In the Introduction of Fahrenheit 451, Neil Gaiman states, “This is a book of warning.” Both Fahrenheit 451 (written by Bradbury in 1953) and V for Vendetta (originally a graphic novel by Alan Moore published in 1988) could be interpreted as compelling social commentary applicable today. Compare and contrast how each of these works present relevant warnings for present-day societies.
As the solemn speakers on every street corner came alive with the deafening roar of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture in London, the electronic bees hummed quietly beside Mildred’s sleeping mind. The suspicion that our world is letting go of everything we use to cherish and dismantling into war and oppression prompted Bradbury and Mcteigue to create Fahrenheit 451 and V for Vendetta. Although both works present fictional versions of futuristic societies, the underlying themes of gaining power through a system of fear and blame and the responsibility of the governed are applicable to today’s political climate and societal norms.
Throughout history, the interlacing power dynamic between the governing and the governed has varied along a wide spectrum. However, often in times of distress and fear, people are willing to turn to a social or political regime that seemed to offer the solution to all their problems. The government appeases the people and reinforces social sentiments by facilitating a system of fear, denial, and blame that often targeted an innocent minority group. In V for Vendetta, Adam Sutler rose to power in the midst of the apprehension and distress brought on by a seemingly uncontrollable outbreak of disease, terror, and war. Dictated by fear, the people of Britain gifted to the fascist government their “silent, obedient consent” to be governed in order to regain control of their society. Adam Sutler took advantage of the situation to demonstrate that fairness, justice, and freedom are only perspectives that varied upon application. To unite the people against a common enemy, his party condemned the minorities, portraying immigrants, muslims, homosexuals, and many others as “disease ridden degenerates” who are accountable for all their social problems. Similarly, Fahrenheit 451 is set in a time of war when human life was devalued and without purpose. Instead of critiquing their own commercialized society using valuable ideas from scholars in history, the people denounced all books and stigmatized the word “intellectual.” This trend, facilitated by the government, consequated in a society that was shallow and unable to mentally sustain themselves without technology. Comparably, the scared and confused American society quickly found a scapegoat for terrorism in the traumas of 9/11: immigrants. Muslims, Arabs, or anyone who looked or dressed remotely like the image of a terrorist propagated by the media faced massive retaliation, while immigrants from other foreign countries suffered through social and institutional discrimination. To quell social unrest and fear, the Bush administration continued to raise federal funding for immigration enforcement and deportation despite the fact that these policies had little to no effect on stopping terrorism. However, whenever anyone dared to question the validity of the government’s actions, “National security” was thrown back into their face and the conversation was repressed. On a more contemporary note, nativism, especially towards immigrants from latin America, have grown significantly over the past decade. Today, accusations of illegal immigrants sneaking across the border to steal American jobs and commit crimes circulates nationally. Built on fear of unemployment and economic recession, these assertions are based on racist stereotypes and incriminate an entire group of people for something they had no control over, ultimately fueling political propositions that both physically and socially alienated people who were deemed “not American enough.”
Perhaps the most prevailing warning presented in both Fahrenheit 451 and V for Vendetta is that the people are responsible for how they are governed. Abraham Lincoln once stated, “This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing Government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it or their revolutionary right to dismember or overthrow it.” However, simply possessing the right to revolutionize is not enough if it is not applied correctly at the right times. While members of Sutler’s party can be nominally held liable for the corruption of civil liberties in dystopian London, the truth is much more complicated. As V stated to everyone in his televised speech, “truth be told, if you are looking for the guilty, you need only look into a mirror.” The legitimacy of a government to use its power is contingent upon the consent of the society which it governs over. Often times in a dominating political or social regime, individuals don’t realize that they possess the power to make a change. Instead, they continue living under the system in an attempt to ignore what was happening around them until the problem becomes pertinent to their own lives. For instance, like the rest of his society, Montag never really considered the significance of what his job entailed or what it meant to be truly “bothered” until the sins of his society showed up at his own front door. Personally witnessing his wife try to commit suicide and the old lady sacrifice herself with her books served as the catalysis for Montag’s transformation. However, it is simply impractical, and will frankly take too long, if every single person in our society go through their individual awakening. Therefore, it is pertinent that as the governed, we monitor and evaluate our progress and direction of our government and society every step of the way. In Montag’s words, “we need not be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in awhile.” The people of Fahrenheit 451 were so scared of controversy that they banned the only thing that may give their lives meaning. As Beatty pointed out, “Don’t step on the toes of the dog-lovers, the cat-lovers, doctors, lawyers, merchants, chiefs, Swedes, Italians … the bigger your market, Montag, the less you handle controversy.”(pg 55) Instead of facing the tensions within their society, the people sweep everything under the doormat and pretend that everything is alright. This concept of knowledgeable ignorance is demonstrated in the “colorblind” view when it comes to racism in our world. “Colorblindness” is not a view that is founded on racial equality, but rather the refusal to recognize diverse identities, cultures, and histories of people around the world, as well as the inequalities they face on a daily basis. Similar to the ban on books in Fahrenheit 451, this solution serves simply as a surface level coping mechanism, an easy way out for our society from discussing pressing racial issues. Thus, we need to constantly question authorities, question our society, and most importantly, question ourselves. Only then will we be able to think critically of the problems within our society and improve upon them.
In conclusion, although both Fahrenheit 451 and V for Vendetta are not made originally for our society in 2018, the themes of sustaining a regime based on fear and denial as well as the duties of the governed to question the authorities are equally relevant today.