Ray Bradbury’s ‘Fahrenheit 451’: A Cultural Crystal Ball

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Author’s note: This piece first appeared on the now-defunct Yahoo Contributor’s Network.

Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” is celebrated for its condemnation of censorship and groupthink, but Bradbury — a writer who has always been categorized as “science-fiction” over the tonier synonym “speculative fiction” — deserves recognition for that book’s eerie prescience of culture. What he foresaw, from six decades out, is remarkable.

Though Bradbury copyrighted “Fahrenheit 451” in 1953, as described by The Big Read, it was adapted first from a short story called “Bright Phoenix” published in 1947, and then “The Fireman,” which was published in 1950. While increasing numbers of households would get televisions in that decade, at the beginning of the ’50s TVs were new. Yet not only did he foresee them in every household, he foresaw them taking over households: huge, wall-sized televisions. Bradbury imagined ear buds with his seashell radios long before the concept existed. And, in the dreaded Hound, he saw a future of robotics far out of line with the technology of the time.

But those details are prescience of technology, which, though still a neat trick, is not quite as stunning as understanding the evolution of culture if left to its natural course. With a beauty of language also often not given the credit it is due, Bradbury says: “With schools turning out more runners, jumpers, racers, tinkerers, grabbers, snatchers, fliers, and swimmers instead of examiners, critics, knowers, and imaginative creators, the word ‘intellectual,’ of course, became the swear word it deserved to be.” (Del Rey 50th Anniversary Edition, pg. 58).

Bradbury writes of the condensation of thought from book to digest to blurb in a way strangely predictive of Twitter, where all ideas must fit within the constraints of 140 characters. He sees the rise of advertising so incessant it’s nearly ritualistic, and long before the advent of reality TV, he predicted shows that were little more than life itself, with home participants easily joining.

He even wrote about the future of attempts to erase any signs of age, of having lived a life, of a world lacking depth and texture, with his description that sounds predictive of Botox long before people decided injections of neurotoxins were preferable to wrinkles: “So do you see now why books are hated and feared? They show the pores in the face of life. The comfortable people want only wax moon faces, poreless, hairless, expressionless.” (pg. 83).

And then there is that beauty of language that comes from its clarity, from each word in a sentence chosen for both its overt and subtle meanings while still seeing the far-off future from quite a distance. At a time when newspapers were in nearly every home, he said “I remember them dying like huge moths. No one wanted them back. No one missed them.” (emphasis in original; pg. 89)

There are classics that are classics through some sense of tradition, and then there are books that become classics because what they tell us about ourselves is unchanging, unencumbered by movement of culture in the world around us. “Fahrenheit 451” is about so much more than censorship. With amazing insight from more than half-a-century away, it is about the willing relinquishment of critical thinking.

 

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Loser of the Election? Democracy

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rip-democracyYes, I’m going to talk about the election. This transcends politics. This transcends where you fall on the scale, red or blue or for you middle-grounders, purple. This transcends budget squabbles.

This election was about democracy. And democracy lost.

Most of us spent yesterday reeling over the concept that voters endorsed virulent hatred. Virulent hatred got the government stamp of approval. Hello open discrimination, goodbye even the veil of politeness. And that was sickening.

If you don’t think that was sickening, or you think that disgust over someone enthusiastically accepting the support of the kkk* and nazis* is nothing to get worked up over, this is where we part ways. Feel free to unfollow my blog, and go live your existence smug with the thought that you can be free from the tyranny of being polite and treating others with respect.

If you’re still with me, or if that last sentence made your stomach twinge, and you now understand what you’ve done, then stay with me. And commit to your own growth.

And so we continue.

How Trump won exposes the naked contempt of the GOP for the very fabric of our Constitution. Voting is a fundamental right, and yet, after the gutting of the Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court — at the behest of members of the GOP — states were free to enact the kinds of laws specifically designed to stop certain voters from exercising that fundamental right.

You know who used to use those laws to prevent people from voting?

The kkk.

You know who utilized those laws to capture the electoral college while losing the popular vote?

The candidate supported by the kkk.

But the responsibility lies with the GOP itself, as it also used redistricting to minimize the likelihood of Democratic candidates winning the majority of districts while increasing their share of Representatives. Instead, the GOP created incredibly strangely shaped districts to increase the odds of GOP wins in the majority, while concentrating Democratic votes in others. Some of the biggest offenders?

Florida, North Carolina and Ohio.

Those states ringing a bell?

