April 6, 2018

Some people love this new trailer for HBO's "Fahrenheit 451," but I think it perversely makes the argument against reading books.

If books are what the book "Fahrenheit 451" makes them out to be, then you should read the book "Fahrenheit 451." If you want a movie with maximum action and fire effects — which is what this trailer vigorously promotes — then you are evidence for the proposition that books are not longer essential to human life (or you are part of the redefinition of human life that excludes the reading of books).

From the 60th Anniversary edition of the book, with lots of introductory material:


The Godfather said...

The state that would burn books would destroy videos, movies, blogs, etc. for the same reason.

Ray said...

I saw it as a play, and Mr Bradbury was in the audience and autographed my daughters program. He died a year later. The play was very well done and captured the spirit of the book.

Most Hollywood movies go into bigger explosions and more excitement, especially in the trailer. The trailer may not reflect the actual book, but an attempt to target the youth market.

Ron Winkleheimer said...

Bradbury wasn't describing the future, he was describing a process that had been going on for decades and appears to be reaching its culmination today. Its not the right that is discouraging people from reading Dante and Shakespeare. Ask yourself, who is trying to reduce discourse on college campuses so as not to upset the students? How is that different from the premise of 451 Fahrenheit that books be eliminated because they might introduce ideas and people might disagree on those ideas. The truth is, there won't be any need to physically burn the books.

Tommy Duncan said...

"In the Age of Information, how many will read Shakespeare or Dante?"

Boring stuff by dead white guys. We need more Maya Angelo and Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Well, I'm off to gender studies class. I hope I can remember all 73 genders for our quiz today.

Ron Winkleheimer said...

I'm surprised that HBO made this movie since the people in charge are all leftists. I suppose they are still flattering themselves about being the side that's in favor of knowledge and learning and free speech and all that.

mccullough said...

Wouldn’t it be burn your kindle now?

Sebastian said...

Were books ever "essential to human life"?

Ann Althouse said...

There are a lot of movies about reading. I think there are a lot of people who consume movies that cater to their self-image as a reader of books. It's quite silly.

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

No need to burn your Kindle. They'll just delete or edit out all the badthink.

Robert Cook said...

I read the book for the first time three or four years ago. It's a little confused, metaphorically, in that it does not depict a society of oppressed readers fleeing the book-burners, but a society of book-hating non-readers clamoring for and happy with the thought-deadening, overwhelming sensory experiences of room-sized televisions broadcasting shit. The firemen who burn books are not really necessary. They're jsut disposing of that which most of society has already abandoned. The society itself no longer wants to read. A society like ours today, that is.

Bradbury, a technophobe, was railing against the rise of tv culture that would make book censors unnecessary, rather than a culture where reading was being forcibly exterminated.

Ann Althouse said...

"Were books ever "essential to human life"?" The question is whether Ray Bradbury's book defines humanity like that. It's a short book, and I don't see why everyone wouldn't jump at the opportunity to see how he answers it. You could get that book displayed on your computer in less than half a minute. You don't even need to look for the one person on the face of the earth who has memorized it.

Ron Winkleheimer said...

Were books ever "essential to human life"?

As a big reader, I'm going to have to say, nope.

rhhardin said...

Harold Bloom is usually better, which is to say worth reading.

The Book of J
The American Religion

being two.

Roy Jacobsen said...

Books are but one means of telling stories and conveying ideas and information. They are powerful and important, but they are just one means. A book is only as dangerous as the story, ideas, or information it contains.

Ergo, it isn't the books that have to be destroyed or controlled. It is the stories, ideas, and information.

Kevin Williamson--as a container and purveyor of dangerous stories, ideas, and information--is just one of the latest targets of Bradbury's firement. Bradbury's firemen will always be with us. So will those who resist them.

Ron Winkleheimer said...

@Robert Cook

I share your opinion of the meaning of the book. But without the elements of the firemen and a small resistance trying to save the books and through that the ideas in them he would only have been able to write an essay decrying the rise of TV culture and nobody would be reading that decades later.

tcrosse said...

