Viking Night: Fahrenheit 451
By Bruce Hall
July 27, 2016
You know the best thing about totalitarianism? It’s an ideal form of government for those who are oblivious to irony. Totalitarians are people who think that the way to keep people obedient is to keep them scared and miserable. I know that seems counterintuitive, but hear me out on this because it feels topical. It might be possible to make totalitarianism work if you can find something for everyone to be consistently afraid of. It doesn’t have to be real – in fact it’s better if it’s not because imaginary threats are the scariest.
This way, you get to say that you are not “oppressing” people – you’re “protecting” them!
So here’s the thing about Fahrenheit 451. It concerns a totalitarian society, all right. Like most such places, there are plenty of jackbooted goons walking around, ready to go through your pockets or break your elbows, depending on the day. And like most such places, the control of information plays a critical part in making sure your citizens have the freedom to do whatever they want to do. As long as it’s what YOU want them to do.
Needless to say, this means book burnings - and a LOT of them. You can’t have your loyal citizens’ minds poisoned by non-Party approved literature, after all. But the fictional government of Fahrenheit 451 takes censorship to a whole new level by outlawing not just all books, but all forms of writing.
Think about that for a moment.
People speak a language, but nobody writes anything down, ever. There are no books, no magazines, no billboards with words on them – there aren’t even credits or title cards in TV shows. And to be caught with anything like this is punishable by, well, whatever the government feels like doing to you that day. This has all sorts of mind boggling ramifications, but we’ll get to all that in a second.
First, I want to point out that the film version of Fahrenheit 451 is based on a book by the iconic Ray Bradbury, and was written and directed by the iconic François Truffaut. If you don’t know who those people are, don’t worry about it. What LeBron James is to Cleveland, these guys are to science fiction and French cinema, respectively. The reason I bring that up is because Truffaut’s very first decision sets the tone for the entire film, in my mind.
As the film starts, there are no credits or title cards. Remember what I said earlier? You are immersed in this crazy world from go. All the credits are spoken behind a montage of residential TV antennas – which we learn later are used by the government to beam propaganda straight into your home, night and day. It’s disorienting and at first, seems pretentious – until you realize that it’s all part of the world-building necessary to make such an absurd society believable. It’s almost mesmerizing – in stark contrast to what happens next.