Add to that North Carolina GOPers actually bragging about how they curbed the votes of black voters, and the success of their voter suppression tactics, and you might see what I mean.

No matter what your point of view, no matter how you feel about Social Security or defense spending or health care, if you believe in the Constitution, you have to support the right of everyone to choose their government.

Everyone.

Not just the people who vote like you. Because that is not a democracy, it is a power grab. It is a coup. It is a subversion of the will of the people all tied up with a heaping helping of authoritarianism.

This election proved that democracy is far more delicate than we realized, and the GOP hates it far more than we realized. Even now, peaceful protests, filled with citizens who are exercising their First Amendment rights, are being characterized as “riots,” or, according to one terrifying man with too much authority, the protesters “radical anarchists.”

For exercising their First Amendment rights. And I hear this man is up for a cabinet position. As Director of Homeland Security. You know that branch of government that decides who constitutes a threat?

Chew on that.

And we haven’t even gotten to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s involvement in the election, which Russian officials just confirmed.

So here we are, at the mouth of the tunnel to a very, very dark place. We have lost control of the “Government of the people, by the people, for the people.” And we may never get it back.

 

 

*[Refusal to capitalize kkk et.al. is not a typo but an editorial choice.]

Last Chance to see “Witch, Please.”

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Tomorrow is the last performance of “Witch, Please.” at Donny’s Skybox in the Second City complex in Chicago! You get one last chance to laugh with us, have a little Halloween treat, and maybe a drink or two if you’re so inclined.

Come check out our unique digital blend while you have the chance! We just about sold out last week, so grab your tickets while you still can.

AND you can check out the super-awesome amazing props I made.

Fine. I might be over-selling the props. Hope to see you there!

In or near Chicago in October? Come see “Me Inside Me Presents: Witch, Please,” on October 1, 8, 22 and 29 at Donny’s Skybox Theater at 7 pm. Tickets available at SecondCity.com.

Check out  my full-length novels,  Her Cousin Much Removed,  The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management and Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only), and the sequel, Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended) which is now available!

And download Better Living Through GRAVY and Other Oddities, it’s free!

 Sign up for my spamless newsletter!

Ecuador & Galapagos Day 2: Santa Cruz Highlands or Check out Those Giant Tortoises!

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img_5727(Previous Ecuador posts) We squeezed into the back of the white pickup truck, me in the middle, my enormous camera backpack between my knees, my huge purse lodged under, our suitcases in the bed of the truck. Everything we saw was new: The trees that looked like dead sticks; the others that resembled very tall birches, only they weren’t.

The higher we went, the greener it got.

We passed a small town with small stores open to the street, wooden railings, low, single-story buildings. Santiago told us that on the weekends, there’s a market there, and people come up from Puerto Ayora, the big city on Santa Cruz.

The driver pulled over, seemingly to nowhere, but we saw some other tourists emerge from the greenery. An application of sunscreen and a donning of my hat later, and we were taking in our first Galapagos sight (and site): Los Gemelos, The Twin Craters, formed when the tops of the mountains collapsed inward due to erosion.

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And then it was back into the truck to see the giant tortoises. Suddenly they were everywhere, dotting the hillside, stalwart, like living rocks in the road. The very-slow-moving rabbits of the Highland, the giant tortoises were everywhere. They’re also allowed go anywhere they want and eat anything they want, undisturbed, chewing away at crops.

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This is what it’s like to get side-eye from a tortoise. The meanie. Obviously.

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We went to a farm where you can get close to them, though you are supposed to stay a bit of a distance away, as they, like all the species of the Galapagos, are protected. Most didn’t seem to mind us at all, aside from one real meanie.

Watching them move was interesting, they put their huge, stubbly legs, each ending in a set of impressive claws, forward and heave themselves, fighting for every inch.

Then we looked at the lava tunnels, hollow tubes running under the island. We had to descend some steep stairs, but luckily, the ones we saw didn’t involve any crawling.img_5870 img_5868

Unfortunately, though, my future storage problem has become my current storage problem, and one I must solve before I can post the rest of the pictures. We had a lovely meal on the farm, though, in a gorgeous outdoor dining room I’ll have to show you another day, made from a local wood which is actually invasive. Because it’s invasive, it’s used as a building material, unlike the native or endemic species (we’ll get to that), which cannot be cut.