Nowadays we can distinguish between a book and the paper it's printed on.

tim in vermont said...

Now instead of burning books, they just demonitize or plain old delete YouTube channels. No smelly kerosene or nasty matches! Or they shadowban you.

If you ever felt guilty about not enjoying Shakespeare as much as you thought you should, get the “Great Courses” on Audible for Shakespeare. It only takes 65 hours to listen to, it’s a course by a Dartmouth professor. It’s time you probably spend driving anyway, or walking on a treadmill, or whatever. The course is enjoyable in and of itself. So much of Shakespeare becomes clear. Now the reason I can’t watch Othello is that I can’t stand the overwrought emotional impact of the story, not that I can’t follow it as well as I would like. So I would say that the age of information has restored the accessibility of Shakespeare to those who are interested but never got the chance to go to Dartmouth.

MadisonMan said...

The word tendentious should be banned from book reviews. Turgid prose, likewise: Be gone, clich├ęs!

There are other, better ways to say it.

tim in vermont said...

Books are but one means of telling stories and conveying ideas and information.

The sweet thing about books is that a single author can write one without requiring anybody’s “green light” or other forms of permission, the author needs only the will and desire to tell a story.

Robert Cook said...

Were books ever "essential to human life"?

To human life? No, in that only food and protection from dangers to one's health and safety are "essential" to human life.

Essential to human society, civilization, knowledge, thought? I'd have to vote yes.

Amadeus 48 said...

"Be of good cheer, Master Ridley, and play the man; we shall this day light such a candle in England, as I hope, by God's grace, shall never be put out."

And so the Oxford Martyrs went to the stake, with Cranmer putting first into the fire the hand that had signed his recantation.

Sebastian said...

"The question is whether Ray Bradbury's book defines humanity like that. It's a short book, and I don't see why everyone wouldn't jump at the opportunity to see how he answers it."

I'm sorry, I didn't realize that was "the question."

I just responded to the apparent assumption, Bradbury's or anyone else's, behind, "the proposition that books are not longer essential to human life."

bolivar di griz said...

Whatbradbury was describing were ipads and cell phones along with an early form of political correctness.

The Germans Have A Word For That. said...

In a not-too-distant future, the world is controlled by malevolent forces who prevent the citizens from all manners of art and communication that could be considered of Shocking Content.

A young wild-haired teenager in Duluth stumbles into an abandoned house, and discovers a beaten guitar hidden in a back room.

With this guitar he rediscovers the lost music of America, and realizes that in it lies the path to protest.

Bootleg recordings of his music spread through an underground who see him as akin to a prophet.

Seeking to project his music to further audiences, he devises a way to electrify the guitar and amplify his sound.

When he unveils this new sound his followers are aghast and feel betrayed: he is put down as arrogant. Someone in the crowd shouts 'Judas!'

The wild-haired teenager from Duluth shakes his head: he can only do so much.

He hops on his Red Motorcycle -- banned since the Motor Law -- and rides, wind in his hair, shifting and drifting. He knows love and life are deep - maybe as his skies are wide.

He crashes the motorcycle, and disappears from the public.

Those who remember him, remember him fondly. Somewhere in Canada a young man finds one of the old bootlegs, and is entranced by the music and message in the songs, and spray-paints on a wall:

Catch the witness, catch the wit
Catch the spirit, catch the spit

When I say "In a not-too-distant future" I think I mean 2112.

The Germans have a word for this.

Matthew Sablan said...

Fahrenheit 451 is interesting because it shows very much how hypocritical the powers that be are. Especially with the Captain and his library and how well read he is.

It never was purely about reading, it was just another method of control.

Lucien said...

Books are a micro aggression because they remind us of how literate cultures oppressed and marginalized those with oral traditions.

Amadeus 48 said...

"Surely you remember the boy in your own school class who was exceptionally 'bright,' did most of the reciting and answering while the others sat like so many leaden idols, hating him. And wasn't it this bright boy you selected for beatings and tortures after hours? Of course it was. We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the Constitution says, but everyone made equal. Each man the image of every other; then all are happy, for there are no mountains to make them cower, to judge themselves against. So! A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it. Take the shot from the weapon. Breach man's mind. Who knows who might be the target of the well-read man?"

