Why ‘Fahrenheit 451’ Is the Book for Our Social Media Age

From The New York Times:

No books were harmed in the making of this motion picture. There will be no such disclaimer at the end of my new film, because we burned a lot of books. We designed powerful, kerosene-spitting flamethrowers and torched books — en masse. This was not easy for me to do. I was taught at a very young age to read and respect books. Even setting a teacup on a book was considered a sin. In my parents’ household, Hafez’s book of Persian poetry, “The Divan,” was revered like a religious text.

But now I was making a film adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s seminal novel, “Fahrenheit 451,” which presents a future America where books are outlawed and firemen burn them. The protagonist, a fireman named Guy Montag, begins to doubt his actions and turns against his mentor, Captain Beatty. When I set out to adapt the novel early in 2016, I was faced with a big question: Do people still care about physical books?

I asked an 82-year-old friend for advice. “Go ahead and burn books,” he said. “They mean nothing to me. I can read anything on my tablet, from the ‘Epic of Gilgamesh’ to Jo Nesbo, and I can read them in bed, on a plane or next to the ocean, because it’s all in the cloud, safe from your firemen’s torches.”

If he felt this way, what would teenagers think? Bradbury’s novel is a classic taught in high schools across America. But the more I thought about it, the more relevant the novel seemed. For Bradbury, books were repositories of knowledge and ideas. He feared a future in which those things would be endangered, and now that future was here: The internet and new social-media platforms — and their potential threat to serious thought — would be at the heart of my adaptation.

. . . .

Bradbury’s key inspiration was the invasion of seven-inch black-and-white televisions into people’s homes. Bradbury was no Luddite. He wrote screenplays, including one for an adaptation of “Moby-Dick.” He also wrote 65 episodes of a television series, “The Ray Bradbury Theater.” But in “Fahrenheit 451” Bradbury was warning us about the threat of mass media to reading, about the bombardment of digital sensations that could substitute for critical thinking.

In the novel, he imagined a world where people are entertained day and night by staring at giant wall screens in their homes. They interact with their “friends” through these screens, listening to them via “Seashells” — Bradbury’s version of Apple’s wireless AirPods — inserted in their ears. In this world, people would be crammed “full of noncombustible data” — words to popular songs, the names of state capitals, the amount of “corn Iowa grew last year.” They will “feel they’re thinking,” Bradbury wrote, “and they’ll be happy, because facts of that sort don’t change.”

Bradbury was worried about the advent of Reader’s Digest. Today we have Wikipedia and tweets. He worried that people would read only headlines. Today it seems that half the words online have been replaced with emojis. The more we erode language, the more we erode complex thought and the easier we are to control.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

24 thoughts on “Why ‘Fahrenheit 451’ Is the Book for Our Social Media Age”

  1. Burning books is a symptom. It’s something thought police do. Ironic that this article comes from the NYT because the they’re very big on political correctness which is an arm of the thought police.

    • There is more than one branch of thought police, and they don’t agree.
      While the current liberals, (ahem, “Progressives”) have one strain, the conservatives have another.

      It’s all about orthodoxy.

      As I’ve said many times, both sides want to tell you how to live. The liberals stance against “micro-aggressions” and “hate speech”, and blatant disregard for the first half of the first amendment, is matched by the conservatives stance against vulgarity and Godlessness,…and blatant disregard for the second half of the first amendment.

      Neither side has a good track record of leaving the other side alone to mind their own business.

      • It’s always about which orthodoxy is on top and getting desperate to stay there.

        But it makes a difference when one of the orthodoxies is rioting in universities and threatening pundits with physical harm. Time and place matter as much as who the participants are.

      • How do conservatives disregard the right to assemble and petition government?

        Both sides do indeed want to tell folks how to live. That’s protected by the First Amendment. Lots of sides do that. The problem is when one side wants to force people to live their way. Violence is a good indicator.

        • It’s (very) old news, but to both of you.
          The Conservative orthodox put places like Waco and Tulsa on the map by expecting those uppity … to know their place and not strive for better.
          The Conservative orthodox put places like Chicago on the map by chasing off that weird cult with funny ideas about a third volume in the bible.
          It was individual members of the Conservative orthodox who decided that humanist doctors, seeing no human rights in a fetus a few weeks old, should die to protect the unborn from their butchery.

          There is no excuse for rioting on a college campus because someone who doesn’t share your ideas, (or who you heard, second hand, doesn’t share your ideas,) is given a forum there, and not even a forum you’re required or expected to attend, just a forum that is in your neighborhood, but such violence is not new, and is not limited to the liberals. It appears that at this time they are running wild and given far more license than would ever be appropriate, where our own excesses were largely curtailed several decades ago, but it’s not a condition unique to them. Every group has bad apples, and one bad apple can spoil the bunch if not dealt with properly and expeditiously.

