‘We stand against the small tide of those who want to make everyone unhappy with conflicting theory and thought.’
That’s Captain Beatty, played by Michael Shannon in HBO’s new Fahrenheit 451. He’s the villain of the piece, but a lot of what he says will be familiar to us today coming from the mouths of people we like.
Fahrenheit 451 is a more complex work than many realize, and author Ray Bradbury isn’t just pointing the finger at authoritarian systems of censorship. He’s pointing it in a lot of places; he wrote the book at the dawn of the Golden Age of Television, and he feared the rising tide of anti-intellectualism (which came home to roost in 2016). But he also feared a world where conflicting theory and thought would be destroyed in the name of safety. He foresaw a world where people with good intentions would begin censoring things they found hurtful or bad – first taking out paragraphs, then pages, then finally burning the books altogether.
I am very curious how the modern world reacts to this aspect of Fahrenheit 451, and whether or not it makes it into the HBO movie. I think it’s important; Bradbury is for sure an Old White Dude of the highest magnitude, and some of his examples rankle when viewed through modern eyes:
“Coloured people don’t like Little Black Sambo. Burn it. White people don’t feel good about Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Burn it. Someone’s written a book on tobacco and cancer of the lungs? The cigarette people are weeping? Burn the book.”
Now, I can’t imagine that this line will be in the movie, but will the sentiment make it in? That special interest groups – of all stripes, on all sides, with all agendas – wage war on free thought in the name of decency? Or will the movie focus more on Bradbury’s chillingly accurate vision of a future where you barely needed to burn books because people simply don’t want to bother reading them anymore?
I’m curious, and I hope the debate is robust and open to many perspectives. In the meantime, the new trailer is great, and very promising indeed. Michael B. Jordan… can he do any wrong?