Bradbury: TV Kills Interest in Reading

In this L.A. Weekly News piece, Ray Bradbury says that the masses misunderstood the meaning behind his classic novel Fahrenheit 451:

Fahrenheit 451 is not, he says firmly, a story about government censorship. Nor was it a response to Senator Joseph McCarthy, whose investigations had already instilled fear and stifled the creativity of thousands.

Bradbury, a man living in the creative and industrial center of reality TV and one-hour dramas, says it is, in fact, a story about how television destroys interest in reading literature.

Bardbury’s website offers a page of video clips, including one called “Bradbury on Censorship/Television” in which he describes the book’s real meaning.

4 thoughts on “Bradbury: TV Kills Interest in Reading”

  1. This book is on my ‘to read this year’ pile and I’m embarrassed I’ve never read it. It will be interesting reading it now with this take on it in my head.

  2. First, I couldn’t find data back as far as I would like, but US annual revenue from book sales has remained largely flat over the last 10 years at about $24B. I don’t know how that relates to the rest of the world, but I think that’s probably a big enough sample to extrapolate from. What isn’t clear is if there might be significantly more or less books sold to generate that constant revenue – a rise or decline in average unit price isn’t visible here. If somebody has data to show the change in numbers of books sold over the past 50 years, we might know if Bradbury’s claim is visible in the numbers or not.

    But written large, I believe Bradbury’s claim is a fact – and should have been anticipated and welcomed. Yes, welcomed.

    As new mediums of entertainment are introduced, the older ones suffer reduced popularity. This cycle has repeated itself several times in the last hundred years, and no doubt will continue. But as that happens I believe you see an improved quality in what remains. It has happened to books, and will likely happen to TV as well.

    Stage plays once dominated the entertainment landscape, but they were replaced by books. TV ratings have steadily declined over the past 40 years. The most recent culprit is the Internet, but before that it was dilution due to cable, and before that the VCR. If the networks want to keep audiences that have newer and flashier forms of entertainment, they have to improve the quality of the offerings. Because it is an art form, they don’t always get it right, but I know they are trying. The same is true for authors – they need to increase the quality of the work to maintain an audience in the face of competition for their time (not to mention their dollar.)

    And not to get off on a rant here, but because we all love reading, sometimes I think we get all snooty about it and suggest the mere act of reading somehow is a superior form of leisure. Bah! Trash is trash – whether in a book or on TV or on the net. How many times have you heard people refer to watching TV as mindless entertainment? Well I have news for you – there are plenty of sci-fi books that absolutely fall into that category (Starfist: Flashfire, anyone?) And there are plenty of TV shows that are thought provoking and intelligent. I’m inclined to mention Frontline, but in keeping with pure entertainment, how about M*A*S*H or Babylon 5 for getting the mind working? Also, all that surfing on the internet involves tremendous amount of reading. I don’t know about you, but I also read a lot of email too. So I find myself reading a lot more in the last 10 years than I did in the previous decade.

  3. “a response to Senator Joseph McCarthy, whose investigations had already instilled fear and stifled the creativity of thousands….”

    Oh, puh-leese, Mr. Pinko, the USSR is dead, McCarthy was right, and your side lost. Get over it already.

    Can you imagine if, fifty years after, we were still weeping crocodile tears over investigations into Nazi spies in the US government? Or if the producers in Hollywood fired a bunch of writers with known Nazi sympathies?

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