--Fahrenheit 451

RazorSharpSundries said...

It's Ray Bradbury's worst book too. It's also his most widely read book. Read mostly by people who don't read a lot of books, or at least a lot of Ray Bradbury's books. I think a much better sci-fi book about a future where people have given up reading is Mockingbird by Walter Tevis. In a way it's more realistic because people turn away from reading voluntarily, which may be the case nowadays. Or at least what's happening in the culture right now is people who consider themselves intelligent & cultured don't read as much as those types did in the past.

Matthew Sablan said...

Hah. I just quoted the "a book is a loaded gun" quote in the other one, linking it with the recent meme "speech is violence."

SDaly said...

The Bloom blurb is hilariously wrong. The book is more relevant today than ever, but not because of technology or the so-called dangers of Christianity. Bradbury has specifically stated that the book was a reaction against people who wanted to burn books because they offensive -- in the way the left defines offensive today.

He wrote that it was inspired by a letter from a student at a women's college who was unhappy about the representation of women his prior novels!

SDaly said...

This is what Bradbury himself wrote:

"Fire-Captain Beatty, in my novel Fahrenheit 451, described how the books were burned first by minorities, each ripping a page or a paragraph from this book, then that, until the day came when the books were empty and the minds shut and the libraries closed forever."

Matthew Sablan said...

Also, it isn't *books* that they're burning. I mean, they are, but the novel is clear what the Firemen are really out to do:

"I hope I've clarified things. The important thing for you to remember, Montag, is we're the Happiness Boys, the Dixie Duo, you and I and the others. We stand against the small tide of those who want to make everyone unhappy with conflicting theory and thought."

It is about *control,* if they could have this ultimate control without censorship, they would. If there was another lever they could pull, they would. But this one is the one that worked.

Matthew Sablan said...

Ah. Thanks to Wikiquote.

All that talk about not needing the Firemen?

Yeah. Faber in the novel says that exact thing to Montag:

"Remember the firemen are rarely necessary. The public stopped reading of its own accord. You firemen provide a circus now and then at which buildings are set off and crowds gather for the pretty blaze, but its a small sideshow indeed, and hardly necessary to keep things in line. So few want to be rebels anymore. And out of those few, most, like myself, scare easily. Can you dance faster than the White Clown, shout louder than 'Mr. Gimmick' and the parlor 'families'? If you can, you'll win your way, Montag. In any event, you’re a fool. People are having fun."

Matthew Sablan said...

Beatty hits the theme too, I think: "It didn't come from the Government down. There was no dictum, no declaration, no censorship, to start with, no! Technology, mass exploitation, and minority pressure carried the trick, thank God. Today, thanks to them, you can stay happy all the time, you are allowed to read comics, the good old confessions, or trade journals."

Ann Althouse said...

"The Book of J"

I need to read that because I would like to write a short story based on a ridiculous conversation I had while sharing a cab with a somewhat drunk male professor decades ago. He was talking about the book, effusively. I was trying to understand him and asked a question he should have known the answer to, and I just really wrecked his presentation of himself as a convivial raconteur. I didn't even mean to deflate him. I thought I was feeding him easy material that would have kept him riffing. I tried to help him out because even though he was an immense egotist, I felt sorry for him, but the additional material only made his effort to hide his nakedness even more obvious. It would be a sort of reverse-"Cat Person" story. It could be a whole novel, with sequences like that — all those failed connections that wouldn't have been any good anyway.

Tommy Duncan said...

Were books ever "essential to human life"?

That depends on what counts as a book.

In ancient times there were documents that recorded facts that were essential to survival in hostile climates. I'm thinking of a primitive version of the "Handbook of Chemistry and Physics" that recorded how much wheat was needed to support a family of four or how to make gunpowder.

