Jun 12, 2012
Last week, Ray Bradbury, the American writer best known for his dystopian classic ‘Fahrenheit 451′ died at the age of 91. Not surprisingly, the death of the author has caused renewed interest in his work, and I admit it was his death that inspired me to finally read F451.
I like a good dystopian novel, be it Orwell’s ’1984′, or Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’, they are powerful, creative visions of our future. Orwell’s 1984, written at the start of the Cold War, painted a hauntingly bleak picture of a state that brutally subjugates its citizens in a Kim Jong-il sort of way. While F451 is a vision of a totalitarian society, it is far different than the one portrayed in 1984. In the world of F451, its not so much a regime that subdues the population, but rather a society that evolves to eschew independent thinking, repressing it to the point where firefighters don’t fight fires, but rather hunt down books, and burn them. The people do not feel repressed; in fact they are blissfully happy, kept entertained by a non-stop barrage of junk food entertainment. F451 is a world where people are raised to not ask ‘why’, but rather ‘how’, where people are constantly stimulated by music, tv shows and sporting events, rendering them unwilling and incapable of disconnecting themselves. Those who do stop to wonder ‘why?’ who do bring to light uncomfortable truths, they are hunted down and ruthlessly killed (also shown on live TV for everyone’s enjoyment).
F451 was written in 1953, well before the digital age, yet its remarkable how relevant Bradbury’s tale is to our world. We desire constant stimulation, be it from our iPhones, the TV or the people around us. The internet brings instant gratification, we no longer have to sit through ‘boring’ TV shows because there is nothing on, we don’t have to read books because we can stream the movie re-boot, we don’t try unknown restaurants, because why risk the disappointment when there are so many ‘5-star’ ones on Yelp! ? The easier we can satisfy our desires, the less room there is to experience something new, and unexpected.
The result of our connectedness is a collective onset of ADD, where we don’t give time to things that are unknown and that make us uncomfortable, because its just so easy to scratch the itch we have. F451 is powerful portrait of a society bred on instant gratification, the lengths it will go to preserve itself. Last week, I was disappointed that it took me so long to get to Fahrenheit 451, but having finished it, I am glad I waited.