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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Should we listen to the horse?

It is safer to "interpret" Shakespeare than Ray Bradbury? According to this LA Weekly article Fahrenheit 451 is not about governmental censorship but the dumbing down of society through television:
Bradbury imagined a democratic society whose diverse population turns against books: Whites reject Uncle Tom’s Cabin and blacks disapprove of Little Black Sambo. He imagined not just political correctness, but a society so diverse that all groups were "minorities." He wrote that at first they condensed the books, stripping out more and more offending passages until ultimately all that remained were footnotes, which hardly anyone read. Only after people stopped reading did the state employ firemen to burn books.

Most Americans did not have televisions when Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451, and those who did watched 7-inch screens in black and white. Interestingly, his book imagined a future of giant color sets — flat panels that hung on walls like moving paintings. And television was used to broadcast meaningless drivel to divert attention, and thought, away from an impending war.
How prescient he was. Not only was he correct about the technology, in a Jules Verne/H.G. Wells sort of way, but he precisely forecast the use of the technology - Paris Hilton/Bennifer instead of Iraq/Afghanistan.

When I read the book, which I do every couple of years, I see the self-censorship that he describes (people quit reading), but I never understood the government feeling obligated to burn the books. When I first read the book in high school the teacher emphasized that the book was about government censorship, probably like the teachers of millions of high school students. It is interesting that Bradbury was alive at the time and yet others felt obligated/qualified to interpret his book their way. The LA Weekly doesn't specify whether Bradbury provided his intent before this article - if he did, shame on the teachers, if he didn't shame on him?

Interesting read nonetheless.

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