Guy Montag is a fireman who burns books in a futuristic city. In the Fahrenheit 451 world (451 degrees Fahrenheit is the temperature at which paper burns) firemen start fires rather than put them out (incidentally, in this novel Benjamin Franklin was the first fireman). The people in this society do not read books (and are prohibited from owning them). They are incapable of enjoying nature, spending time by themselves, thinking independently, or having meaningful conversations. Instead, they drive very fast, take sedating medications, watch excessive amounts of television on wall-size flat screens, and listen to the radio on “Seashell Radio” sets attached to their ears. Does this sound familiar?!
Fahrenheit 451, the book by Ray Bradbury and film by Francois Truffaut (see stills above and below and illustrated screenplay here), is the most prescient sci-fi work ever written and produced. The metaphor of a society that is afraid of words and enslaved by manipulative images can be foreseen today. In addition to flat screen TVs and micro radios, Fahrenheit 451 foretells of wordless graphic novels as the main form of printed communications. This is a tale of misplaced faith resulting in fear and superstition, a social order where democracy gives way to expediency, and expediency enslaves the mass.
Here is a bit from the interactive TV show “Cousin Claudette” as she presents the news as it pertains to the campaign against books:
Our campaign against the enemies of the public peace is gaining momentum. Today’s figures for operations in the urban area alone account for the elimination of the total of 2,750 pounds of conventional editions. Eight hundred and thirty-six pounds of first editions and 17 pounds of manuscripts were also destroyed. Twenty-three antisocial elements were detained, pending re-education.
About Steven Heller
Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.View all posts by Steven Heller →