Reading Fahrenheit 451 one can only wonder on somewhat naïve, but nevertheless terrible prophecy of the dark future to come, brought on us by Ray Bradbury. Often seen as a work of fiction or anti-utopia, in fact this is just a social horror story, if such a genre can be invented for its description.
The technologies depicted in Fahrenheit are rather primitive compared to modern times. Sure, Bradbury had extrapolated the TV screens of 50’s and predicted the invention of giant TV walls, with “presence effect” that allows the viewer to feel himself in the center of action.
Bradbury had expressed the fears that TV means death of media of a previous generation, being the books. But, as McLuhan stated, the technologies of past ages don’t die so easily, “The dominant technologies of one age become the games and pastimes of a later age” (McLuhan, p99).
As fears that cinema would mean the death of theatre had proved themselves to be incorrect, thus a larger-scale fear that TV means the end of books had proved itself to be false too.
On the other hand, Bradbury hadn’t predicted the invention of a new media which would outscore the TV as much as TV outscores the books: the Internet. The TV had no chance to progress into totally-enveloping media reality depicted in the book, losing the race to more modern media.
While Bradbury’s technology prediction hadn’t been correct, his social predictions had proved to be uncannily true, if somewhat optimistic. The all-world media programming is here, broadcasted by orbiting satellites, “turns the globe into a repertory theater to be programmed” (McLuhan, p9). And the news brought to us by every source – from TV to Internet and even to Radio – are apt to be manipulated simultaneously, as was shown brilliantly in “Wag the Dog”. The censorship depicted by Bradbury isn’t here; instead, we have a total media coverage that produces fake events undistinguishable from real. People do not need to follow instructions told to them on TV; instead, we follow the views and ideas presented to us daily. The Electric Dog doesn’t roam the streets: the society is our Electric Dog that doesn’t kill nonconformists in real sense but effectively blocks ‘them’ from ‘us’.
What brings salvation and hope in Bradbury’s world after the holocaust are Bible words. It doesn’t mean that he relies on religion to carry us through the new Dark Ages – rather, he tells us about our inner faith, which isn’t expressed but felt and understood. But as no holocaust had happened yet, only those who really feels in need seek salvation, others are content with what they’ve got.
Bradbury’s views on government in Fahrenheit border with clear accusations of fascism, the burning of books being the most obvious historical reference. But fascism in US had became such a popular scare since the end of WWII that we don’t fear it as much anymore. After all, if government would ever decide to apply a ‘stricter’ views to economics like Roosevelt’s New Deal in 30’s, (which is quite possible now because of economics crisis), most voices would be raised in its defense rather than in its critics. People feel the government to be controlled by them, not the other way round.
In Fahrenheit society education of youth program them to see their world as unquestionably right, defies critical thinking and praises the conformity instead. This is not only an exaggerated, but also a distorted picture of modern education, depicted just to scare us even more, to create a sense of further isolation of Guy Montag from the world. Bradbury doesn’t give much attention to the youth; this is sensible, for what he longs for is the past.
Fahrenheit’s ending can be seen as a longing for “Golden Age”, the times that never were real but always in our eyes seem to be brighter than today. It is a hymn to nostalgia. But one cannot contemplate his past too long – he must consider the future. We should look ahead and be brave, no matter what dangers are waiting for us there.
Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451. Published by Del Rey Books, Random House Publishing Group, 1953, renewed 1981.
McLuhan, Marshall, From Cliché to Archetype, Published by Viking Adult, 1970.
Wag the Dog, by Barry Levinson, 1997 (the movie).