tv451.jpg Ray Bradbury didn’t go collect his Pulitzer special citation because winners aren’t permitted to say anything, so he created a press event instead:
He says the culprit in Fahrenheit 451 is not the state — it is the people. Unlike Orwell’s 1984, in which the government uses television screens to indoctrinate citizens, Bradbury envisioned television as an opiate. In the book, Bradbury refers to televisions as “walls” and its actors as “family,” a truth evident to anyone who has heard a recap of network shows in which a fan refers to the characters by first name, as if they were relatives or friends.

Ray Bradbury: Fahrenheit 451 Misinterpreted, L.A.’s august Pulitzer honoree says it was never about censorship, By Amy E. Boyle Johnston, Wednesday, May 30, 2007 – 7:00 pm

Yet the state, or politicians, can leverage that opiate for their ends just as well, perhaps even better, than if the government sold the drug directly.

Talking points created by scavenging legitimate intelligence only for points that support the “facts” already decided, distributed to tame pundits and reporters, give an illusion of impartiality that sells.

His fear in 1953 that television would kill books has, he says, been partially confirmed by television’s effect on substance in the news. The front page of that day’s L.A. Times reported on the weekend box-office receipts for the third in the Spider-Man series of movies, seeming to prove his point.

“Useless,” Bradbury says. “They stuff you with so much useless information, you feel full.”

And if you already feel full, you feel no need to look further. You just believe what the telly tells you. You don’t question WMD in Iraq and you accept a “controversy” about global warming that has been manufactured in the media. You don’t even question torture by your own government, because, after all, they do it on all the popular TV shows. None of those fictional shows mention that torture actually doesn’t work, because that would take away the drama. Yet since most people get most of their information from TV, few people go look that up. Why, after all, should viewers doubt what has so dramatically conveyed as fact? Grab them by their guts and their brains remain unengaged.

Such a medium works best for certain types of politics. The nature of television, with its visuals that appear real and its quick cuts that activate our attention reflexes is to appeal to emotions and instinctive reactions, especially fear. So TV works best for politicians that appeal to emotion and fear, not to those who appeal to reason.

Most Americans did not have televisions when Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451, and those who did watched 7-inch screens in black and white. Interestingly, his book imagined a future of giant color sets — flat panels that hung on walls like moving paintings. And television was used to broadcast meaningless drivel to divert attention, and thought, away from an impending war.
If I recall correctly, Bradbury also imagined that TV could be used to make war seem good, and to direct attention towards carefully selected benefits of waging it.

Of course, TV can just as easily be used to show the struggles of peacemaking, the social benefits of science, or the victory and defeat of a spelling bee. However, easy fear and gut-wrenching action sell soap better, and TV as a centralized broadcast content medium needs big bucks to produce and distribute programs.

Fortunately other media are available that can counter the effects of TV by providing participation. Bradbury himself is using the Internet:

He’s now bucking the widespread conventional wisdom with a video clip on his Web site (, titled “Bradbury on censorship/television.”
And this can work, if the Internet is not also controlled by a few large corporations and turned into a centralized broadcast medium like TV.


One thought on “TV451

  1. John Quarterman

    Making Light points out that Bradbury has previously said the book is about “censorship and book-burning in the future” in a Coda to a 1979 paperback edition, which was still in the 1987 mass-market edition, which is still on sale.
    I don’t think this changes any of Bradbury’s points about the effects of TV, nor my points about how government and politicians can use those effects for their own purposes, perhaps even better than if government directly controlled TV.

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