They say history is written by the victors, but it you were to go by Ray Bradbury’s classic novel Fahrenheit 451, history was never written down at all.
The 1953 book will be the latest dystopian tale to come to television when it airs this Saturday on HBO Canada, showcasing a world in which all books have been banned and burned. Instead, leaders of a totalitarian state have rewritten important historic moments, and now disperse information (or purposeful misinformation) through emojis and live broadcasts. Enforcing the society are teams of firemen, whose job isn’t to put out fires but to start them.
Named after Bradbury’s belief that book pages burn at 451 degrees Fahrenheit, the book (and the now film starring Michael B. Jordan, Sofia Boutella and Michael Shannon), also raises other societal and political issues that seem more relevant than ever these days, given everything going on around the world.
We’ve had a sneak peek and without giving too much away, here are seven scary things happening today that could potentially translate into a future very much like the one in Fahrenheit 451.
We’ve stopped buying books
It’s no coincidence that small bookstores are closing and even larger ones like Chapters are resorting to shelves full of home merchandise to stay afloat: people no longer peruse bookshelves like they used to. Instead we’re relying more on electronic versions of the classics, or we’ve stopped reading all together.
Why does this matter? Well, as Dr. Seuss famously wrote, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” When you stop reading, you stop acquiring knowledge.
We’re skimming headlines
Who needs to read an entire story when you can just get the headlines? That mass consumption model is why social media platforms like Twitter have been so successful: we just don’t take the time to educate ourselves anymore. What’s scary about that is we’re beyond click-bait at this point. If we read something in a headline, a lot of us will automatically assume it to be true. And that can lead to a whole lot of disinformation when the wrong people are doling out those headlines.
We hide behind our screens
Look around on any given day and odds are you’ll see hoards of people buried in their cell phones and not paying attention to what’s going on around them. And our kids are picking up on that, learning how to swipe screens as toddlers and watching YouTube videos relentlessly as they age. There’s nothing wrong with that per se, except it means they’re literally hiding behind a screen. When you hide behind a screen, you’re more likely to be mean in the comments section, for one. Or if you’re a character in Fahrenheit 451, you’re more likely to join a virtual lynch mob out for blood when contraband is found and those in possession of it are tried on a live stream.
Totalitarian states exist, and we ignore them
It’s no coincidence that for inspiration, the film’s director looked at countries like North Korea, China and Turkey where people have given up basic freedoms, sometimes without a fight. What sometimes seems like a small concession can quickly escalate to something more before we even know it, which this film definitely shows in spades.
The term is almost comical thanks to a certain U.S. president that loves to use it, but the reality is that if a person hears something enough they begin to believe it—fake or otherwise. That concept is scary when you apply it to a government essentially brainwashing its people, as the government in this movie does. Without books to back up the truth or allow varying opinions and thoughts, what’s left to contradict those in power?
Emojis are taking over
At first it was fun to text friends and families that poop emoji or a quick thumbs up. But think about it: how many emojis have now replaced basic text? The more we sum up the written word into symbols, the more obsolete our words become. That society is one lived to the fullest in Fahrenheit 451, where entire tomes are condensed into two-line emojis and people are quick to use smiley faces and frowns to describe some pretty serious situations.
Complacency is dangerous
If The Handmaid’s Tale has taught us anything, it’s that not questioning what’s going on around you is dangerous, because doing so essentially means giving up your voice. That theme is echoed in Fahrenheit 451 as we learn about the origins of this society. People allowed small changes without a fight and before they knew it they were living in a society that burned all books for over-complicating their minds, they believed that a fireman’s job was always to burn books, and they allowed computers to control every aspect of their home life.
Yeah… Google home, anyone?
Sometimes the present can be even scarier than the future if you’re not paying attention.