Putting a Pin in Lit Students Everywhere
I’ve seen the following story referred to a few times recently, mostly with some disdain or sadness that Ray Bradbury is saying his landmark novel, Fahrenheit 451 was not about censorship, but instead about the perils of TV.
Bradbury, a man living in the creative and industrial center of reality TV and one-hour dramas, says it is, in fact, a story about how television destroys interest in reading literature.
“Television gives you the dates of Napoleon, but not who he was,” Bradbury says, summarizing TV’s content with a single word that he spits out as an epithet: “factoids.” He says this while sitting in a room dominated by a gigantic flat-panel television broadcasting the Fox News Channel, muted, factoids crawling across the bottom of the screen.
I guess that’s equally applicable, and frankly it’s been so long since I read that book I couldn’t begin to comment. I do think that what I’ve heard about Bradbury (he was furious about Michael Moore’s appropriation of the name for his documentary Fahrenheit 9/11) makes him sound like a crotchety old man who likes being correct. Either way, I’m actually pleased by this “revelation” for one main reason – when I was studying English, and I took a GREAT deal of it through high school and college (I took the equivalent of six years of high school English as I doubled up courses so much), I always rolled my eyes during some of the Lit classes. Students would make some of the most inane (in my opinion) analogies to what “something meant” in a book. I remember distinctly one woman talking about the use of the color yellow in The Great Gatsby (one of my all-time favorites) and I objected, saying it strained credulity to think that Fitzgerald purposefully used yellow that way. (Frankly, I don’t even remember what her point was.) My teacher said that it didn’t matter, it could be an unconscious allusion, or something that made it essentially okay for anyone to pull anything out of their keyster and say it meant something.
Now, it turns out that something NO ONE debated, that F-451 was about censorship, isn’t so. I think there’s more to the story, but either way, it puts a nice little pin in a lot of college students who over-read and over-analyze literature. As someone who loves books as much as I do, it kills me when people break things down to such a micro level that it takes any larger themes out.