Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and the Fairness Doctrine, a review

Posted on November 4, 2008. Filed under: A Theology of Patriotism, Book Reviews, Science Fiction, The Christian Survivalist |

Published in 1953 in the middle of the second “Red Scare”, but prior to the McCarthy Hearings, Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” is a classic SF story of a future dystopia where individualism is suppressed, people are more interested in entertainment than reading, and books are outlawed. While it may possibly have been aimed at the conservative, anti-communist trend of the day, or maybe just at the “group think” of the 1950’s culture and the emergence of TV as the major information medium, today it stands as a dark warning against our technological entertainment addiction, the lockstep liberal mindset that has imposed speech codes on college campuses, has set up  societal speech codes against “hate speech” that stifles free debate, and is seeking to impose the “Fairness Doctrine” in order to do away with conservative talk radio. This classic by Bradbury is every bit as important and moving today as it was 55 years ago when it was first published.

PLOT SUMMARY: Guy Montag is a fireman of the future; his job is to start fires. He burns books for a living in a society that does not want anyone unhappy and everyone to conform. It is a post-literate society that thrives on thrills and pleasure. The only goals for education are sports, entertainment and job training. Learning, thinking, is not allowed.

After a nice night of book burning he goes home and along the way meets a teenage girl, Clarisse, who sees the world through different eyes, asks all the wrong questions, and generally fails to conform to society’s restrictions. She colors outside the lines and Guy Montag gets colored by her. “You think too many things,” said Montag, uneasily. (p.39).

Montag realizes after meeting Clarisse, that he is unhappy and he soon begins to question the assumptions of his world. His wife’s attempted suicide and the burning of a woman and her books finally sends him over the edge and he steals a book and begins to read.

He is discovered by his wife,  his Fire Captain and the Mechanical Hound realize he is straying. Finally, Montag goes too far and terrifies his wife and her friends with books and he is turned in; his last fire call is to his own house. Montag kills the Hound and Cpt. Beatty and flees the city to the countryside where he meets up with a band of hobo’s who are living books. The story ends with the beginning of a nuclear war and the literary exiles begin to return to the city where they may now be needed.

Background:In the introduction to the book, Bradbury states that the idea came to him in a roundabout way from walking at night and being stopped by a Los Angeles policeman for walking at night. From this encounter he wrote “The Pedestrian”, then later “The Fireman” and finally “Fahrenheit 451”. He asserts no political motive, but his ridiculous brush with the law seems to have revealed to him the powers of the state can be turned against the individual in a very arbitrary manner. Though his intent may not have been to write about the Red Scare, the timing is at least fortunate, and even prescient when you see that the McCarthy Hearings came but a couple of years after publication. Bradbury writes (p.14) “Thank God for that squad-car encounter, the curious questions, my half-dumb answers, for if I hadn’t written “The Pedestrian” I might not, a few months later, have taken my midnight criminal stroller out for another jog around the city. When I did, what started as a word-or-idea association test turned into a 25,000 word novella entitled “The Fireman”, which I had immense difficulty selling, for it was the time of the Un-American Activities Committee, run by J. Parnell Thomas, long before Joseph McCarthy arrived on the scene with Bobby Kennedy at his elbow for further hearings.”

ANALYSIS: What makes a book a classic is that it strikes a chord in every generation. In the 1950’s it was the conservative reaction to communism, today it is the liberal establishment that seeks to control speech and squelch any dissent. Truly the book celebrates not just reading books, but it celebrates the individual against the State. It warns against the dumbing down of education and the entertainment addiction and the resultant inability to see or think or ask the right questions. It describes the loneliness and alienation of our post-modern world.

The book begins, “It was a pleasure to burn.” Guy Montag enjoyed his work as a fireman, but after ten years he was beginning to ask questions; all he needed was someone or something to push him over the edge into deeper thought. Initially he is “thinking little at all about nothing in particular” but soon he has his first encounter with Clarisse, the Socrates of the novel. At the end of their first conversation Clarisse asks Montag, “Are you happy?” and this starts a chain reaction that will lead us through the book.

This question by Clarisse reveals one of the deep ironies of the story. The culture of book burning was to eliminate disturbing ideas that made people unhappy. The presence of “the walls” (a wall TV set up that allowed the viewers to participate in the mindless entertainment of the day) is to ensure the happiness of the people as are the tiny sea shell radios in the ear, and all the sports and fast driving. It seems they were “Amusing Themselves To Death” (Neil Postman, 1986). But with all the technology and entertainment, Montag and his wife Mildred, were not happy. Thus the society that aimed at happiness, created despair instead. “Darkness. He was not happy. He was not happy. He said the words to himself. He recognized this as the true state of affairs. He wore his happiness like a mask and the girl had run off across the lawn with the mask and there was no way of going to knock on her door and ask for it back.”