And then it was off to our eco-hotel, Isla Azul, a lovely, quiet spot where they welcomed us with fresh juice and slight concern: Apparently Pacific Holidays hadn’t informed them either of our plans for an afternoon tour. Isla Azul is known for the gracious hospitality of its owner, Raquel, who, sadly was on vacation during our stay, though her sons pitched in and did a great job. The younger son even hoisted our heavy bags high a trooped them up the stairs to second floor.

I’d show a picture of the view from there but…as you know. No more space. Oh well.

The path to the rooms was completely open, the view below of a street, and neighborhood, eventually giving way to the Highlands in the distance. The clouds took on a pearly sheen as the day wound down, and I breathed in the crisp air, finches appearing every now and then to peer at me curiously.

Soon there would be blue-footed boobies and frigate birds, but you, like me, will just have to wait for that.

In or near Chicago in October? Come see “Me Inside Me Presents: Witch, Please,” on October 1, 8, 22 and 29 at Donny’s Skybox Theater at 7 pm. Tickets available at SecondCity.com.

Check out  my full-length novels,  Her Cousin Much Removed,  The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management and Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only), and the sequel, Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended) which is now available!

And download Better Living Through GRAVY and Other Oddities, it’s free!

 Sign up for my spamless newsletter!

Laugh with a Discount! Come See “Witch, Please!”

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Only two more shows left! As “Witch, Please,” moves into our third (!) performance, we’re celebrating fall, Halloween and humor with a huge $4 discount on tickets! Just enter code “MAGIC” when you purchase tickets online.

So if you’re in Chicago or Chicago adjacent, have a sense of humor that needs a little tickle, possibly want a drink (there’s booze) and maaaayyyybbeee a little Halloween candy in honor of the season, come join us Saturday at 7 pm at Donny’s Skybox Theater in the Second City Training Center.

Did I mention there are amazing props made by yours truly? Who doesn’t love a good prop!

Don’t forget, enter “MAGIC” to get $4 off of the ticket price! Hope to see you there.

In or near Chicago in October? Come see “Me Inside Me Presents: Witch, Please,” on October 1, 8, 22 and 29 at Donny’s Skybox Theater at 7 pm. Tickets available at SecondCity.com.

Check out  my full-length novels,  Her Cousin Much Removed,  The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management and Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only), and the sequel, Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended) which is now available!

And download Better Living Through GRAVY and Other Oddities, it’s free!

 Sign up for my spamless newsletter!

Bit of a Trip Break for a Little Musing

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img_5588I’m taking a bit of a travel-blog break, as lovely as it is reliving the magic of my trip, but it’s also extremely time-consuming writing the posts and choosing the photos. Here’s a picture of a frigate bird, though, just because.

Did I mention I took A LOT of photos?

I’m also about to run out of hosting space here, so that’s another issue I need to work through before I move on to the bulk of my photos in the Galapagos. So much sorting to do!

I’ve been home for a week now, the technicolor reality of my vibrant trip subdued, muted by the imposition of reality. It’s almost impossible to believe, sitting on my sofa with the crisp autumn breeze through the window, that those few days ago I stood near the equator and saw a sea lion beg for fish in the fish market.

Don’t worry. I’ve got photos.

It’s funny how the past firmly becomes the past, no matter how you try to stall it. Time and humans; humans and time; one of us has the upper hand.

And it ain’t us.

Is it possible to be nostalgic for something that was so recent? I’m not sure. All I know is I’m looking ahead to our third show this Saturday, and whatever may come beyond.

In or near Chicago in October? Come see “Me Inside Me Presents: Witch, Please,” on October 1, 8, 22 and 29 at Donny’s Skybox Theater at 7 pm. Tickets available at SecondCity.com.

Check out  my full-length novels,  Her Cousin Much Removed,  The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management and Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only), and the sequel, Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended) which is now available!

And download Better Living Through GRAVY and Other Oddities, it’s free!

 Sign up for my spamless newsletter!

 

 

Ecuador & Galapagos Day 1: Guayaquil, pt. 2

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img_5433(Part 1.)

Now where were we? Just kidding, I totally remember, we were winding through the streets of Guayaquil, on our way to Las Penas. But let me back up just a tad.

Despite his quick smile and gregarious demeanor, Mario wasn’t feeling great. While we oohed and ahhed at the church, he went ahead to the van to take some medication.

He returned, collected his charges, and we made our way to the iconic colorful houses and restaurants that clung cheerfully to the side of the mountain.