I'd also argue that the many "how-to" manuals that exist today are essential to life even if they contain knowledge that is widely dispersed. A water pump repair manual in a remote village in Somalia could be essential to local life.

The books that shaped the character of Winston Churchill may have saved the world as we know it. The captured book of enigma codes also changed the course of WW2.

rcocean said...

Bradbury wrote the book after seeing a woman walking with a transistor radio in her ear, ignoring everything (including her boyfriend), except her radio's noise.

Not a big step to imagine, the non-thinkers and non-readers would consider books first useless and then dangerous.

To a large extent that's already happened. My local libraries in the last 10 years have "purged" large numbers of history books, non-fiction, and classical fiction. If the books on those subjects are replaced at all, they're with dumbed-down versions by PC authors, with the "correct" take on the subject.

The excuse given to me is that its a "diverse society" and that wimmen and minorities don't read certain kinds of books - so there's no need to keep them - or very few of them.

rcocean said...

The same goes for the audiobook sections. Books by Chandler, Hemingway, Faulkner, Tolstoy, Doestoveski, Melville, and Wharton have been "Purged" so we can get 50 books by Janet Evanitch or Robert Parker.

Inga said...

“Not a big step to imagine, the non-thinkers and non-readers would consider books first useless and then dangerous.”

Who tweets a lot and doesn’t read books?

traditionalguy said...

I cannot live without my books said a Charlottesville Virginia Plantation owner who became President #3, and then made a deal with Napoleon that even Chuck would have to recognize since he lives in part of it.

And never forget Steinbeck who noted that literacy is a magic event. And he said ,"There can never be enough books."

The Cracker Emcee Classic said...

“Bradbury, a technophobe, was railing against the rise of tv culture that would make book censors unnecessary, rather than a culture where reading was being forcibly exterminate”

You read it but didn’t understand it, Bob. With greater subtlety and exactitude than even Orwell, Bradbury predicted how the Left would dumb down the culture and suppress free speech and thought. Huckleberry Finn as racist aggression. Who came up with that one?

Geoff Matthews said...

I read the book as a teenager, and didn't like it. It wields its message like a sledgehammer, and relies on a victimization ideology that I didn't like even then.
Sure, censorship, in some vessel, is a thing. But there is nothing in this novel that shakes me.
I'm sure a better work has been done on the dangers of suppressing valuable ideas, and I look forward to it's publication. But I'm sure it'll be labeled as hate speech.

The Cracker Emcee Classic said...

“I'm sure a better work has been done on the dangers of suppressing valuable ideas,”

The danger lies in the notion that someone has the authority (and consequent ability to wield force) to decide which ideas are “valuable”.

Scott said...

It's an interesting trailer. I'm still not going to subscribe to HBO.

Is it an adaptation of the book, or an adaptation of the Truffaut adaptation of the book (the only movie Truffaut directed in English)? Thinking about how the new version might warp Bradbury's theme makes me a little queasy. Hoping it's not like the 2004 remake of The Manchurian Candidate, where the producers transmogrified its theme from anti-communism to anti-capitalism. Bleah.

Dreading the forthcoming repaint of the Mona Lisa.

It's been awhile since I made time to sit down and read a book. Recently I bought a used copy of "Education Of A Public Man: My Life and Politics" by Hubert Humphrey, intending to read it and then pass it along to a friend who is eyeballs-deep in Democrat politics in Newark New Jersey. I got it two months ago, and I haven't even sat down with it yet. I guess reading books is a habit I need to relearn.

Howard said...

It's just another story about our hero who dares to venture into chaos and slay the dragon.

Robert Cook said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Scott said...

Robert Cook comments on tendentious hooey. Please continue.

Robert Cook said...

"You read it but didn’t understand it, Bob. With greater subtlety and exactitude than even Orwell, Bradbury predicted how the Left would dumb down the culture and suppress free speech and thought."

That's your take on it. I don't think that's so clearly stated or implied. I was actually expecting overt suppression of books by the government to be the point of the book and was surprised that it was more about the eagerness of people to cast aside books happily, in favor of more vulgar diversions. If I ever reread it, I'll look to see if that is a supportable interpretation.