Bradbury was writing this at the dawn of the TV age and his contempt for the medium is blatant. His depiction of an entire room with 3-4 walls of full screen inter-active TV is becoming reality. Today you can have the big screen TVs hooked up to your internet with web-cams and microphones and interact with whoever from wherever, recording it all for Youtube. Gamers can hook their TVs up to the X-box and internet and play multiplayer games in the same room with dozens of others around the globe in the same roleplaying games of violence and even sex. The Great Books remain on the shelves.

The despair is portrayed by Montag’s wife, Mildred, who has attempted suicide, he discovers, as soon as he enters the bedroom after his encounter with Clarisse. She had taken an overdose of sleeping pills so Montag calls for the hospital. The suicide crew show up and pump her stomach and give her some other drugs and a transfusion. In the morning she cannot even remember or process that she had OD’d the night before. The entire encounter with the emergency crew is another sign of despair: they are cold and cynical, dealing with 9-10 cases of this per night.

But Montag correctly perceives their saving of Mildred as being only a surface salvation. “If only they could have taken her mind along to the dry cleaner’s and emptied the pockets and steamed and cleansed it and reblocked it and brought it back in the morning. If only….” (p.46.) Here Bradbury is his most devastating and accurate. The souls of modern folk are dead. Despair is pervasive. The unexamined life is not worth living. To live for the here and now, to exist only for entertainment, is to be the walking dead.

Bradbury sees salvation coming to Montag through the asking of basic questions, challenging the prevailing assumptions, then returning to the great literary works of the past; breaking out of the bonds of an oppressive society so that he can be an individual again . While I can certainly go along with Bradbury’s conclusions, I would say that Bradbury does not go far enough. The problem with man is not merely an oppressive culture or government; it is not mere ignorance and cannot be healed with education alone. Man is created in the image of God and is designed to have a personal relationship with his Creator as an individual within a community.

Man’s basic problem is alienation from God because of our sin. That cannot be fixed apart from having the chains of sin loosed and Jesus alone can do that. Our society today is a sick culture, living for pleasure whether it is the CEO of a failed bank who got his $400, 000, 000 pay off or the diseased crack whore in the worst part of town. Yes we need to break the bonds of the society that seeks to conform us to its image, and we need to seek our liberty in Christ.

In the one clearly religious discussion in the book, Montag hands Faber a Bible: “It’s been a long time. I’m not a religious man. But it’s been a long time….It’s as good as I remember. Lord, how they’ve changed it in our ‘parlors’ these days. Christ is one of the ‘family’ now. I often wonder if God recognizes His own son the way we’ve dressed him up, or is it dressed him down? He’s a regular peppermint now, all sugar-crystal and saccharine when he isn’t making veiled references to certain commercial products that every worshiper absolutely needs.” (pp.109-110).

Throughout the book there is an oft repeated line or phrase about hearing the jet planes pass overhead. This is repeated several times and builds dread along the way. The dread is realized at the end when the bombs start dropping and the city is destroyed. The culture that was dead on the inside is now dying on the outside.

In his conversation with Beatty while lying in bed sick, Beatty says, “School is shortened, discipline relaxed, philosophies, histories, languages dropped, English and spelling gradually neglected, finally almost completely ignored. Life is immediate, the job counts, pleasure lies all about after work. Why learn anything save pressing buttons, pulling switches, fitting nuts and bolts.?” Here again Bradbury is prescient. When one compares the average public school education of today with that of Bradbury’s day you can see the trend, the decline. Indeed, it seems as if the goal of public schools today is create an underclass of ignorant, obedient, pleasure oriented serfs. Even our universities are no longer teaching people to think. They have become a liberal morass of groupthink where you literally have designated areas for free speech and students are disiplined or failed for failing to go along with the established liberal agenda.

I have personal experience with this. In the 1970’s while at OU I had two professors who gave me lower grades specifically because of my conservative Christian beliefs. They told me that was why I received a B instead of an A. I know what it is to be laughed at in class by the professor for disagreeing with his morality. I have young friends today who have told me horror stories of gay professors who will grade you down if they even think you are not wholly in support of their agenda. You don’t have to speak against the gay agenda, if you are not supportive you get graded down. All with the blessing of the Administration. Welcome to Montag’s world.

One of my favorite passages in the book (and with Bradbury’s writing style, I have many favorites!) is on page 65: the woman is about to be burned with her books and she quotes from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, “Play the man, Master Ridley; we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.” The context of the quote is the persecution of the Protestants in England during the reign of Bloody Mary who burned or otherwise executed a few hundred Protestants and exiled many hundreds more. Ridley and Latimer were burned together on Oct.16, 1555. With this quote Bradbury ties in the persecution of individualists of the future with those of the past who will always experience the flames of persecution.

