HBO’s Fahrenheit 451 has a new villain: popular tech trends

Dystopian stories are often described as warnings, but they can also be Rorschach blots. Readers are immersed with specific fears about technology, society or the future and find an allegory to validate them. And Fahrenheit 451 Ray Bradbury's classic novel of 1953, is a perfectly adaptable warning story. It is an elegant story of high concept backed by a complicated network of wide social complaints, criticizing everything from social justice to the zipper. This could be the reason why he produced two dramatically different films: one by Frenchman François Truffaut in 1966 and the other by director 99 Homes Ramin Bahrani, premiered this weekend on HBO.

As many readers probably know, the novel Fahrenheit 451 is set in a future in which books are illegal, and instead of putting out fires, "firemen" hunt for hiding places of literature and burn The protagonist is a fireman named Guy Montag, who one day smuggles a book home and reads it, heading towards knowledge and, finally, rebellion.

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The most overtly ideological target in Bradbury's original novel is essentially identity politics. Firefighters exist because racial minorities fought to ban the books that insulted or dehumanized them, then others adopted "minority" labels to ban the books that insulted them and soon all the books were considered offensive. Like most comments on "correct political corrections," it is frustratingly simplistic, suggesting that any attempt to curb racism is a slippery slope that leads to dangerous places. But that background story is also isolated from a small section of the book, which people often ignore when talking about Fahrenheit 451 perhaps because the shooting down of Bradbury's media is much more vivid.

Bradbury's future is intellectually empty, but infinitely stimulating. While the government banned books, few people in Bradbury's vision of the future would choose to read them anyway. The multi-walled screens play sensational variety shows or shows starring a fictional "family" that captivates Montag's wife. Children who seek emotions are entertained at fun fairs with destruction themes. "Talking about politics" means discussing which presidential candidate is more attractive. (This was a total of seven years before the famous televised debate between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy, the future "television president.") Imagine all the most annoying aspects of television and teenagers, both relatively new events in the 1950s, and mark them at unbearable levels.

But Bradbury Fahrenheit 451 is not simply pointing to clearly empty media forms. Criticizes the practice of learning as self-improvement of memory, where people stir up increasingly short stories and Reader & # 39; s Digest condenses novels for a solemn duty to keep up with the world. "Give people the contests they win by remembering the words of most popular songs or the names of state capitals," says Beatty, Montag's superior, who explains the process of social control. "Close them up so damn full of facts that they feel full, but absolutely brilliant with information."

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Bahrani wrote in an essay New York Times that Bradbury's concerns about the headline – exploration and hypercondensation make Fahrenheit 451 "the book for our era of social networks". Readers can certainly use the book as a club against Wikipedia and Twitter, if they wish. But that's just a potential set of goals. Any system that frantically encourages the acquisition of knowledge without stopping for reflection is a fair game, and one that covers large extensions of American cultural institutions, past and present.

Truffaut's version of the story, on the other hand, does not spend a great deal of time on this kind of media commentary, and the world of his movie does not feel like a society spinning out of control. It's almost the opposite. His version of Fahrenheit 451 is a more direct description of the suburban malaise, where people are not only distracted, but they are also miserably numb. Truffaut draws the most surreally boring moments of the book, dedicating a full scene to a hypnotic interactive telenovela about the allocation of guest rooms. He expands a subplot about Montag's free-spirited neighbor, Clarisse, who is given a more important role as a young teacher who resists the stifling educational curriculum of her school. New technology plays a role in the movie, but the old peer pressure and the oppressive bureaucracy are the biggest villains.

Behind a surprising aesthetic close to the future, Truffaut Fahrenheit 451 describes an extremely twentieth century problem: bourgeois men who get irritated by their insignificant jobs and superficial wives, and can only be saved by leaving a society respectable with the help of a beautiful young woman. (In this film, that is literally Montag's wife with a more fashionable haircut, since actor Julie Christie played two female lead roles). His cultural anxiety feels almost like an auction today. Wow, do you remember when people were afraid of having an excessively stable lifestyle?

Bahrani's version of the film does not even attempt to make that particular anxiety seem relevant. His version of Montag (played by Black Panther star Michael B. Jordan) has no wife or suburban home. Live in a sterile apartment with a virtual assistant that is full of surveillance cameras, more like a talking device than a friend. Instead of being mid-level officials, firefighters are stars in a COPS- as a reality show on the Internet, where they can take floating waves of emoji during the busts. Their spectators are not insensitive or inconsiderate: they are furious in the book hoarders, who function as a generic hated lower class. And since there are not many books left, firefighters have started burning down things like old movies and computers, even though the fumes would be incredibly toxic and the whole practice would be completely unnecessary.

Photo: HBO

This new Montag is a futuristic electronic celebrity, but has problems that precede social networks. The previous versions of the personage had manual works of middle class, in times, or at least futurist versions of those times, when that was relatively little remarkable. Those works seem almost mythical nowadays, so Jordan's best character is a performative simulation without one's sense. Beatty ( The Shape of Water villain Michael Shannon) is preparing Montag to take charge of his department and lead a new generation of firefighters, but it is not clear that people already need their services. The performance of livestreamed is all that matters, which is presumably why they still receive impressive flamethrowers to destroy computers, instead of, say, very strong magnets.

This could make Bahrani Fahrenheit 451 sound too interesting or pointy, because his main social comment is that every exaggerated technological trend of recent years is horrible. Emoji? They destroy literacy, obviously. Virtual reality? Isolate people. Live broadcast? Encourages the mentality of the mafia. Alexa? He spies on you and gives you drugs. Social media? He ate on the internet. Algorithms? I'm still reconstructing the reasoning, but you'd better believe that you're bad.

"Technology is horrible" is not an unusual premise, but Bahrani Fahrenheit 451 is not even constantly technophobic (Without spoiling a new, strange and complicated subframe, say DNA data storage is unbelievably good .) There is no foundation for any of his social commentary, just a bunch of messy slogans, such as thoughtless distraction as Bradbury warned television might be. And for an adaptation of a book so full of possibilities, it's almost as bad as simply burning it.

In 1953, Ray Bradbury created a mirror for our worst fears about the media, conformity and anti-intellectualism. And we have kept those fears alive, updating them to reflect how the details of society have changed from decade to decade. In the 1960s, Fahrenheit 451 reflected a sterile world of complacent suburbanites, longing to feel anything. Today, the same story in a new way reflects a world where people try to regain a purpose they lost years ago, doing too much and thinking too little. If only that description does not apply to the movie, too.