Also, the idea that "the Left" has dumbed down the culture is tendentious hooey, (to use the word of the day). It's what happens in capitalism: Make your product as simple and as palatable as possible to as many people as possible in order to sell as much of your product as possible. Politically speaking, any group, left or right, that wants to gain dominance has an interest in dumbing down the public.

Howard said...

I could never get past a page or two of Bradbury, he's unreadable. Sounds like what Robert is saying is that 451 is more Brave New World than 1984

Robert Cook said...


I disagree with you about Bradbury being unreadable, but FARENHEIT 451 isn't really worthy of it's praises. But, yes, it does present a world more like Huxley's than Orwell's.

Howard said...

Robert: Readability is a very personal thing. Being dislisleic on top of adhd, Bradbury was impossible for me. I think that's why I like Hemingway so much because a moronic illiterate like me could understand it.

Sam L. said...

Did Bloom refer the Hitler and the Nazis a bit further down?

rcocean said...

"I could never get past a page or two of Bradbury, he's unreadable."

Wow, that be crazy. He's the most readable of the old SF masters.

rcocean said...

Faulkner - who i like - can be unreadable. I think old Bill did some writing while under the influence.

Sigivald said...

That intro makes me wonder if Bloom had even read the book.

Or maybe he just couldn't resist "Bush" -> "theocracy because shut up" -> "burning books".

(Re above, "Politically speaking, any group, left or right, that wants to gain dominance has an interest in dumbing down the public.".


But that's not "capitalism"; capitalism (if we're going to use Marxian terminology) is an economic system.

The thesis of power groups dumbing down the public for their own ability to gain dominance is political, and unrelated to "capitalism", let alone, say, free market economics.)

Caligula said...

The point of seeing Fahrenheit 451 presumably is so you don't have to read the book. After all, the movie is more immediate and more entertaining than a book, and, you probably can't read even a short novel in two hours. Even if you could avoid distractions long enough to do so, of course.

So, yes, movies of this novel have always seemed a bit bizarre. Although film and most electronic devices presumably will burn at temperatures well below Fahrenheit 451.

from Beatty's speech to Montag, from the novel:

.. motion pictures in the early twentieth century.Radio. Television. Things began to have mass."

Montag sat in bed, not moving.

"And because they had mass, they became simpler," said Beatty. "Once, books appealed to a few people, here, there, everywhere. They could afford to be different. The world was roomy. But then the world got full of eyes and elbows and mouths. Double, triple, quadruple population. Films and radios, magazines, books levelled down to a sort of paste pudding norm, do you follow me?"
"I think so."

Beatty peered at the smoke pattern he had put out on the air. "Picture it. Nineteenth-century man with his horses, dogs, carts, slow motion. Then, in the twentieth century, speed up your camera. Books cut shorter. Condensations, Digests. Tabloids. Everything boils down to the gag, the snap ending."
"Snap ending." Mildred nodded.

"Classics cut to fit fifteen-minute radio shows, then cut again to fill a two-minute book column, winding up at last as a en- or twelve-line dictionary resume. I exaggerate, of course. The dictionaries were for reference. But many were those whose sole knowledge of Hamlet (you know the title certainly, Montag; it is probably only a faint rumor of a title to you, Mrs. Montag) whose sole knowledge, as I say, of Hamlet was a one-page digest in a book that claimed: now at least you can read all the classics; keep up with your neighbors. Do you see? Out of the nursery into the college and back to the nursery; there's your intellectual pattern for the past five centuries or more."

"Speed up the film, Montag, quick. Click? Pic, Look, Eye, Now, Flick, Here, There, Swift, Pace, Up, Down, In, Out, Why, How, Who, What, Where, Eh? Uh! Bang! Smack! Wallop, Bing, Bong, Boom!

Matthew Sablan said...

Beatty specifically cites people using non government force to suppress speech. Citing Little Black Sambo and Uncle Tom's Cabin. It is a plain reading of the text that reaches the minority and majority both censored books and ideas long before they had firemen.