Let’s Discuss: Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451
Posted on 11/22/2020
Fahrenheit 451Let’s Discuss: Fahrenheit 451 and the Unbridled Hatred My Soul Harbors for the Classic
Alexis Stakem
Staff Writer
[email protected]

I think Fahrenheit 451 is fine, and by fine I mean I carry such fervent and passionate hatred for the dystopian classic, some may confuse it with an unwarranted hatred, a hatred that burns too brightly for such a dull subject.

But that is besides the point (I’ve never really written about anything pressing, or that anyone would particularly care about, and I see no reason to start now), you may be sitting there wondering who I am, or what sort of writing powers I possess to have the gall to sit here and deface one of America’s favorite dystopias.

The short answer, I have no right.

The longer answer is that but with more robust language. Nevertheless, I forge ahead in critiquing an old man’s incoherent and nonsensical rant about the good ol’ days that just so happened to be transposed into narrative form. Now without further ado, I welcome you to
Alexis’ Rants About Books, Bookshelves, and Bookends (but it is mostly books because despite what others believe I do not have many riveting opinions pertaining to bookshelves or booksends).

From the introduction it is easy to presume a lot of my gripes (what a fun word) with Fahrenheit 451 and Bradbury by extension, stem from the way in which technology is portrayed in the novel; however, while I will be talking about the terribly poor portrayal of modern media, I present you: a quick diversion.

At the end of the novel there is an atomic blast that devastates the city and our protagonist, Montag escapes the damage by running into the woods, which while
possible these woods are far enough from the city to not be devastated by the bomb, it seems like an entirely too simple solution and one that is frankly kind of ridiculous.

This a lesser gripe (the reappearance of that fun, fun word) and one that similar to running into the woods to escape an atomic bomb, is kind of ridiculous, but I figured that in order to fully explain this unbridled rage
I would disclose all the kindling that stokes the fire within my soul.

Here we are! We have finally arrived at my actual critique of Fahrenheit 451. The moment in Fahrenheit 451 when the lady on Elm sets herself on fire is heralded as a pinnacle moment in Montag’s character development. For those who are uninitiated the lady on Elm Street is found
with contraband, which in this universe is books.

Fahrenheit 451’s dystopian government has instituted a law where all books are banned and those found are burned by firemen, which is also a way of keeping their citizens thoughtless and subservient, as they only consume mindless content through parlor screens (television) and seashells (earbuds)- it is a dictatorship everyone can be proud of.

Once the firemen are alerted of the lady on Elm Street’s contraband, they arrive at her house fully prepared to burn it down along with all her books. The firemen, including Montag, all try and get her to leave; however, she refuses and perishes with her books, dying as a
martyr for the written word. This entire scene seems to stem from a love of the concept books, not any particular book, thematic message, or insightful, philosophical ideas (as we are never told specific books this woman is in possession of), which are supposedly what separates books from modern media.

In Fahrenheit 451, technology is portrayed as if it is in possession of a certain inherent evil- that screens, in all their wicked glory, are responsible for the desensitization and dehumanization of the human population. However, contradictory to the term inherent, the mere existence of screens alone cannot begin the indoctrination process to become a mindless droid. Rather it is the content that is portrayed and transmitted across these screens. Can media, such as music or television shows, be thoughtless and derivative?

Yes, of course, think of The Bachelor, not exactly starting discussions about Plato, are we (there is also something to be said for “thoughtless” content, if consumed in moderation, what is the problem with granting your
mind reprieve)? But instead of directing the anger and blame at those who create this type of content and who lack artistic integrity, Bradbury seems to direct at the transmitters themselves.

The physical being of a TV will not be what is responsible for the dehumanization of society, but it will be the choice of content that is produced and consumed. Furthermore, not all content solely made for screens is entirely devoid of meaning. Television shows, music, and movies can be equally as poignant, controversial, and meaningful as the written word.

Additionally, the idea that books and the printed word possess a sort innate pureness and poignancy that more modern media lacks the ability to portray is completely ridiculous, as it is not the medium that is determinant of the quality.

Bradbury’s argument that TV is meaningless and vapid, rather than being a passionate defense of literature, comes across as Bradbury touting the superiority of the aesthetic of books, heralding the books themselves instead of the content within them.

The binary created within Fahrenheit 451, books=good, TV=bad, allows for very little nuance or discussion about artistic intent and accountability. Thus Bradbury’s novel reads like a classist take on the written word’s supremacy, based solely on the fact the aesthetic and characteristics
attributed to books are seen as more sophisticated, dignified, and intelligent, therefore it is good, while TV is attributed descriptors such as pedestrian, making it bad.

By refusing to acknowledge that it is not the form of media which determines the depth and value of a piece of art, Bradbury elevates books based on their superficial aspects and how they are perceived by others. His entire
gimmick in Fahrenheit 451 is to show the effects of shallow and substance-less media, yet his entire nuance barren argument rests on the concept of books and not what is contained within them.

Once again, idealizing books as these innately pure and meaningful forms of entertainment, when they can and have shared the same shallow and hollow qualities of modern media that are presented to us in Fahrenheit 451. Bradbury could have made a valid critique of the people who create and produce mindless content and the effects of its mass consumption, but instead the entirety of Fahrenheit 451 reads like a critique of the televisions themselves, which is misguided to say the least.

Ultimately, neither forms of entertainment, books, or television, can possess an intrinsic quality that either justifies idealization or defamation. The quality of media should not be determined by which medium the author chooses to use- not every author is an artist and not every showrunner or producer is a sellout- there are no certainties when it comes to art.
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