Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Chat NOW!


Join our book discussion at 9 pm tonight!

Insidious Effects

I have to admit I had a little trouble starting Fahrenheit 451. Like many others, I'd read it in High School and remembered its story as enmeshed with Brave New World and 1984. As I continued to read, through the "Sieve and the Sand" and into "Burning Bright," I realized what I had lost among the years of memory. Specifically, I'd forgotten the insidious undertone of the novel, the implied governmental direction and the stifling of bibliophiles and philonoists. This is what started me turning pages, reading at breakfast and lunch, and before bed: the implicit warning to us, the readers, about censorship. I finished the book in half the time it took me to start it. And I was captivated by what Bradbury left out, but hinted at. The cinematic drama of the chase, the collection of hobos along the tracks, the discussion of politicians, the war--all implied a government controlling a country with a wicked coerciveness and a stupefying ability over its constituents.

It makes me wonder, what lead to such a government and a culture? How did they stifle the curiosity of an entire nation? And how can we work to ensure that future isn't ours?

Monday, April 16, 2007

McCarthy and Bradbury should have had coffee...

This past Sunday the Fayetteville Public Library showed Good Night, and Good Luck as part of the Big Read.  This film, which told the story of journalist Edward R. Murrow's fight against the oppression of the McCarthy anti-communist witch-hunts of the 1950's, showed America at a time when civil liberties were forgotten, left was definitely the wrong direction, and people were taken to trial on a rumor.
America under the fervent guide of McCarthy was simmering in a culture of fear; the perfect condition for oppression to squeeze into a choke-hold.  Grown-up Americans feared being thought of as unpatriotic the way they feared being thought of as unpopular in high school.  Their social standing, livelihood, and future employment prospects could be jeopardized if others thought they were a Communist, un-American.  They feared being different.
To form the perfect dystopia, fear must be fostered, and individualism squashed.  As Murrow put it, "If none of us had ever read a dangerous book or had a friend who was different or never joined an organization that advocates change we'd be just the kind of people Joe McCarthy wants."
Just as individualism and original thought were discouraged during this precarious time, those things were likewise discouraged in Fahrenheit 451.  People did not sit on porches and talk or congregate without arousing suspicion.  Civil human interaction was frowned upon because like-minded people will find each other, and they will talk, and they will be joined by other like-minded people, and they will talk, and as they talk they will question.  They will question the government, the system, and society in general.  They will discover that something is amiss, and then talking becomes planning.  This does not work in a dystopia.  These sorts of people will not be content to be automatons who let the firemen or McCarthy protect them.
At the beginning of every hostile takeover in history, whether it was the French Revolution, the cultural revolution in China, Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge or Stalin's pre-cursor to the Gulag, the first people persecuted are the educated, and then the artists.  These people question.  During the McCarthy era, writers and artists were often under heavy suspicion, and sometimes jailed because (for example) twenty years previous they may have dated someone who may have had a relative who may or may not have gone to the wrong sort of political meeting.  The outcasts and the persecuted in Fahrenheit 451 were those who were educated; those who retained the history of society before insipid entertainment trained it to be nearly mindless.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Get Involved! (around town through technology)

You come to the library regularly. You've read the bulletins and the monthly newsletters, you keep up with the Community Information boards. These are paper things, things that can be folded, stacked, and stuffed into bags or pockets. Things that can be pinned to a corkboard or stuck to the fridge upon returning home. But you also know about the emailed SPAM, the RSS feeds constantly updating your life, the singular second-soundbites on the News programs "keeping you informed." Maybe you tend to tune it all out, this omnipresent technology. Or maybe you tend to pay too much attention to it.

Bradbury warns against its over-saturation, the wall-tvs (LCD flat-screen televisions), the seashells (earbuds of the ipods), eyes lurking in vents (a nightmared panopticon for those who start to realize the implications their surroundings, as Guy Montag does at the beginning of the book).

Libraries are continuing sources of new technology, always trying to maintain the latest opportunities through new information sources. But you can be, too. Take home the paper copy of local calendars, write down dates in your planners, but also use the plastic keys at your fingertips. Even if you don't have a computer at home, you can use one at the FPL to access a world of real, three-dimensional events and information involving real, touchable, interactive people.

Here are a few ways you can use the technology that saturates our lives to get outside of the screen, to recenter yourself in your community:

Access Fayetteville always has local events posted: look for their Calendar, Events, and Meetings page to view a variety of community events.

The University of Arkansas doesn't just have events for students. There are always plays, gallery shows, and speakers coming to the campus that have a plethora of information to offer to the general public.

Also, the Free Weekly always has an "Eight Days a Week" section that has music, art and theater events for the month.

And, seasonally open and always a social event, is the Fayetteville Farmer's Market (print out the schedule, put it on your fridge and remember when you're out of bell peppers you can pop up to the downtown Square and choose your own locally grown produce).

The opportunities for interaction are endless.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Bradbury's contradicting perceptions

I found Bradbury's book to be disturbingly prophetic, especially as a former junior high English teacher - in the nine years I spent in the classroom, I watched students steadily become fixated with iPods and cellphones, so possessive of them that they would break down in tears if their tiny gadgets, so much like the Seashells, were confiscated in areas where/at times when they were not approved; I listened to the students have extremely detailed, nearly philosophical, discussions of video games - echoes of Mildred's insistence that her relationships with the people in her living room walls are real; and I'm sure more of their homes had flat-screen TVs reminiscent of Bradbury's "video walls" than did not. I felt a desperate sadness as I read the book, wondering if/when our society will ever break itself of its craving for instant, spoon-fed gratification of the senses rather than intelligence or imagination. At once, much of the information emanating from our computers and television screens caters to the lowest common denominator in that it only scratches the surface of any topic, and many of those topics are coarse. Yet the presentation of the information has now become a blitzkrieg of color, noise, and speed.
Thus is the battle (okay, one of many) that teachers face, and it is NOT one that can be won by "hand[ing] them a book, that's all" or by "giv[ing] one of my books," as Bradbury states in the interview at the end of the anniversary edition, "to a twelve-year-old boy who doesn't like to read," because "that boy will fall in love and start to read." Those are weirdly idealistic and naive statements for Bradbury to make, especially since he is responsible for the darkly sophisticated forecast that is Farenheit 451. However, I don't even know that an apocalyptic event can shake our culture of its addiction to brain candy, as Bradbury suggests in his novel. The aftermath of September 11 brought about a resurgence of a focus on the family and spending quality time together - of really seeing and hearing each other - but that, in large part, has passed. So I must respectfully disagree with Bradbury's extremely oversimplified solution to the problem of our culture being "increasingly dominated by the visual." And education is not the main problem, as he says; it's society. Really and truly, those teachers who enter their profession sincerely and not for the summer vacations, don't want or need extra pay; they need HELP. They need support from parents in presenting a consistent message of the importance of the printed word in their homes. They need support from politicians in the form of many, many more colleagues and many, many more resources. They need support from the public as a whole in facilitating a shift away from effortless entertainment toward an intellectual pursuit that can be so richly fulfilling in its challenges, i.e. READING A BOOK!
Fayetteville Fire Chief Tony Johnson
Reads Fahrenheit 451

This event is part of The Big Read, an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services and Arts Midwest.