The Persistent Propagation of Pernicious Propaganda Everyone is happy. Why shouldn’t they be? There is enough to eat, enough walls with family in them to keep everyone occupied, enough sports for others, and cars speeding to a hundred miles an hour for those who are adventurous. If someone is tired, there is always a fistful of pills that can guarantee a good night’s sleep. And most important of all there are no books to hurt anyone’s feeling or to poison anyone’s mind with conflicting thoughts.
These are the hallmarks of the society in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, here the primary purpose of life is hedonism, an uninhibited pursuit of pleasure that is restrained not by any moral compass but by regulations set by a faceless authority that no one dares defy. Books are censored, and are burnt whenever and wherever they are found along with the houses they are found in. Occasionally, the rebels that question this conformity burn along with their books. Fahrenheit 451 is a textbook analysis of how propaganda can infect a society.
Censorship begins with a people’s indifference, moves on to purposeful falsehoods, fear- ongering, and ironically culminates in mindless entertainment. In Fahrenheit 451, the censoring of books did not start with the government’s rampant prohibition of books, but with the citizenry’s indifference to the high culture of reading. As captain Beatty, the head of the firemen, explains, “It didn’t come from the Government down. There was no dictum, no declaration, no censorship, to start with” (Bradbury 28).
The fact that this decline of reading culture started from the people, however, does not imply that the government had nothing to do with the phenomenon. The government in Fahrenheit 451, although not directly mentioned, can be explained by the propaganda it spreads and the actions it carries out to enforce its policies. It uses tools, not very different from those used by regimes over the years in the real world, to naturalize some assumptions in its citizenry for benefiting itself. It practices fear mongering, misinformation and persistent dissemination of propaganda to achieve its purpose.
The government propagates falsehood like houses always being fireproof and firemen always being the people burning books to give a sense of permanence to the tate of the society. Furthermore, it even rewrites history to suit its purpose when it spreads the myth that Benjamin Franklin started the “book burnings. ” The people are kept in the dark about what is happening outside their cities. The book hints that people could be starving in other countries while they enjoy their wall screen in their homes.
Any skepticism one might have about the ideas circulated by the government is drowned in the sheer abundance with which the government floods its people with false information. The horrors of war are also kept from the itizenry and they speak very casually of the wars which, in their world, end in a matter of few days. Mrs. Phelps speaks of the war as if it were a little adventure, “He’ll be back next week. The Army said so. Quick war. Forty-eight hours they said” (45). The people in the cities are blithely unaware of the dangers they face until a nuclear bomb wipes them off the face of the earth.
To maintain its power or the illusion of it, the government uses fear- generating tactics by demonizing the books and anyone who reads them. As captain Beatty says, “A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it. Take the shot from the weapon. Breach man’s mind. Who knows who might be the target of the well-read man” (Bradbury 28)? The government’s omnipotence is well- established among the law enforcement too, as another quote from Beatty suggests “Any man’s insane who thinks he can fool the Government and us” (16).
The government does not even refrain from killing an innocent bystander in place of Montag when the highly-publicized manhunt for the treasonous fugitive fails. Besides these, there is the burning of people and their houses along with their books to generate fear in the eople and to deter anyone who has the slightest intent of defying the censorship. Although fear is one main driving force of government policy in Fahrenheit 451, distractions and mindless entertainment are powerfully utilized by the government to prevent the people from retaliating against the its policies.
The wall screen TV is publicized as one of the best way to spend time with one’s family and people like Mildred spend almost all their time sitting in front of these devices. Besides wall screens, there are “seashells,” which are small radio like devices that you can put in your ears. Sports like baseball re often overemphasized and are popular among the firemen. Rampant drug use is another distraction common in the society given that their overdose is taken care of by different professional not medical doctors.
The purpose of these distractions in the book is not to propagate any propaganda, but to keep people from engaging in any kind of mindful endeavor. According to McGiveron, the exploitation of mass culture for easy gratification is the fundamental threat to thought because it requires a greater majority of conformist than minority pressure and it is, in itself, a driving force unlike he existence of technology that has to be steered in a particular direction to cultivate this culture of thoughtlessness (245). The dystopian features of the society in Fahrenheit 451 are not as far-fetched as we take them to be.
The government- disseminated propaganda, the demonization of readers and authors, and an irrational fear of books bear a striking resemblance to the Red Scare that occupied American society at the time Bradbury was writing Fahrenheit 451. As David Fox puts it, “At a time when the Red Scare could utterly destroy the lives of any non-conformist, Ray Bradbury rebelliously wrote Fahrenheit 451. This was a difficult time in American history when loyalty oaths, an irrational fear of Communism, and Cold War ethics reigned supreme” (2).
The theatrics of the highly- televised hunt for Montag is analogous to the dramatic and often baseless hearings held by the House Committee on Un- American Activities. The irrational fear of books also resembles the fear of Communism which was widespread during the post- war 1950s and too was often irrational. After nearly six decades, we now live in an era dominated by yet another mass media- the internet-that seeks to indoctrinate us. With the production and distribution cost of news and other information being dramatically low in the internet, propaganda by different name thrive under the walls of our social media.
Terms like “alternative fact” and “fake news” dominate our daily news and their effects, as seen in the U. S presidential elections, can affect the outcome of massive democratic processes. According to the BBC, “more US adults are seeing and believing- information that is not just inaccurate, but totally made up” (“The Rise”). In a time when a teenager from a remote Balkan town can fabricate news hat can affect the voting behavior of thousands of people, Bradbury’s emphasis on the waning culture of reading and thought becomes especially relevant.
The television, which is the sole mass media in Fahrenheit 451, has become highly partisan over the years. The inclination of the media towards sensationalism rather than objective reporting is a cause for alarm among those who seek to prevent Bradbury’s future. According to Joodaki: … the media, particularly over the past few years, has been a formidable power in shaping people’s conducts and viewpoints, being highly successful in engendering ffect in instilling sometimes fallacious notions into individuals who are not cognizant of the pernicious influence they might have on them. 224-5)
Aldous Huxley said, “the price of freedom is eternal vigilance” (“The Price”). To the ever-inquisitive human mind, freedom to pursue one’s intellectual passion should be worth more than a false sense of security and happiness. Our family values are being replaced by gadgetry and our pursuit of knowledge by mindless entertainment. One more foot in the wrong direction and we might find a mechanical Hound at our door.