Book Burning, or the Lack There Of

Rereading articles about last September’s London riots, I became bemused over the point many newspapers and blogs made about the lack of looting and book burning during the violence. All had theories of why this was so. One–the rioters respect books, therefore didn’t touch them. I think we can rule that one out immediately. Some may like books, even respect them, but not whole crowds of people with varying degrees of opinions would refrain. Two–they’re using electronic devices therefore wouldn’t need books–kindle, nook, etc. That’s another that holds no water. Most of the kids who were rioting–and they were primarily male from 12 to 25 or thereabouts–are disenfranchised and poor, no prospects of jobs. No money, no kindles, these cute little things require middle to upper class finances. Three–the rioters concentrated on electronics, clothes,  things they could resell at a profit, and books are not in that category. One staff member at a chain bookstore taunted the rioters with proposition–steal some books, maybe you’d learn something. They didn’t, to either. And the last reason, this age group just doesn’t give a whit about books, what’s in them or what reading may do for them as humans.

And here is where we hit the crux of the matter. Not only did they not break windows and steal books, they didn’t even bother with them as a symbol of their discontent, as so many in history have during riots. They didn’t burn them. Hitler youth burned tons of books during their short stay in power. So many who feel the need for some kind of change, usually not for the better, have used books as symbols of something–Hitler’s students felt the Jewish people were using influence through certain texts–you’d have to wonder why the English rioters didn’t find something to burn books for.

A prophecy come true. Fahrenheit 451 predicted it all. Right now, reading this you’re thinking, ‘she’s got it backwards, Bradbury *burned* books in his tale.’  True. But why? Why and how did this practice come about? Because no one wanted to read anymore. No one cared a bit about the words on paper. They’d rather watch their soap opera walls all day long, or race their fastest cars, or find pleasure in all the other games and shallow pastimes around. It’s not the government that began the crackdown, it was the people themselves who turned their back on an intelligent society utilizing the written word to help thrive. If the people aren’t interested in things that make them think, then the government could step in and make sure that this practice continues, by outlawing what no one cares about anyway. Museums would consider their furniture hire options & cultural centers would be converted to shuffleboard arenas. And to eradicate all signs of free thought, just in case there are a few rabble rousers who may read and decide they don’t like what’s going on, they confiscate and burn books, whenever found, thus assuring no free thought through books can take place.

I look at the rioters and their hands off bookstores as a true indication of where society has been heading, and is heading. There are so many electronic playthings around, from phones, pcs, computer games, HD, DVDs, every thing that mac makes, plus naturally this thing we are on, the internet, that who has time or the desire to pick up a heavy piece and read? Or even a lighter paperback–why bother with that stuff–no 3D, no war-play, no music, no way to chat with someone when you are at loose ends, like walking from one room to the next, just paper and words. Even if electronic, why bother with reading via that either for all the same reasons. They could be tweeting on what they are NOT doing, or updating their facebook status, or commenting on various sites, blogs, news, or checking out porn–everything worth while at their fingertips. One of the things that I am most disturbed about–is seeing people, all ages, sewed onto their cell phone, as though if they were to turn it off, their universe would end. Once upon a time, people would walk down the streets, not talking. Go into stores, quietly, step into a subway car without being oblivious of the person behind them trying to get on as well, because they are so wrapped up into what *they* are doing, no one else matters. People used to have time alone to—THINK!! Yes, that little thing one does when idle, reassessing something that just happened, or recalling a memory, or making a decision, no one is bothering to THINK. Especially younger phone uses or Ipad lovers–they were born into the cell phone world, just as I was born into the pink telephone world–I never knew a world without TV and stereos, and refrigerators, washing machines–things my parents did not have growing up. I took them for granted, we all do that–it’s natural to assume things have always been there–but the difference here is–silence. When the pink phone was being used too much, the parent took it away, and there was silence. Time to think. When the TV was turned off, and it was back then, one would daydream, make up stories, fantasize about fairies and such. When we’d snack on something out of the frig, we may be occupied at the same time, a transistor radio may be playing, but we would also take up a book and read as we ate an apple. When the mom did the laundry, free to do what we pleased we actually went outside!! Ran around! Rode bikes! Played games! All without something stuck to our ear precluding any kind of thinking.

If the youth are our future, then is there any reason why Mr. Bradbury’s brilliant forecast won’t come true?

 

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  • Sigh. It’s a wonder books still get published.
    But while I was reading this (and agreeing with many of your points) I was also thinking of those in the new generation who do read and what they read. There is a strong and increasing interest in graphic novels. Do the teenagers who read these also read non-graphic novels? Not many. And those books aren’t exactly ones that inspire critical thinking. But that’s sort of an aside.

    Anyway… yes, too many electronic thingies.
    Which reminds me of something Groucho Marx said: “I learn a lot from television. Whenever it’s on, I go in the other room and read.” (I may be paraphrasing the quote.)

    Personally, I enjoy spending time in my head. Although I may not be thinking great thoughts!!

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    • Oh, I never think great thoughts, but I do think, lol. I love quoting Groucho–my favorite is when he was being denied entrance to a restricted country club’s pool–“my daughter’s only half Jewish, can she go in up to her knees?”

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  • OTOH, some of the Occupy Wall Street locations had libraries. I thought OWS was probably the most positive action I’ve seen in decades.
    Noam Chomsky said OWS was very encouraging.
    Bob

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