Ray Bradbury’s “Great American Novel” Fahrenheit 451 is undoubtedly a cultural cornerstone of American literature and has informed how we as a society look at dystopias and censorship. In honor of the spirit of how his novel was conceived, which was written “very quickly, because [Bradbury] wanted to be very honest—he wanted to be emotionally honest” (Bradbury 193), I will attempt to write this article in a similar, heat-of-the-moment manner.
Though at the end of the day I was forced to read this in my English class, I am very thankful that I was ultimately able to read this piece of literature. While I can’t say that it is my favorite novel, or even my favorite dystopian novel (that honor would have to go to 1984), I certainly respect how Bradbury was able to envision a scarily realistic future where knowledge is seen as a detriment to a happy life, rather than the key.
Though we no longer live in the 1960s, it is almost prophetic how Fahrenheit depicted its future, and what media would look like in the years to come. Obviously books aren’t being burnt in the streets or banned for the public in the USA, but one could almost feel like the surge of “anti-intellectualism” is right around the corner. In the book, it’s explained that the destruction of books and the castration of any substance from the media started from the bottom, the everyday citizens, rather than the typical culprits in most dystopian works- the government.
The term “we live in divided times” has been used to the point where it almost causes me nausea, however, the phrase is not an inaccurate description of our current cultural climate. I mean, the mere existence of the flat earth society, vaccines, and Alex Jones should be proof enough. The point is that nobody can really agree on anything. And while that fact has been true for as long as humanity has been around, the advent of the Internet simply added fuel to the pseudo-intellectual dumpster fire. Those who try to gain some semblance of legitimacy by throwing around their “studies” and “science” maim and mutilate the reputation of real science. So often, companies and health gurus sell their products, saying it “is backed up by real science” while no knowing any more about the effects of their product than the consumer. The pseudo-intellectualism is so rampant and widespread at this point that, honestly, I find it a struggle to even try to care anymore. I am no scientist, and cannot claim to be able to even read scientific studies and journals. I do know that reading primary sources, such as the actual study itself rather than a second-hand source like a 2-minute segment on NBC, accurately and thoroughly requires a level of time and effort that many are simply not willing to or unable to put in.
And this lack of desire to do research, I feel, if left rampant, will lead to the world that Fahrenheit depicts. A world where nothing of value can be said because people will inevitably find it “problematic” in some manner. We already see this in our current culture. I, as someone who frequently plays video games and enjoys the medium, always hear complaints about how games are “too political nowadays” and “why can’t they just be for fun.” While there certainly is a place for pure entertainment, there is also a place for art and media that evokes thought and has some sort of stance that not everyone will find agreeable. The “bigger the population, the more minorities. Don’t step on the toes of the dog-lovers, cat-lovers, doctors, lawyers, merchants… ‘“ (Bradbury 54). I forget what the exact quote is so I’ll just paraphrase: “If something does not have the power to offend, then it does not have any value whatsoever.” You will naturally say something that people disagree with when you state your political opinion. However, in the current cultural climate, no one can really say anything without getting “canceled.” This has regressed to the point where American companies are literally censoring speech that points out human rights violations in China and Hong Kong because the Chinese market, which is under the thumb of the Chinese government, is a ridiculously lucrative market.
Bradbury said “I don’t try to describe the future. I try to prevent it.” It has been 66 years since Fahrenheit has been published. In that time, I don’t know if the future Bradbury wrote about will be considered a prediction or a bizarre alternative history that ultimately never came to pass. Though it is far too early to tell what will happen, I can say that if things continue this way, we may see public book burnings.