Grant McDermott bio photo

Grant McDermott

Assistant Professor
Dept. of Economics
University of Oregon

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Earlier today I read Bill Maher's op-ed in the NYT: Please Stop Apologizing. I deeply agree with his general point and am reminded of the way he put it \(-\) rather more bluntly \(-\) some months ago on his show Real Time: "Stop organizing life around the people who don't get the joke. Fuck them if they don't get [the] joke."


Ricky Gervais is often quoted as making the same point, but in a milder form: Just because someone is offended, doesn't make them right.

Going back to Maher's op-ed, I couldn't help but think, as I inevitably do when the topic of censorship comes up, of Ray Bradbury's dystopian classic, Fahrenheit 451. I read the book in high school and my abiding memory \(-\) apart from a great opening quote and the central irony of firemen actually setting fire to things \(-\) has been that it was meant as a warning against the dangers of censorship.

I'm surprised to learn, then, that Bradbury actually disputes this as being the major theme of the book. The Wikipedia page has a decent summary of things and also links to the following video clip from Bradbury's website:

In his own words: "I wasn't worried about freedom, I was worried about people being turned in morons by TV."

The Wiki entry also links to this LA Times article that was written after Bradbury was awarded the 2007 Pulitzer Prize. The following passage caught my eye:
[Bradbury] 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. 


Bradbury imagined a democratic society whose diverse population turns against books: Whites reject Uncle Tom’s Cabin and blacks disapprove of Little Black Sambo. He imagined not just political correctness, but a society so diverse that all groups were “minorities.” He wrote that at first they condensed the books, stripping out more and more offending passages until ultimately all that remained were footnotes, which hardly anyone read. Only after people stopped reading did the state employ firemen to burn books.
AMUSING UPDATE: Someone should put Bradbury in touch with his publisher. I see that the book is still being billed as "The classic bestseller about censorship" on Amazon. OTOH, why fix something if it ain't broke?