I am a big sci-fi fan. I don’t watch a lot of Syfy, and I am not into The Walking Dead or anything like that; I love the old time science fiction, with the radioactive mutants and gooey aliens and a dystopian future that nowadays looks more like the past. Over the weekend, I had been reading Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, and while some of it seemed antiquated, I was struck with the cogency of Bradbury’s predictions of the future. No longer is TV the opiate of the masses, no longer are people glued to their radios; even so, his predictions were astonishingly accurate, given his perspective long before the true dawn of the computer age.
The story chronicles a man living in a future in which all people are happy. Controversy is dead, censorship produces media which can be agreed upon by all–unbiased– and most importantly, books are banned. After all, no one reads them, they are inflammatory, and anyone can get more entertainment from TV, anyhow. The man’s job, a fireman, is to burn books. His awakening comes in the form of a neighbor, a young girl, who astonishingly enough, is not glued to her TV. She notices things. She teaches him to see the world for what it really is, a beautiful place almost destroyed by the consumerism of man. The fireman finds a book at one of his burning jobs, and due to the influence of the girl, begins to read. Soon, he is the sole possessor of the book of Revelation from the Bible, and is hunted by his former friends, co-workers, and even by his wife because of his books.
On the surface, it doesn’t look a lot like our world. But Mr. Bradbury’s description of the fireman’s wife, a woman glued to the TV and her in-ear radio, is a very familiar picture to me. After all, I listen to music half the day through a set of wireless headphones, and my friends talk about the latest Game of Thrones episode or movie release, while a friend who works in the library faces budget cuts and broken light fixtures and no way to pay for new.
When will libraries be considered obsolete? Due to our constant flow of information from countless internet-connected devices, we have all the learning, entertainment, and record-keeping we can handle. And already, books–indeed any media–that have a controversial or obscure message are frowned upon. Even Fahrenheit 451 itself was censored because of language in the 1970-80’s printings. And nowadays, you can’t turn on a TV, can’t watch a movie, in which the values of the characters don’t line up with the popular conception of “good” and “non-controversial.” Quick, name one non-kid movie in which the housewife doesn’t liberate herself from the burdens of oppressive family life, where the guy hero doesn’t have the scruffy beard, and the violence and sexual content ensure that the movie has at least a PG-13 rating (not that that even means anything anymore). All this goes to show how homogenous our society has become, how the media is controlled by only a few companies with similar agendas. And the age of the book, not the dime novel, but the real book, seems dead.
But there are still those that read. If that is you, congratulations. If you haven’t done it in awhile, go to your local library and pick up a book. Maybe an old sci-fi book, Asimov or Bradbury or Orwell. Sure, it’s fantasy. But the book is a medium in which the writer’s intuition about our existence can be portrayed and transmitted to future generations. If you will, the authors have passed their opinion on into the future, where we can learn from them. If this still isn’t your thing, just find a book at random, an old book, and crack it open. You might be surprised at what you read. Maybe something you have never heard, something to pointed or too plain to be portrayed on makeup-addicted television shows.
While I’m lecturing you, I’ve been sitting at my computer and filling up on the media I’ve been bashing. I’ll get back to work–and find a good book for reading tonight.