“Those who don’t build must burn. It’s as old as history and juvenile delinquents”, said Faber to Montag (p.118). This line sounds so much like something Ayn Rand would have written somewhere in The Fountainhead or perhaps Atlas Shrugged. Society is comprised of those who build, those who use what is built thankfully or ignorantly, and those who tear down what is built because they resent the abilities of the builders. There are the sheep, the wolves, and those of us who would protect the sheep and kill wolves. In Scripture it is the Elect and the Damned. We live in a juvenile age and now the juveniles are running Congress, major banks and corporations, and apparently soon- the White House. Tyrants and Socialists build nothing, they sponge off the rest of us and tear down what others have built.

www.thornwalker.com/ditch/dtw_451.htm

Here is a quote from a review (see website above) from David T. Wright:

Unlike most of its successors, imitators, etc., Bradbury’s novel — or novella, really — is an inspired criticism of what we now call the “information society,” and the yawning chasm it is creating in our collective soul. In it he managed to predict with frightening accuracy such current social pathologies as the dumbing down of popular entertainment and education, our growing addiction to empty sensory stimulation, the rise of random violence among youth, the increasing anomie and alienation among everyone, the cult of pharmaciæ, the cult of consumerism, the cult of the victim and the resulting right of everyone (except normal white people) never to be offended, our increasing atomization, and, neither last nor least, the assault on truth and the life of the mind, which of course includes our society’s increasingly vicious attacks on Christianity. In short, Bradbury was able to discern the outlines of today’s Polite Totalitarianism. The amazing thing is that he did it more than 40 years ago.

I am writing this review on election day, Nov. 4th, 2008. The world has gone nuts for Obama and the Demoncrats who are promising to bring back the FAirness Doctrine by the FCC to purposefully wreck Talk Radio. The leftards already own Hollywood, CBSNBCABCCNNMSNBC and 95% of the newspapers. Now they want to destroy what they cannot duplicate. The internet will be next. The Left today are Marxists, Statists, Collectivists, and are anti-freedom. They use double-speak in the Orwellian universe they have created.

This review and the ones to follow will be a deliberate effort on my part to stand on the wall of freedom and herald the coming of the barbarians. Speak up now, or they will come for your blog next!

Acts 5:17 But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy 18 they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, 20 “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.” 21 And when they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and began to teach.

Now when the high priest came, and those who were with him, they called together the council and all the senate of the people of Israel and sent to the prison to have them brought. 22 But when the officers came, they did not find them in the prison, so they returned and reported, 23 “We found the prison securely locked and the guards standing at the doors, but when we opened them we found no one inside.” 24 Now when the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them, wondering what this would come to. 25 And someone came and told them, “Look! The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people.” 26 Then the captain with the officers went and brought them, but not by force, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people.

27 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

33 When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. 34 But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while. 35 And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. 36 For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. 37 After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered. 38 So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” So they took his advice, 40 and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.

Discussion:

1) In what ways are books, art forms, or ideas censored today in America?

2) Is there any form of censorship today that you think is good? bad?

3) The book asserts that, long before the need for firemen, the culture itself stopped reading and education itself changed to focus more on athletics and job training. Is America in a post-literate age? Are we losing the ability to read and have civil discourse on ideas?

4) What role does leisure play in the despair experienced by Montag and Mildred? Is a wrong use of leisure time damaging to people? To America?

5) Does the average American think? Do our schools produce graduates who can think?

6) Why do communist and Islamic countries practice extreme forms of censorship?

7) What is the difference between the Main Stream Media censoring information, news and ideas and the Government censoring information, news and ideas?

www.nypost.com/seven/10202008/postopinion/opedcolumnists/dems_get_set_to_muzzle_the_right_134399.htm

www.americanthinker.com/2008/06/the_fairness_doctrine_at_work.html

www.heritage.org/Research/Regulation/EM368.cfm

www.commondreams.org/views05/0212-03.htm

thehill.com/leading-the-news/fairness-doctrine-hammered-309-115-2007-06-28.html

www.hollywoodreporter.com/hr/content_display/features/people/e3i047c06d053d60ec823bb8e72ef411538?pn=1

thehill.com/leading-the-news/schumer-defends-fairness-doctrine-as-fair-and-balanced-2008-11-04.html

www.argo217.k12.il.us/departs/english/blettiere/451.htm

www.laweekly.com/2007-05-31/news/ray-bradbury-fahrenheit-451-misinterpreted/

www.bpnews.net/BPFirstPerson.asp?ID=29345

www.bpnews.net/BPnews.asp?ID=29849

And here is a must read article on spirituality and Sci Fi by Christianity Today:

www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2009/february/16.20.html


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    This blog exists to study the bi-vocational ministry, explore the Bible & Theology, and look at current events, history and other world religions through scripture, and have fun doing it!

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