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Written by Ray Bradbury as a fictitious masterpiece novel, Fahrenheit 451 underscores pertinent censorship issues in the contemporary United States of America. Apparently, the censorship issues that bedeviled the American society of the 1950s are the same elements tormenting the 21st Century society. In the novel, firefighters have only one responsibility, viz. to start fires.
They assume the unconventional role of starting fires in homes where books are allegedly hidden. In other words, owning and reading a book is illegal in this futuristic society. Therefore, given that people cannot gain knowledge via reading, they turn to television where they spend their days glued onto the screens. However, this form of living is frustrating, and thus some attempt to commit suicide. Bradbury’s 1953 futuristic thoughts were not far fetched as the contemporary American society is experiencing the very things that he foretold.
The issues raised in the novel, Fahrenheit 451, are relevant in contemporary American society and Bradbury’s thoughts were a warning for what he highlighted is happening in the contemporary United States. This paper will explore the censorship theme in the novel and relate it to similar events occurring in the modern day the United States.
The most outstanding form of censorship in Bradbury’s book is the burning of books. The novel’s protagonist, Guy Montag, is the commander of the book-burning firefighters. The novel starts with, “It was a pleasure to burn” (Bradbury 1). Montag derives happiness from burning people’s homes and according to Bradbury, “He wanted above all, like the old joke to shove a marshmallow on a stick in the furnace, while the flapping pigeon-winged books died on the porch and lawn of the house” (1).
Therefore, in this society, people are not allowed to own or read books because the information acquired allegedly causes pain and conflict in society. Beatty, who is Montag’s boss, explains that sometimes back, minority groups coupled with special interest groups were once opposed to certain books, and thus they caused chaos and societal upheavals.
In response, society resorted to burning books as the only way to settle people’s differences amicably. This aspect marked the genesis of burning of books in Bradbury’s fictitious American society of the 1950s. Bradbury’s fancied thinking is becoming a reality in the contemporary United States.
In the recent past, the United States has experienced burning and banning of books as envisioned in Bradbury’s novel. For instance, in 2001, Reverend George Bender led a group of activists in burning of Harry Potter’s books in Pittsburg as they allegedly have supernatural content. In the same year, Jack Brock took the Harry Potter books’ censorship campaign to New Mexico and he claimed that Harry Potter “is the devil and he is destroying people” (“These religious officials” par. 4).
In Columbia, Pastor Louis Sheldon asked the government to ban Harry Potter’s books due to their satanic influence on children. Even though the push for books’ censorship in modern times is directed towards specific compilations, the act of burning and banning of books underscores Bradbury’s ideas in Fahrenheit 451.
In addition, in Bradbury’s narration, minority groups are behind the genesis of burning and banning of books. Similarly, minority religious groups are pushing for the burning and banning of Harry Potter’s books in contemporary times.
Bradbury also highlights media censorship where radio and television stations are limited in the content that they can air. The government censors media in an attempt to please the public or minority groups. When detailing to Montag how the media should work, Granger posits, “The show’s got to have a snap ending, quick! If they started searching the whole damn river it might take all night. So they’re sniffing for a scapegoat to end things with a bang” (Bradbury 141).
In other words, all media content should be fashioned in a predetermined manner so that people can remain interested. In addition, those that attempt to defy the set structures are punished or killed. For instance, after Montag realizes the wealth hidden in books and rebels against other firefighters, Beatty allocates time and resources to kill him and his accomplices.
However, the government fails to kill Montag, and thus it kills another man and lies to the public that it has killed the real culprit. Unfortunately, the public believes this lie because people have been brainwashed to believe what the government says and the same scenarios are replaying in American society today.
After the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) received the mandate to regulate what the media should air, the contemporary American society has witnessed numerous counts of ‘media-content regulatory’ attempts across the country. For instance, in 2004, CBS was “fined CBS a record $550,000 for Janet Jackson’s ‘wardrobe malfunction’, which exposed the singer’s breast during this year’s Super Bowl halftime show” (Vries par.1).
According to the FCC, whatever happened to Janet Jackson amounted to indecency, which should not be allowed in American society. Afterward, the exposure of rear male nudity, which was hitherto common in different television advertisements, was banned. In addition, the government’s efforts to kill Montag can be likened to the current American administration’s attempts to silence Snowden and Julian Assange over their release of classified information concerning the government.
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In addition, after the 9/11 attacks, a list of different songs, which were allegedly inappropriate was released and the media was not supposed to play them. Therefore, the society that Bradbury envisioned in the mid 20th century is coming to fruition in the 21st century.
Finally, Bradbury exposes the effects of censorship on society in his fictitious society. People want to get information, but they cannot due to the censorship, and thus they rely on television as the only source of learning. Therefore, in the process, individuals are addicted to television.
They become too attached to it to the extent that they think the characters portrayed in the different programs are real. Consequently, individuals lose their independent thinking and they lead miserable lives. Montag’s wife, Millie, cannot cope with the frustrating life and thus she decides to commit suicide.
Bradbury records, “The small crystal bottle of sleeping tablets which earlier today had been filled with thirty capsules and which now lay uncapped and empty in the light of the tiny flare” (11). Millie’s friends are also addicted to watching television and leading deplorable lives and they often join her to console each other by running away from the realities of life. Even after Montag reads them a revelation poem, they think he is dissing literature.
Addiction to media and especially television in the United States is a common problem in modern times. In 2010, Americans spent an average of “34 hours, per week…watching television… more than ever before, according to the Nielsen Company” (“America’s TV addiction” par. 8). Also, one in every twenty-five youths attempted to commit suicide in 2013 across the United States due to stress-related causes.
These numbers are sickening, but apparently, Bradbury foresaw that in the 1950s. Teenagers across the United States adore and ape the characters in reality television programs like the “Keeping up with the Kardashians” and “Teen Mom”. The people addicted to these programs will do anything not to miss any of them and they will even go to the extent of not picking up their phones if called during the programs.
Therefore, they behave like Millie and her friends in Bradbury’s fiction masterpiece, Fahrenheit 451. Thus, censorship in contemporary times has taken a different stance by feeding people with what they want to see instead of giving them critical information that can spur their thinking capabilities. Unfortunately, people sadly realize that what happens on the televisions does not occur in real life, and thus they end up frustrated to the extent of attempting suicide.
In the science fiction novel, Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury envisions a society where censorship dictates what people should read and know. The firefighters in this narrative are unconventional as they start fires as opposed to extinguishing them. They derive their greatest joy from burning books for people to remain uninformed, and thus peaceful. However, Bradbury’s 1950s fictitious thinking is a reality in the contemporary United States.
For instance, society has witnessed burning and banning of particular books across the country. Also, the government censors the content to be aired by the media and those that rebel like Snowden lives in constant fear of prosecution or even death. Moreover, people are addicted to television programs, and thus Bradbury’s insights can be taken as a warning of what a society can turn into without proper leadership.
“America’s TV addiction: By the numbers.” The Week 2011. Web. 10 November 2014. <http://theweek.com/article/index/210725/americas-tv-addiction-by-the-numbers>
Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451: A Novel, New York: Simon & Shuster, 1967. Print.
“These religious officials don’t want you to read Harry Potter. But we say ignore them.” Huffington Post 2013. Web. 10 November 2014. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/12/religious-officials-harry-potter-_n_3908516.html>
Vries, Lloyd. “CBS Dealt Record Fine Over Janet.” CBS News 2004. Web. 11 Oct. 2014. <http://www.cbsnews.com/news/cbs-dealt-record-fine-over-janet/>