A dogged stairway runs upward through it all, up and up an up, turning now and then, each step marked with a little plaque proclaiming your climbing accomplishment. It was there, at the base, after we’d clambered out of the van, that Mario turned to us, his dimples vanished back to whence they came, his eyes glassy, a thin sheen of sweat on his face.

“I’m not feeling well,” he said.

He’d had a health episode a few days earlier, had to see the doctor, and he was concerned it would happen again. It was hot, very hot, and now he was worried he was feeling the same way. He needed to go to the emergency room. The only problem?

Us.

We didn’t know what to make of it, not at that moment. We knew nothing, really, about Mario. In my gut, though, I could tell he was sincere. He wasn’t well.

He suggested seeing us back to the hotel before he headed to the ER, which is probably not the most expedient way to get medical attention. I asked if there was a way we could make sure to get ourselves back to the hotel.

He said he’d take a taxi to the hospital, and leave us with the driver. He was unsure of leaving us on our own — as far as he knew, we spoke no Spanish, and we were in a strange city– but it was a major tourist attraction, dotted with uniformed officers every so often. Off he went, and there we stayed.

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The site of our conversation, at the base of the steps. Well, a few up.

And at that point, for us? There was nowhere to go but up. After all, our time in Guayaquil was limited, and we wanted to make the most of our experience.

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So up we went, the numbers climbing along with us, friendly greetings along the way. About halfway up, we reached a plateau.

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I swear iguanas are the squirrels of Ecuador.

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The tropical sun did what tropical sun does, and the temperature rose. Then the decision: do we head for the top? Initially, both my dad and I said yes. My mom? Nope, she was happy at the plateau. So we popped into one of the little stores, its coolers beckoning in the shaded room, glass display cases between us and the back.

There was no one there. “Hola!” we said, repeatedly. No one arrived. Finally, a woman appeared. And so did my school Spanish.

“Quanto questa?” I asked. “How much?”

“Tres dolares”

Three dollars for three enormous waters. Sounded fair to me. And I’d spoken in Spanish, and she didn’t laugh at me, she didn’t mock me. She smiled at me for the effort.

We went back to my mom to give her a water, and my dad decided he didn’t want to climb. I was on my own.

All the way up, people said hello. An officer directed me when I couldn’t find the next collection of steps. I had a passing conversation — in Spanish! Terrible Spanish, but we understood one another! — with the proprietor of a restaurant, she told me about the great food,but I said, with regret, my parents were below on the steps. This was about two-thirds of the way up.

Up I went, dorky backpack on my back, camera around my neck, my smile as genuine as the ones sent in my direction.

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And then I reached another plateau. I was nearly at the top. And grateful for the water.

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Just a little farther to go. Did I take pictures of the numbers?

Why no. No I did not.

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Up I went, the final haul, and then I was at the top. And my goodness, was it worth it. Guayaquil spread below me, the other hill of painted houses seemed nearly within reach, and the river remained flat and calm for as far as I could see it.

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Finally thought to take a pic of the numbers on the way down. Didn’t climb back up. It was a lot of stairs! 444 total.

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The stairs inside the lighthouse.

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I didn’t climb to the top of the lighthouse, and not just because I’d just topped a ton of stairs. As I started to go up, I realized I’d have to make my way down that steep, tight spiral, with people going up.

No thanks.

I stayed up there until I’d felt I’d soaked it all in, and then it was time to go down. Funny how down always follows up.

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I usually don’t post pictures of people where you can see their faces, but as you can see from their expressions, this is the most uncandid candid shot ever.

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And then it was down to collect my parents, and down further still to meet our driver, still waiting, parked under the cool shade. We returned to the hotel, exhausted and concerned about Mario, and had dinner. I tried the Ecuadorian specialty, Seco de Pollo (a chicken stew) which was amazing. My dad had the same thing, but with goat, and my mom corvina, a firm white fish popular in Ecuador.

We didn’t really mind missing the evening tour, we were all exhausted, and we had a plane to catch in the morning. We were heading to the Galapagos Islands.

As for Mario, well, you’ll find out later how he was doing, as did we.

In or near Chicago in October? Come see “Me Inside Me Presents: Witch, Please,” on October 1, 8, 22 and 29 at Donny’s Skybox Theater at 7 pm. Tickets available at SecondCity.com.

Check out  my full-length novels,  Her Cousin Much Removed,  The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management and Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only), and the sequel, Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended) which is now available!

And download Better Living Through GRAVY and Other Oddities, it’s free!

 Sign up for my spamless newsletter!