By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
WHEN THE PULITZER PRIZES were handed out in May during a luncheon at Columbia University, two special citations were given. One went to John Coltrane (who died in 1967), the fourth time a jazz musician has been honored. The other went to Ray Bradbury, the first time a writer of science fiction and fantasy has been honored.
Bradbury, a longtime Los Angeles resident who leads an active civic life and even drops the Los Angeles Times letters to the editor on his views of what ails his town, did not attend, telling the Pulitzer board his doctor did not want him to travel.
But the real reason, he told the L.A. Weekly, had less to do with the infirmities of age (he turns 87 in August) than with the fact that recipients only shake hands with Lee C. Bollinger, Columbia University’s president, and smile for a photograph.
He wanted to give a speech, but no remarks are allowed. “Not even a paragraph,” he says with disdain.
In his pastel-yellow house in upscale Cheviot Hills, where he has lived for more than 50 years, Bradbury greeted me in his sitting room. He wore his now-standard outfit of a blue dress shirt with a white collar and a jack-o’-lantern tie (Halloween is his favorite day) and white socks. This ensemble is in keeping with Bradbury’s arrested development. George Clayton Johnson, who gave us Logan’s Run, says, “Ray has always been 14 going on 15.”
Bradbury still has a lot to say, especially about how people do not understand his most literary work, Fahrenheit 451, published in 1953. It is widely taught in junior high and high schools and is for many students the first time they learn the names Aristotle, Dickens and Tolstoy.
Now, Bradbury has decided to make news about the writing of his iconographic work and what he really meant. Fahrenheit 451 is not, he says firmly, a story about government censorship. Nor was it a response to Senator Joseph McCarthy, whose investigations had already instilled fear and stifled the creativity of thousands.
This, despite the fact that reviews, critiques and essays over the decades say that is precisely what it is all about. Even Bradbury’s authorized biographer, Sam Weller, in The Bradbury Chronicles, refers to Fahrenheit 451 as a book about censorship.
Bradbury, a man living in the creative and industrial center of reality TV and one-hour dramas, says it is, in fact, a story about how television destroys interest in reading literature.
“Television gives you the dates of Napoleon, but not who he was,” Bradbury says, summarizing TV’s content with a single word that he spits out as an epithet: “factoids.” He says this while sitting in a room dominated by a gigantic flat-panel television broadcasting the Fox News Channel, muted, factoids crawling across the bottom of the screen.
His fear in 1953 that television would kill books has, he says, been partially confirmed by television’s effect on substance in the news. The front page of that day’s L.A. Times reported on the weekend box-office receipts for the third in the Spider-Man series of movies, seeming to prove his point.
“Useless,” Bradbury says. “They stuff you with so much useless information, you feel full.” He bristles when others tell him what his stories mean, and once walked out of a class at UCLA where students insisted his book was about government censorship. He’s now bucking the widespread conventional wisdom with a video clip on his Web site (http://www.raybradbury.com/at_home_clips.html), titled “Bradbury on censorship/television.”
As early as 1951, Bradbury presaged his fears about TV, in a letter about the dangers of radio, written to fantasy and science-fiction writer Richard Matheson. Bradbury wrote that “Radio has contributed to our ‘growing lack of attention.’ .?.?. This sort of hopscotching existence makes it almost impossible for people, myself included, to sit down and get into a novel again. We have become a short story reading people, or, worse than that, a QUICK reading people.”
HE SAYS THE CULPRIT in Fahrenheit 451 is not the state — it is the people. Unlike Orwell’s 1984, in which the government uses television screens to indoctrinate citizens, Bradbury envisioned television as an opiate. In the book, Bradbury refers to televisions as “walls” and its actors as “family,” a truth evident to anyone who has heard a recap of network shows in which a fan refers to the characters by first name, as if they were relatives or friends.
The book’s story centers on Guy Montag, a California fireman who begins to question why he burns books for a living. Montag eventually rejects his authoritarian culture to join a community of individuals who memorize entire books so they will endure until society once again is willing to read.
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.
Never mind that Bradbury (much like Roald Dahl) wrote many adaptations of his own stories for TV shows like Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twilight Zone...
* Not to mention his own freaking 6 season series.
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A character in the book clearly sums up the situation that led to the burning of books - not government censorship, but lack of interest and weak attention spans. The fact that many bozos still think this book is identical in theme to 1984 only proves Bradbury's point - they did not read the book and base their opinion of the novel on (misleading) cliff notes.
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Too many people have only seen the movie and not read the book. They watch the fire chief in the black uniform with rank insignia similar to an SS gruppenfuhrer talking about removing books as distractions and immediately make the connection with 1984. The chief reflects the majority's opinion. The majority empowered the fire department to burn books for the same reasons that cities now ban roosters: relics of a previous age, disruptive, and cause more problems than they are worth. Wall screens had the same impact. People see screens and start thinking Ministry of Truth, bombarding citizens with propaganda.
Maybe we've lost our ability to independently evaluate something. Now it's similar to this item or opposite of this item. Since we collectively don't know very much, our comparisons are consequently limited and often wrong.
