Tag Archives: Society

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

farenheit

Political ignorance. Emotional disconnect. Reality television craze. No wonder butthurt educational administrators have tried to ban and censor ‘Fahrenheit 451’ in schools. This book predicted the 21st Century!

Guy Montag is a regular joe, occasionally prone to  sporadic bouts of philosophizing, who happens to live in an appallingly dumbed-down futuristic America where books are confiscated and burned. He should know; he’s a ‘fireman,’ whose job is not to stop fires but to start them. Guy has very rarely questioned his place in the world, his role being to destroy literature and condemn errant readers to death by the lethal injection of the deadly robot dog ‘the hound.’

One day Guy meets free-spirited teen Clarisse McClellan, and their burgeoning friendship is the beginning of an eye-opening but dangerous transformative experience for Guy. He sees what a shitty façade the so-called comfort and prosperity he lives in entails. In Bradbury’s America, people (including Guy’s brainwashed, reality-TV addicted wife Mildred) sit glued to their interactive, inane programs, people are spoonfed political rhetoric and propaganda like blind, deaf infants, and teens and adults alike express their rage and ennui by getting in a car and running over anything- man or animal- they can find.

There are definitely some similarities between the discord making up ‘Fahrenheit 451”s pages and today’s overly social conscious yet utterly socially ignorant world. It’s a quick read, lovingly written, with mind-boggling precursors to modern technology. The society pictured here takes anything stimulating or challenging from people’s ready access, and the sheep-like civilians don’t even put up a fight. Instead, people who like to read or even explore the world and themselves beyond instant gratification and inane excess are considered freaks, abnormal. and subhuman, and thus worthy of extermination by ‘the Hound.’

Everybody is unhappy, but nobody knows they’re unhappy, or why. In the style of something like “Fight Club,” violence is the only conceivable release from boredom and empty consumer culture. I loved this book mostly because of the writing. I found myself inwardly nodding to myself while reading the incisive prose, and wanting to jot down some of the things written within the slim, but potent little novel.

The world-building is also fantastic. Bradbury creates a bleak but instantly recognizable world riddled with violence, apathy, and drug addiction. People are so fixated on the devices and happy pills they have forgotten what makes them happy, much less human. They’ve certainly forgotten each other, so focused are they on their flickering, opium-soaked electronic worlds.

Although Guy is the protagonist of ‘Fahrenheit 451,’ Beatty, Guy’s maniacally evil boss, may be the most interesting out of the cast of characters. For a man who hates books and reading, Beatty is certainly well-read, and belies his disgusted attitude toward knowledge with a plethora of classic literary references and quotes. I kind of wish they had gone into Beatty’s past a bit more, a backstory that Bradbury himself goes into a bit more depth about in the afterward of the edition of the book I read.

Don’t let the fact that “Fahrenheit 451” is a ‘classic’- a double-edged term often associated with dusty bookshelves and interminable boredom get in the way of reading what is surely one of the best dystopian novels of all time, loaded with spiritual and social significance without being wordy or a drag. Teachers and parents who try to withhold this book from teens’ hands  are certainly barking up the wrong tree (though if I’m not wrong, teenagers will find a away to acquire those books and videos which are kept from them.) This is great discussion material, and much more substantial than most young adult books on the market today.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Lord of the Flies

Author William Golding’s classic ‘attempt to trace the defects of human society back to the defects of human nature,’ is as beautifully written as it is barbaric and grim. Even if you are one of the thousands of students for which this was mandatory reading, it might be behoove you to revisit it at an older and wiser age. This harrowing quick read (and seemingly, the author’s only widely remembered novel) is the story of a group of schoolboys who crash on an uninhabited island, and quickly go psycho without the guidance of parents and teachers to keep their homicidal impulses in check.

“Lord of the Flies” is less about character development and plot that the (riveting) descriptive writing and an attempt to see the bigger picture psychologically and sociologically. Ralph represents the benevolent leader who wants to keep the feuding boys in check, Jack, his opposite, the yin to his yang. Fat, ever well-intentioned Piggy is the scientist, and Simon serves as the instinctive, spiritual force of the group.

