Archival Domination in Fahrenheit 451

Joseph Hurtgen

Abstract


This essay will discuss how the state in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (1953) uses new media as a tool to create passive, surveilled subjects, entertained by programs engineered to embed state ideology into the viewer. In the 1950s, television—a machine for reproducing state and corporate ideology—threatened to replace the written cultural archive with a presentist modality. The written cultural archive of Fahrenheit 451 is constituted by works Bradbury posits can overcome institutionalized prejudices of race, class, and gender. The inaccessibility of this written cultural archive, the isolation, and loss of individuality the populace experiences reflect how much denizens of Bradbury’s world are willing to sacrifice to gain access to gain access to a media archive of momentary pleasures. By turning the car into a measure of class and success, corporations have also succeeded in splintering a sense of community that might otherwise encourage intelligent discourse in public spaces. The written word once carried arguments formulated in the public sphere to private spaces, but now wall-to-wall screens dominate private spaces, reinforcing state ideology in homes as if they were public spaces. Fahrenheit 451 maps both the shift from reliance on the written word to the emergence of the televisual archive as the primary site of a society’s archive and that archive’s relationship to corporate and state powers seeking maximum control over the population. Though modern technology evolves by the day, Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 remains a touchstone in discussions of social anxieties and replaced cultural archives in science fiction.

 


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