Updates & miscellaneous musings!

Sunday, June 04, 2006

That's why they call me Mr. Fahrenheit!

I just finished reading Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. I read it in 7th grade, I think, but didn't remember very much.

It's no 1984, but it's pretty good. Parts of its vision of the future hit pretty close to home.

The little misquito-delicate dancing hum in the air, the electrical murmur of a hidden wasp snug in its special pink warm nest. The music was almost loud enough so he could follow the tune...In [his wife's] ears the little seashells, the thimble radios tamped tight, and an electric ocean of sound, of music and talk and music and talk coming in, coming in on the shore of her unsleeping mind."
(Page 11)

That's not only generally relevant to how much we cling to our ipods, but I felt like it was specifically relevant to me since I started listening to music and audio books as I fall asleep to combat insomnia.
If I'm listening to a book, is that any worse than if I were actually reading it?

And that's where I have a problem with Fahrenheit 451.

As the book's main antagonist, Fire Chief Beatty, explains--

The people in this book, this play, this TV serial are not meant to represent any actual painters, cartographers, mechanics anywhere. The bigger your market, Montag, the less you handle controversy, remember that!*
Authors, full of evil thoughts, lock up your typewriters. They did. Magazines became a nice blend of vanilla tapioca. Books, so the damned snobbish critics said, were dishwater. No wonder books stopped selling, the critics said. But the public, knowing what it wanted, spinning happily, let the comic books survive. And the three-dimensional sex magazines, of course."

(Page 57)

In a way, he's right, comic books are (in some circles, at least) rising to a role more equivalent to that of literature.
But, why are comics worse than books? Do pictures neccessarily make something stupid? For that matter, does not having pictures make something smart?**
Surely Maus is better than The Da Vinci Code, or even Sin City is better than a Tom Clancy novel.
For that matter, is a movie like Citizen Kane, which could easily be shown on one of Fahrenheit's hated telescreens, worse than either of those books?

At this point, it seems more like he's romanticizing the medium of the book more than any content it might have.
But then, he seems to contradict that later, when he has the washed-up academic Faber say--

"You're a hopeless romantic...It's not books you need, it's some of the things that once were in books. The same thing could be in the [TV shows] today. The same infinite detail and awareness could be projected through the radios and televisors, but are not. No, no, it's not books at all you're looking for! Take it where you can find it, in old phonograph records, old motion pictures, and in old friends; look for it in nature and look for it in yourself. Books are only one type of receptable where we stored a lot of things we were afraid we might forget. There is nothing magical in them at all."
(Page 82)

...which seems to fundamentally violate the premise of the book. If those things are just as powerful as books, why aren't we seeing them protected by some and burned by others?**

All that said, I wish I had the resources, financial, temporal, and legal, to make a Fahrenhiet 451 movie, because I think if it were done right, it could be really great. If it's presented as a conflict between intellectuals heroically preserving the past while adding nothing of their own and what Faber calls, "the solid unmoving cattle of the majority" (Page 108), it would basically just be a less exciting Equilibrium.

But if you made it a story about how technology alienates people, and how "intellectuals" often prize pretension over contributing to society (I'd want to play up Faber's failure to make any real difference, and the former-scholar bums' lack of originality), I think it could be a really interesting movie. He talks about how the reason art matters is because it needs to have a real impact on people's lifes, and the fact that the intellectual outcast characters don't seem to do much of that is an aspect worth dwelling on.

And the robot hound chase scene would have to be fuckin' badass, naturally.
Kind of like a Paul Verhoeven scifi movie only a little bit slower and smarter.

*On a side note, that remark is one of Bradbury's less accurate predictions since, as Ed O'Neill would be happy to tell you, the trend now is more toward so-called narrowcasting to specific sub-groups, since (the success of shows like American Idol aside) people get bored with stuff that's supposed geared toward everybody.

**This seems kind of strange, considering Bradbury's had a long relationship with comics, going back to his stories being adapted by EC Comics (of Tales from the Crypt fame) only a few years after this book was published. He even tried to get them to put out a real graphic novel adapting one of his books (which would have been a benchmark), but they refused.
When cartoonists come along, they read my stories and spot the metaphor I put in there, and that’s what comic strips are about as well. It’s all related – stories, movies, plays, and comics. I can adapt my stories to any form. I’ve had a huge amount of attention come my way, simply because I was a born collector of metaphors.

***I guess that's what happened in both Equilibrium and V for Vendetta and both of those were much dumber, but I still think it's a valid question.

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