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I am reading Fahrenheit 541 in my literature class right now. We just finished a webquest presentation that centered about censorship and the subject of banned materials. I believe that the subject of banned material is evident in the book. Censorship is as well in that the gov't is going giving you certain things to believe. But, then again, there is that the people were choosing to pull themselves away from literature, and that spurned the decision, to me, to rid the world of knowledge that had fed the generations-Einstein, biblical writers, Jefferson, Washington, etc. It is your point of view that affects how you see the book, but I believe that both censorship and the act of banning materials is in the book.
Bradbury is right..tv does cause a big distraction in our world.! its like why read books when the good ones are gonaa be movys anyways rite..well i say no way because books are books. They illustrate the the whole picture and bring out the writers heart into your mind. They explain the thing while movys are just a joke to catch ur attention..GO RAY..im with you dawg=]]
Well, this is very interesting. This article gave me another perspective of how Television is being watched.And the radio, I completlye agree that it's distracting to try and read when you love listening to your favorite music.
The television theme is an integral part of the book; however, the censorship theme is just as important and integral. Also, when I heard Mr. Bradbury at the UCLA Book Festival several years ago, he highlighted the censorship theme of the book. The Coda of the book also highlights the censorship theme. It seems the book themes--television makes zoombies and censorship--are prevalent and significant in Fahrenheit 451.
My comments to be quite frank. Mr. Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 is a great book. Who needs Televison anyway, has anyone been paying attention? Not to glorify Televison what are they the Media doing but supporting the high cost of living, not to mention sometime earlier this year, anyone whom watches Television has to buy an adaptor to get reception for viewing. Oh unless they go out and buy a flat screen Television. Enough, I can't believe I went there, I almost forgot I wanted to thank Mr. Ray Bradbury for his vsit to Long Beach City Collage three years ago. Congrats, Ray on the Pulitzer Prize. Ray is the last of the old school writers. God Bless Ray Bradbury. lloyd Hamilton
Ilove the novel Fahrenheit 451.Basause I love my planet &books. Ray Bradbury is one of my favourite writers.
Its way to confusing of a book. Id much rather be watching reality T.V right now then be trying to find a articl about this book.
... Oh yeah english teachers suck balls.
I totally agree with Bradbury's view of the theme of the novel. I see more of that than censorship and how television ruined Montag's relationship with his wife and makes everyone oblivious to the world. Why don't they teach that view point in schools?
yo need to make it easier to find information on some of the stuff . i needed to getinformation about how he got ideas for his stories,and what is the author's advice to young writers, and i wasnt able to find it
HA! Ray, my man, lied to the Pulitzer Prize board so he didn't have to leave his room because there was no reward for going all the way to the ceremony. No lame handshake for him. This grumpy seclusive old fart has no faith in humanity, and I love it. Many would call him frank and selfish, I call him realistic and witty.
I adore Ray Bradbury. This country is blessed to call him her own, and this world is filled to riches with his incredible work and with his passionate life. What a glorious man he is. What an inspiration he is. What a great American...what a great Human being he is. I have met him a few times at book signings and civic events. Always a gentleman and good natured and so touching and wonderful. He has moved me to tears. He is just a dear man and just thinking about him makes me break down and cry rivers...and then I write or dream or live more deeply than ever before. I guess you might call that inspiration. Ray Bradbury is living inspiration.
I completely agree with the assesement of 451 presented in thisarticle. I am in the basement of Powell Library where Bradburysupposedly wrote this book as we speak. Seeing all of these studentstyping on rented laptops from CLIC (College library InstructionalComputing Commons)I wonder if, glued to the Internet, their verysituatedness in the mass media Bradbury decried means none of them arewriting the next Fahrenheit 451.
Very enlightening and informative comment/ interview. The question whether Fahrenheit 451 is about totalitarian state power or abuse of TV doesn't matter, you can read any good book from different perspectives. So far I've only seen the film, which was very interesting and touching, but I plan to read the book with my English class. The crucial topic is "minorities", I hope it will work out with this book.
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Being an active teacher, it's highly interesting to see Ray Bradbury himself confirm an idea I often had reading the book. But on the other hand he wrote Fahrenheit with so many ideas about the state and its citizens in future that this must be just one idea amongst many of how to read the book, not 'the big thing'. It however is a charming one meaning mass media are not without danger.
As a former teacher, I had a crack at Bradbury each fall as students dragged themselves in from the heat and humidity to another 180 days of...books. We talked about reading, its usefulness to them--or lack thereof--and the causes for its decline. Almost all of my students pointed to the impact of television; most of them could not articulate with any great clarity why television overwhelms reading, only that watching is easier than engaging the written word. Bradbury has it right: television blunts awareness, providing a veneer of factoids, rumor, and innuendo that plays at civic and communal involvement. It is not just a matter of kids watching inordinant blocks of tube...it also includes large numbers of adults who knowingly submerge themselves into trivial pursuit. To so many, reading is slow, laborious, and irrelevant in comparison to the superficial swirl in which so many have invested. Bradbury gets it, but so many of us don't...
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