and their lost host fantasies.
“451” is a lot deeper than I recalled from when I read it in high school.
There’s a longish speech from the Fire Captain, who represents, pretty much, the mores of the future society, that pretty neatly encapsulates the present state of the United States. The captain lays out and nearly justifies the epic rantings of the tea party ilk. He praises stupidity as the great leveler, as the ultimate path to total equality.
That seems to be where the Republicans are leading us, to a world of the mediocre, where the rich make the rules and force us to see the exceptional as dangerous and malformed.
I remember a conversation I had with a teammate back in college after, what to us was, a devastating loss. In football a loss produces a strange mixture of feelings. You’re physically depleted from the game, nerves are twitching, muscle fibers are screaming for nourishment and craving adrenaline and there’s nothing.
Self recrimination sets in for some; what could I have done? Most get flooded with those buried traumatic memories, those glimpses of the past we’d buried, the casual cruelties our loved ones inflicted on us without thinking.
Some, the less well balanced would blame someone else. And a select few just didn’t care but had enough sense to keep quiet about it.
So, that was the mood that I was in slumped on the bench in front of my locker when the guy next to me, still in pads and jersey starting talking to me. He talked about life. He talked about success and succeeding. And he said the one thing I’ll never forget. I can still see him, his brown hair spiked from helmet hair and sweat, his dirty face streaked with tears and sweat, three pimples on his chin, “If you want to win you have to be like them. You can’t stand out; be too smart or too pretty you have to kiss ass and be like them.”
I probably said something back like, “Yer nuts,” and went back to the shelter of my own misery.
I thought he was nuts and succumbing to fatigue toxins but now/ Look, I’ve got nothing, except a loving wife, a great dog and a fistful of gadgets. Last I heard he was rich with property and kids. Maybe he was right and the wolves have been driven to ground by the lambs. Being fat and drug addled is future and the path to power.
I think the main reason I trivialized Bradbury’s book was that he got away from the point; he got obsessed with his McGuffin and ended up seeing the symbol as the reality. Books aren’t important it’s ideas and communication that important. It’s the ability to dream dreams that aren’t dolloped out to us by those who’ve decided they are our betters and must know what’s best for us.
Bradbury got lost in his symbol, and the symbol is actually pretty trivial compared to what it represents in particular. Francois Truffaut made a banal and bizarre movie out of the book. It fails for too many reasons but the biggest failure is that it latches hardest onto Bradbury’s tunnel vision, and that tunnel vision is that books are somehow the most important conveyor of ideas.
One of the most terrifying concepts I could ever dream of is the conclusion of book and movie. What a terrible fate and how more horrifying that this horrifying fate is presented as somehow heroic, or uplifting. Truffaut would try and convince us that foregoing humanity to become literally become a Victorian novel is somehow an image of hope instead of the grim ugly doom of mankind.
People walking in bright shining snowflakes not talking, not conversing, not sharing but instead reciting the thin useless things that they have become is a nightmare. Why we’re supposed to view this as bright hope of a revolution won will forever escape me.
And while I can appreciate the focus of the book on a single middle class working family it beggars the issue of the governing class, the rulers, the TV program directors. While Bradbury acknowledges that no armed force was needed to stop people from reading (thinking) he sidesteps the issue of who led mankind, or at least Americans to this step.
Like, I went to Buffalo a couple weeks ago. Fist time I’ve flown since the TSA became.
When I was in Europe I used to think that the Brits were incredible wimps. They thrived on that perverse Chandlerian logic, “A drunk driver hits a child and kills the child ergo we ban cars.” It’s a cowardly and stupid thought process and I felt a twinge of pride that Americans were that craven.
I was wrong. Some twerp of a wannabe terrorist puts some explosives on his shoes AND IT DOES NOT WORK but now the rest of America is forced to take their shoes off for special inspection.
A bigger moron boards a plane with explosives in his underwear AND IT DOES NOT WORK so now the entire country has to have their genitals fondled by government employees, and they’re not fondling for our benefit or even their own.
(By the way, seeing my wife was great and even in a seedy motel we enjoyed ourselves and for 3 days were able to forget that such a world exists.)
While waiting in line to be fondled I speculated as to whether this was a government plot a Bush doctrine supported by Obama to reduce us to the serf level that they want but it seems to be not so deep. We are already serfs. This indignity is foisted on us so that the elite, the CEO’s who earn more than their entire workforce combined, can feel safe and not have to clutter their purified minds with needless worry about what we might do.
So the terrorist won. The revolution is over and we, the people, lost.
That’s part of what is missing from Bradbury’s book. The allusions are all there but there’s never a peek into the present he’s depicted, never a hint as to who maintains and designs this dead formed life. Obviously people who’s comfort is more important to them than yours.
It’s a shame the Bradbury avoids the confrontation. It’s one of the several gaps in populism in his books. In fact Preston Sturges evinces more humanism in one scene (In “Christmas in July” when a lower level manager stands up to the owner of the company and says in simplistic but direct terms, “You should care. These are your employees, your family. Everything that happens to them happens to you. To not be concerned is inhuman!” Being a movie the owner takes this harsh criticism.)
So while it was pretty unfair of me to trivialize Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 as adolescent pap it falls far short of being literature. But it’s good enough that this shortcoming saddens instead or angers me.
and their lost host fantasies.