all along the good that books can offer people, does not encounter. In choosing to keep the intellectual power to himself, he is unkindly able to point the finger, critique and rule over those who are lacking in knowledge. Beatty sees books as weapons, and yet as the great philosopher Plato did to denigrate poetry by using poetic devices, he uses the immeasurable amount of knowledge that he has accumulated throughout his reading of books to manipulate Montag further.
In the 21st century, technological advances and the media have made the pleasure of reading and gaining intellectual, emotional, and physical insight into the history of the world, a lesson that most would rather be enlightened by via the television or movie screen. Nowadays, everything has turned into something that technology, be it television, computers, the internet, ipods, or cell phones, can bring to the consumer a lot quicker than the era of the old-fashioned typewriter, pen and paper, and books used to. In America, our society seems to be too dependent on the knowledge one can gain within the blink of an eye. Demolish books and all of history is eradicated along with them. If technology is hindered by something in the future, everyone would have to crack open a book, which seems laborious to some, but it’s the way people before us gained their knowledge. Did Michel Foucault strike utter intellectual and philosophical genius by way of the Internet? Did anyone who paved the way for those who are attached to technology at the hip, use the Internet?
Bradbury’s novel seems to mirror very clearly what is happening in our society, let alone what might happen in the 24th century of American society. As a culture, a lot of our people no longer feel stimulated by a good book, or even a bad book in fact. We are dumbing down as a society, and allowing technology to run everything. Adorno states in The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception, “Anyone who resists can only survive by fitting in” (Adorno). In Fahrenheit 451, regardless of his own epiphanies, Montag began to find meaning within the books and realized that he must resist burning them, but in a society that is founded upon the notion that happiness is equated with equality, what else can one do through their need to rebel but go with the norm in order to survive, however wrong the conditions may seem.
Nothing is original anymore, a writer may not be able to spark or evoke the kind of intellectual emotion and passion from his/her reader like the writers of times past had been able to. Our children today are raised on stupid Nickelodeon television as opposed to the books that young adults can remember reading fondly. Instead of learning with Sesame Street and its respective children’s literature, our kids are playing with handheld computer games, even if it teaches them lessons, it still robs them the joy of reading and walking away with something that may not be colorful and exciting to play with, but colorful in words and lessons that will make a world of difference years down the road for them. Walter Benjamin’s article entitled, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, questions the idea of books becoming out of date and technology controlling completely supreme sooner or later. Our Libraries attest to this. You walk into a university library or any library for that matter, and see people pacing back and forth waiting for a computer. You never see people pacing back and forth, frantic because someone took the only copy of Fahrenheit 451. This society has become quite a dystopia. This invention of technology and its influence harboring over the existence of the essential way to gain awareness is nothing more or less than utterly sad.
Adorno, Theodor. "The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception" WebCT. CSUN.
Benjamin, Walter. "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" WebCT.CSUN.
Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451. New York: Del Rey, 1978.
Foucault, Michel. Discipline & Punish : The Birth of the Prison. New York: Random House, 1975.