I’m really behind on writing about books – I’ve finished four since the last book post I wrote, and I think next time I’ll do a round-up because I can cover most of the others fairly briefly, but I’ve got more to say about this one, so I’m giving it its own post.
I read this book in high school and have intended to revisit it for a while. I used it to fulfill Read Harder Challenge #3 – read a book about books.
If you’ve read this book, you don’t need me to explain why it’s a classic or why it’s more than a little creepy to read today, over 60 years after it was written. If you haven’t read it, read it.
There are a few things that particularly resonated with me and that have been rattling around in my head a lot since finishing the book. One is the concept of the parlor walls – because this aspect of the world Bradbury envisioned gives me such a case of the creeps, and I think it’s because in some ways he got it so very right, but the form it’s taken is, in my mind at least, even more maddening than what he wrote.
So the parlor walls are basically huge, wall-sized television screens, and if you’re affluent you’ve replaced all four of the walls in your parlor with them. Most people spend vast amounts of time there; Mildred considers the people on the screens to be her family. There’s no actual interaction, though interaction is sometimes simulated by giving the viewer a chance to read lines from a script to fill in pauses in the show. The main point is that everything that’s on the parlor walls is complete drivel – there are no real narratives, the shows that involve actors aren’t actually about anything, many shows are simply fast-paced vignettes of impressive visuals or visual humor – none of it has any real value.
Here’s where I think he got it both right and wrong. People spending endless hours passively staring at screens – absolutely right. But he didn’t foresee the fact that, instead of addictive drivel, what sucks so many people in is an endless supply of actual quality entertainment.
Now, I’m not saying that there’s not also mindless drivel out there, and that it can’t be addictive too. But in most circles people would still feel a bit weird about admitting something like “I watched six hours of reality television today,” but we’ve gotten to a point where it’s completely normal to binge watch the legit high quality shows that are out there – and there are so many of them, available instantly at your whim.
I’m certainly not anti-television – I’ve got shows I’ve loved for years and I enjoy getting into a new show, too – and I think it’s really cool that there is so much good, thoughtful, well written, well produced, socially relevant, etc. etc. etc., tv out there at this point in time. It used to be an unusual treat when a show was smart – now there’s so much to choose from. For the record, I’m also not anti-mindless-drivel; it can be fun and soothing, and sometimes your brain needs a rest.
I’m also not saying binge watching SHOULD NEVER HAPPEN ZOMG – sometimes you’ve had a bad day or a bad week and you eat the whole pint of ice cream and it’s just what you needed. What gives me the creeps is the dosage factor – how typical binge watching has become. I read Fahrenheit 451 and thought about how many smart, aware people out there spend just as much time in front of the tv as the characters in Bradbury’s book spent in the parlor.
Once Montag woke up and saw what was really happening in the world, he was so intent to jump in and do something – and so frustrated with the people who refused to see it. Faber basically told him, dude, chill out, not long ago you were that clueless yourself. And that’s something that really resonated with me – and something I sometimes have to summon an inner Faber to remind myself of. Two years ago I wasn’t paying any attention at all to what was going on in the world outside of my bubble. One year ago I wasn’t making any effort to actually move outside of my bubble and make a difference. I just feel like this last year has changed me so much that I can’t imagine seeing everything that’s happening in the world and staying the same. Being mentally woke but not changing.
And the funny part is that I now realize that people who’ve been activists for years must have always felt the same way about people like me – and now there are more people willing to get off their asses, get involved and act, and as much of a good thing as that is, there’s got to be a part of any long-time activist that’s also saying “geez, asshats, IT TOOK YOU LONG ENOUGH.”
And I’ve been saying that to myself a lot lately – “geez, asshat, IT TOOK YOU LONG ENOUGH.” And I think it’s that sentiment that fuels my Montag-like impatience – I want to tell people “you’re going to get to a point where every day that you didn’t do this is going to weigh on you.” And of course, that’s not always true. Everyone has a different path. My inner Faber reminds me that I’m not exactly an oldhead at this, but my inner Montag knows that that’s exactly why I get so restless.
Fahrenheit 451 is about a world that’s gone to shit, but it’s also about a person who gets woke and decides to do something about it – and sometimes clumsily, sometimes ham handedly, because he’s a total n00b and he doesn’t know what he’s doing at first, but he does something and he finds other people doing things. (And yes, it annoys me that none of them are women. Come on, Bradbury, where’s the lady who memorized Frankenstein?) And at the end, we get a horrible act of war at the same time that we get a breath of hope. It does seem like lately the hope and the horror have been coming hand in hand. All in all, this book feels exceptionally close to home right now.