          The Conservative orthodox would plant a monument to a major Judeo-Christian set of laws in front of the state capital, and close their minds to the precedent it establishes. (It should be mentioned that Islam is growing very fast, although I don’t know if it’s growing faster than humanism or atheism. Us Christians may not hold the center square for much longer. It’s probably not wise to make such breaches of the 1st amendment acceptable.)

          It appears I got the parts of the 1st amendment flipped around a bit. The liberals currently want to do away with the middle part, and the conservatives frequently flout the first part.

          • So, because a bunch of dead and buried people did bad things 50-100 years ago, it’s okay to riot and threaten people today, who had nothing to do with that?


            Never mind.

            Just don’t be surprised when the next generation invokes that same rule.

            • I never said that.
              In fact, I said the exact opposite on the second paragraph.

              That professor with the bike chain should have been brought up on charges of assault and battery, and assault with a deadly weapon.
              Assuming, that is, that he wasn’t.

            • Conservatives, or at least some Conservatives (attempt to) disregard Separation of Church and State. That’s the part of the 1st that I was referencing.

              Liberals, or at least some Liberals, are advocating for doing away with Freedom of Speech.

              I didn’t say it before, but I thought my inference was clear enough.

  2. When I set out to adapt the novel early in 2016, I was faced with a big question: Do people still care about physical books?

    Hmm, could the story be modernized? At first I thought that to make it 2018ish the director have to change it so that issue is that the dead-tree books remain unchanged, while the digital versions are “updated” so that everyone knows we have always been at war with Eastasia. Except when it turns out we have always been at war with Oceania…and a company (Amazon!) or government agency could digitally reach inside your Kindle** to do the updates.

    But then I considered that you’d have outlaws putting up the original, uncut versions on the equivalent of Napster. Or Gutenberg … unless your government turns off the internet — and somehow lives to tell about it. But then rebels could simply transmit kindle/epub files, or scanned books they digitized, via USB drives. I think a USB drive was how a reactor was sabotaged in Iran; someone brought one into the office one day … so I guess the story would have an EMP attack first? Or a massive Carrington Event?

    I’m not sure you could update 451 and be true to the story, as it insists on modern life (Seashells), but at the same time supposes the internet does not treat censorship as damage and routes around it. For all that Google manipulates searches, they’re still not the only game in town.

    In his article the director doesn’t say how the absence of *print books* is helpful to the regime that banned them; the Evil Regime’s first step would have to be throwing everyone back into the Stone Age. Now I’m really skeptical. Hopefully the movie won’t be too awful.

    **Maybe when the movie comes out, Amazon could do a rip-off of Apple’s “1984” commercial, only explaining how the Kindle averts “Fahrenheit 451” …and also hope that no one remembers their “1984” incident 🙂

    • Even now Microsoft is working hard on this.

      Their latest OS Windows 10(Spyware 1.0) won’t run unless it’s allowed to ‘update’ from the mothership.

      Each update resets things you have changed from their required defaults and deletes programs MS doesn’t think you need/should be running on their OS.

      And files on your system are sent back to the mothership, even as they watch/record your every keystroke (for quality control we are told.)

      When they (or the government) is ready, they will ensure that you don’t have any ‘bad’ files/programs/stories/songs, deleting the bad and adding only what they want you to have/use/read/hear.

      And there will be raids and burnings of any computers not running the proper OS, or not always properly connected to the internet/spynet, and of course any media that might have a copy of ‘bad’ things on it – including paper.

      So, yeah, you could update it (and scare the crap out of all those people that think they and their data is safe. 😉 )

    • Exactly. There’s a part in the book where it’s explicitly pointed out that it’s not about books vs. TV, and that there’s no reason why the shows on the screen COULDN’T be the equal of books, they just aren’t. So frankly, I don’t think Bradbury would be at all distressed if people didn’t care about physical books because they were busy reading “The Epic of Gilgamesh” on their Kindles.

      • Along with “Papers, citizen.” There will be “kindle, citizen,” and they’ll make sure you aren’t carrying any forbidden knowledge/stories/idea. 😉

          • And they give me a dirty look when I hand them my pay-as-you-go phone. Had one even mutter ‘burner phone’. I asked him why anyone would carry the same phone for years if it was indeed a burner. (Personal screen is my first ebook’s cover, over 7K minutes on it and it doesn’t need to be renewed until 2020.)

            As I was saying further up, they love the idea of everything being linked to the web, change info in a file and change history or the meaning of a story – and only those that saw it before the change will realize that there was a change. And of course if you’re forced to save everything to the web you will have no secrets from them.

            (Why yes, I do have a PC that never gets connected to the net – and I side-load only my kindle. 😉 )

              • I knew they went after phones, hadn’t had my kindle on me the times I was ‘checked’. (And since the netbook harddrive had died I was booting it into Linux with a memory stick – which confused the heck out of them! 😉 )

  3. 1. I always thought Bradbury was warning me against reality TV programs.

    2. I wish we were in a position to write this same article about The Martian Chronicles. “Is it possible to update Bradbury’s book for 2018, when we have already terraformed Mars?”

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