Several characters ironically state on several occasion that the children are a group of ‘proper English boys.’ This seems to be a satiric jab at the silly assumption that one race is more capable of order and reason than any other. “Aah,” Mr. Golding seems to say, “Wouldn’t the white colonist like to think so.” His is a tale of intrinsic evil, carried out by children, no less, the members of our society considered the most innocent and impervious to blame.

Despite Ralph’s alignment on the side of (relative) good (as a posed to pig-killing, Satan worshiping chaos,) I did not really like him all that much. I did not like the way he treated Piggy, teasing him, nettling him, betraying his confidence and ensuring he would be called an awful nickname for the rest of the book. Like many, I felt most protective of and absorbed by Piggy, who just really wants everyone to get along because ‘what’s right is right,’ and after all, they’re a group of proper English boys, not savages (…Heh.)

The only thing I did not like about the novel (*SPOILER ALERT*) was the way the Naval Officer at the end reacts so obtusely to the anarchy and bloodshed. “Fun and games, eh?” he inquires despite the fact that the whole island is on fire and Ralph is covered is blood and bruises and has even been stabbed by a spear. That was just stupid. I know that it was meant to convey that the miniature whack jobs were really just little boys, as far as an outsider looking in was concerned, but I really did not like how the only adult in the book was a complete dim bulb. (*END OF SPOILER*)

This meditation on human evil and societal decay is a cynical literature reader’s dream, but you don’t have to have a bleak outlook on life to appreciate what’s being done here (although it probably helps.) Mr. William Golding might not be the finest of human beings (Rapey incidents aside,) but he was a Hell of a writer. My wish is that in reading this review you will revisit this classic or discover it for the first time.

lordofthefliesSam Weber

God Bless America (2011)

Despite a fairly small viewership, Bobcat Godtwait’s pitch-black comedy “God Bless America” has proved to be somewhat controversial since it’s release, which was no doubt what Goldtwait intended. Rumors abound about it’s ‘glorification of violence,’ ‘tasteless content,’ and so-called ‘Liberal agenda.’ So here I am to weigh in my two cents.

First of all, the allegation that the film is political propaganda is pure bollocks. Despite the mockery of extreme right-wingers and ‘Obama-as-Hitler’ ridiculousness, “God Bless America” proves to be, like it’s protagonist Frank, largely politically neutral.

By the beginning of the film, Frank (Joel Murray) is enraged and psychotically angry. Drinking and fantasizing about killing the inconsiderately loud next-door couple and their baby does little to quench his increasing blood lust.

To most people, Frank seems like a quiet, mild-mannered middle-aged man. But in his head Frank lives a much more violently intriguing life, as most of us do. Divorced, father to a bratty little child who cannot be bothered to spend time with him, Frank is fed up with what he perceived as the downfall of American society.

But it is not until he is diagnosed a inoperable brain tumor and loses his job that he finally snaps, cashing in his military service and targeting the b**chy star of a reality TV show, Chloe (Maddie Hasson) of “Chloe’s Sweet Sixteen.”

Joel Murray is outstanding as Frank, but Tara Lynn Barr is less impressive as Roxy, the sixteen-year-old girl who accompanies Frank on his killing spree. Roxy has feelings for Frank that are not reciprocated, and the platonic relationship between the two is one of the main points of the film. That and a whole lot of anger.

“God Bless America” has lots of satisfyingly bloodthirsty violence, a great soundtrack, and equally bloodthirsty satire as Frank and Roxy dissect modern American society. The fact that we sympathize and are to some extent compliant in the killings does not keep me from loving this movie, and is instead and interesting manipulation of audience loyalties.

Joel Murray proves he is every bit as good if not better than his brother Bill, and his rage and disgust is palpable. Roxy is a slightly annoying and overly sadistic sidekick, but some of her lines are funny and her presence is crucial to the plot.

So is Frank right? Have we become an ugly and cruel society? I would argue that the ugliness is intrinsic to human nature period, American or not. I think other countries have slightly higher standards when it comes to film and television programming, but I also think that the need to shock and degrade is in our genetic material, whether we live in the US or France or Timbuktu.

Nevertheless, I recommend this movie to people who enjoy the darker side of humanity presented in film. My dad argues that to like a movie like this, you must HAVE a dark side, which doesn’t say much to the fans of this movie. But one could also argue that some extent, your reaction to this kind of comedy shows what kind of person you are. For better for worse, I am a fan. That is all.