WHEN THE PULITZER PRIZES were handed out in May during a luncheon at Columbia University, two special citations were given. One went to John Coltrane (who died in 1967), the fourth time a jazz musician has been honored. The other went to Ray Bradbury, the first time a writer of science fiction and fantasy has been honored.
Bradbury, a longtime Los Angeles resident who leads an active civic life and even drops the Los Angeles Times letters to the editor on his views of what ails his town, did not attend, telling the Pulitzer board his doctor did not want him to travel.
But the real reason, he told the L.A. Weekly, had less to do with the infirmities of age (he turns 87 in August) than with the fact that recipients only shake hands with Lee C. Bollinger, Columbia University’s president, and smile for a photograph.
He wanted to give a speech, but no remarks are allowed. “Not even a paragraph,” he says with disdain.
In his pastel-yellow house in upscale Cheviot Hills, where he ...view middle of the document...
Now, Bradbury has decided to make news about the writing of his iconographic work and what he really meant. 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.
This, despite the fact that reviews, critiques and essays over the decades say that is precisely what it is all about. Even Bradbury’s authorized biographer, Sam Weller, in The Bradbury Chronicles, refers to Fahrenheit 451 as a book about censorship.
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.
“Television gives you the dates of Napoleon, but not who he was,” Bradbury says, summarizing TV’s content with a single word that he spits out as an epithet: “factoids.” He says this while sitting in a room dominated by a gigantic flat-panel television broadcasting the Fox News Channel, muted, factoids crawling across the bottom of the screen.
His fear in 1953 that television would kill books has, he says, been partially confirmed by television’s effect on substance in the news. The front page of that day’s L.A. Times reported on the weekend box-office receipts for the third in the Spider-Man series of movies, seeming to prove his point.
“Useless,” Bradbury says. “They stuff you with so much useless information, you feel full.” He bristles when others tell him what his stories mean, and once walked out of a class at UCLA where students insisted his book was about government censorship. He’s now bucking the widespread conventional wisdom with a video clip on his Web site (http://www.raybradbury.com/at_home_clips.html), titled “Bradbury on censorship/television.”
As early as 1951, Bradbury presaged his fears about TV, in a letter about the dangers of radio, written to fantasy and science-fiction writer Richard Matheson. Bradbury wrote that “Radio has contributed to our ‘growing lack of attention.’ .?.?. This sort of hopscotching existence makes it almost impossible for people, myself included, to sit down and get into a novel again. We have become a short story reading people, or, worse than that, a QUICK reading people.”