The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

The Prophetic Nature of Fahrenheit 451

Written by: Beth Woodward, CC2K Books Editor

ImageWith the 2008 presidential election tomorrow, it strikes me just how prophetic Ray Bradbury’s classic novel—which was first published 55 years ago—has turned out to be.  About halfway through Fahrenheit 451, Mildred Montag, the protagonist’s wife, and her friends have a conversation about the most recent presidential election.  Turns out they all voted for the incumbent, President Noble, because he was better looking than his opponent, Hubert Hoag.  Guy Montag, the protagonist, demands to know what they know about Hoag and Noble.  One woman replies, “Why, they were right in that parlor wall not six months ago.  One of them was always picking his nose; it drove me wild.”

Another chimes in, “Well, Mr. Montag […] do you really want us to vote for a man like that?”

Fahrenheit 451 depicts a world where books are banned and electronic media is omnipresent, where news has been largely subverted by the all-consuming quest for instant-gratification entertainment, where people are almost completely ignorant of their past—or their present.  (Guy Montag is a “fireman” who burns books, totally unaware that, once upon a time, firemen actually extinguished fires.)  Sound familiar?

Sadly, largely trivial factors will likely help decide tomorrow’s election: John McCain’s age, Sarah Palin’s gender, Barack Obama’s race and religious background, which candidate’s performance on Saturday Night Live was the most effective.  What is John McCain’s economic plan or Barack Obama’s stance on international affairs?  Who cares, when we’ve got to weigh the relative merits and shortcomings of William Ayers and Joe the Plumber?

What makes Fahrenheit 451 so resonant—and so frightening—is just how much this book seems to be written about modern times.  There’s an election, but everyone trivializes it.  There’s a war, but everyone ignores it.  “Intellectual” has become a dirty word and people live solely for their trivial happinesses.  As Fire Captain Beatty, a man not so much evil as practical, says, “Let [people] forget there is such a thing as war.  If the government is inefficient, topheavy, and tax-mad, better it be all those than people worry over it. […] Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs or the names of state capitals or how much corn Iowa grew last year.”

These eerie similarities make the book’s final image all that much more startling: a town being completely, instantly decimated, a casualty of a war that everyone has forgotten about.

Happy voting…


Selected Book Releases, November 3-9

November 4

Divine Justice by David Baldacci—Oliver Stone returns in Baldacci’s fourth Camel Club thriller.  Having not read any of these, I can only tell you that this book is not about the guy who directed W.—at least, I don’t think so.

Salvation in Death by J.D. Robb—This is the 27th crime thriller featuring Lieutenant Eve Dallas.  I’m guessing this is a crime thriller geared toward women, because J.D. Robb is actually a pseudonym of bestselling novelist Nora Roberts.

Midnight by Sister Souljah—A novel about a young Sudanese immigrant struggling to survive in New York City.

Paula Deen’s Kitchen Wisdom and Recipe Journal by Paula Deen—Paula Deen is competing with James Patterson for the most book releases in one year.  In the month since I’ve been doing this list, I think I’ve seen her on it twice.

Born Country: My Life in Alabama: How Faith, Family, and Music Brought Me Home by Randy Owen—The celebrity memoir makes a triumphant return to the list this week with this offering from the lead singer of Alabama.

Swallowing Darkness by Laurell K. Hamilton—The 7th novel in the Meredith Gentry series about a faerie princess.

My Word Is My Bond by Sir Roger Moore—Celebrity memoir of the week #2, this one coming from the guy who replaced Sean Connery in the James Bond films.

Jesus: A Story of Enlightenment by Deepak Chopra: A novel about Jesus’ so-called “lost years”—those not chronicled by the New Testament.

Hollywood Foto-Rhetoric: The Lost Manuscript by Bob Dylan and Barry Feinstein—This book includes the poetry of Bob Dylan and the Hollywood photography of Barry Feinstein.

Traitor to His Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt by H.W. Brands—A biography of Franklin Roosevelt by University of Texas historian H.W. Brands.

The Glory Game: How the 1958 NFL Championship Changed Football Forever by Frank Gifford and Peter Richmond—This book chronicles the story of the 1958 game between Gifford’s Giants and Johnny Unitas’ Colts.  I’m from Pittsburgh myself, so if it doesn’t come wrapped in a Terrible Towel, no one I know will be reading it.

November 5

Rachael Ray’s Big Orange Book: Her Biggest Ever Collection of All-New 30-Minute Meals Plus Kosher Meals, Meals for One, Veggie Dinners, Holiday Favorites, and Much More by Rachael Ray—Ray may be an easy target for mocking, but I’ll be damned if those 30-minute meals haven’t saved me from take-out food many times.