In Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, the firemen's sole job it is to burn books. Not just contraband books, but all books. Today, we have our own firemen to metaphorically burn speech, massive flamethrowers in tow. Anything that might disrupt us from our politically correct stupor sets off the alarm in the firehouse.
Beatty explains, in Fahrenheit 451, one root cause of the mass censorship to which they have been accustomed: "You must understand that our civilization is so vast that we can't have our minorities upset and stirred. What do we want in this country above all? People want to be happy, isn't that right?" (63). Consider this was originally published in 1951.
Our firemen have been called on Rush Limbaugh and Pat Buchanan. They are not in uniform, but they are all uniform. However, they have lost control; miraculously, these commentators have survived, thanks to a persistent resistance to the oligarch-like powers by a vast underground of dissidents, also known as Rush's and Buchanan's fans and followers.
But Bradbury had it wrong about the future of television -- he portrayed entire walls with characters that jabber at you mindlessly, something Montag's wife cannot get enough of. No, it's not exactly like Morning Joe, though it is similar. Picture Mika Brzezinski taking up one entire wall, pontificating in her fake British accent. Then, Mike Barnicle on the opposite wall, leaning back arrogantly in his chair, and finally, Joe Scarborough staring out at you with his beady eyes from the third wall. Positively spooky! And don't forget that the firemen were originally called on Don Imus, which precipitated the creation of Morning Joe.
Like Nostradamus, Bradbury gets a fuzzy yet substantively accurate picture of the future. In the novel, Montag is described as having gotten money from a bank, which was "open all night every night with robot tellers in attendance" (94). ATMs, anyone?
What else did Bradbury get right? The war as entertainment. That was Desert Storm, and over the last decade we thought we had more quick wars as entertainment, but they turned into something well beyond the bounds of our attention spans. Bad for ratings when it drags on like that.
Also, Bradbury was prescient in his depiction of the abhorrence of childrearing, which we now see across the Western world. Says one female character, "No one in his right mind, the good Lord knows, would have children!" (98). In response, another character extols the virtues of reproduction and, more specifically, caesarian sections: "I wouldn't say that...the world must reproduce, you know, the race must go on. Besides, they sometimes look just like you, and that's nice."
Bradbury is perhaps not the best prose writer, but it turns out he's a better prophet. Are we living in a dystopian reality? It's kind of a grim view of things. In a sense, modern-day America is more free than ever, considering the democratization of information which the internet brings. The apex of this democratization is the comment boards of articles, which are very often more entertaining than the articles themselves, and certainly more forthright.
In Bradbury's America, the government controls information by burning all books, hence wiping away our collective memory and controlling the culture. Our government cannot presently accomplish this, nor would I suggest that it literally wants to. But like the Americans in Bradbury's dystopian novel, we don't need to be told not to read -- we just don't want to. It's too irksome. In that way we reflect the fascination with pointless imagery and technology displayed by the characters in the novel. And in that way we are more easily controlled.
Though it is more subtle, we do have an oligarchy shaping the cultural aesthetic of our country; there are indeed firemen. They control the schools, the media, and Hollywood. Conservative intellectuals, like the ex-professors in Fahrenheit 451, are in the wilderness, living near abandoned train-tracks, making coffee in tin cans. Our wilderness may be the internet, where we tell each other truths which may otherwise be lost.
Like Bradbury's exiled professors congregated around campfires, conservative websites are the fire around which traditional thinkers gather. There they bask in the light and commune with like-minded souls. In doing so, would it be overly romantic to suggest that they carry on the torch from our ancestors and pass it on to our descendents?
One thing that the famous dystopian novels -- Fahrenheit 451, 1984, Brave New World, and Anthem -- never anticipated is the loss of a homogeneous ethnic make-up of England and America. Even in their nightmare future scenarios, there seems to be no "diversity." Of course, to your typical liberal, this would indeed be a dystopian future, because "diversity is our strength." Yet one wonders if Orwell and the like would be entirely cool with the floods of third-world immigration which occurred decades after their works were produced. Would this not complete their vision?
All of the great dystopian novels envision a scenario in which a strong central government tyrannizes the average citizen. Further, in all the novels, there is a kind of willful ignorance and compliance amongst the citizens within this system, evidencing the ease with which humans can be conditioned and indoctrinated.
Malcolm Unwell is that rare bird: a conservative educator. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.