THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS
Ray Bradbury’s novel of over 40 years ago, “Fahrenheit 451,” has turned out to contain more fact than fiction. The story is about a fire fighter whose job is to burn books that are banned by a hedonistic society — a society that considers thought to be dangerous. Guy Montag, the central character, lives in a world where self-control is abandoned and anyone caught thinking too much is confined to a mental hospital or worse.
In 1966, a film was made of the book and I remember a scene where Montag comes home to his wife to find her in a drugged stupor. A reality show on a wall-sized television is playing and the home audience is being asked to pick the evening’s game show winner. At the time, I thought viewing life through a TV screen and giving a thumbs up or down to contestants was a profligate idea — almost as senseless as burning books. But in Bradbury’s case, he had a prescient notion about the future — that passive world where programs like “American Idol,” “The Bachelor” and “Dancing with the Stars” are the mainstays of home entertainment.
Recently, Jonathan Franzen in the “New York Times” gave us another heads’ up:
“The ultimate goal of technology, the telos of techne, is to replace a natural world that’s indifferent to our wishes – a world of hurricanes and hardships and breakable hearts, a world of resistance – with a world so responsive to our wishes as to be a mere extension of the self.” (“This Week,” June 10, 2011, pg.14)
The link between technology and hedonism threatens to grow stronger, despite Bradbury’s warning. The question is, “Are we in too much of a stupor to notice?”