Fahrenheit 451

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Mass Media Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Mass Media Theme Icon
Censorship Theme Icon
Conformity vs. Individuality Theme Icon
Distraction vs. Happiness Theme Icon
Action vs. Inaction Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Fahrenheit 451, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Mass Media Theme Icon

Much of Fahrenheit 451 is devoted to depicting a future United States society bombarded with messages and imagery by an omnipresent mass media. Instead of the small black-and-white TV screens common in American households in 1953 (the year of the book's publication), the characters in the novel live their lives in rooms with entire walls that act as televisions. These TVs show serial dramas in which the viewer's name is woven into the program and the viewer is able to interact with fictional characters called "the relatives" or "the family." Scenes change rapidly, images flash quickly in bright colors, all of it designed to produce distraction and fascination. When not in their interactive TV rooms, many characters, including Guy Montag's wife Mildred, spend much of their time with "Seashell ear thimbles" in their ears—miniature radio receivers that play constant broadcasts of news, advertisements, and music, drowning out the real sounds of the world.

Throughout the novel, Bradbury portrays mass media as a veil that obscures real experience and interferes with the characters' ability to think deeply about their lives and societal issues. Bradbury isn't suggesting that media other than books couldn't be enriching and fulfilling. As Faber tells Montag, "It isn't books you need, it's some of the things that once were in books.... The same infinite detail and awareness could be projected through the radios and televisors, but are not." In an interview marking the fiftieth anniversary of the novel's publication, Bradbury indicated that some of his fears about mass media had been realized. "We bombard people with sensation," he said, "That substitutes for thinking."

Mass Media ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Mass Media appears in each chapter of Fahrenheit 451. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Mass Media Quotes in Fahrenheit 451

Below you will find the important quotes in Fahrenheit 451 related to the theme of Mass Media.
Part 1 Quotes
"Speed up the film, Montag, quick... Uh! Bang! Smack! Wallop, Bing, Bong, Boom! Digest-digests, digest-digest-digests. Politics? One column, two sentences, a headline!... Whirl man's mind around about so fast under the pumping hands of publishers, exploiters, broadcasters that the centrifuge flings off all unnecessary, time-wasting thought!"
Related Characters: Captain Beatty (speaker), Guy Montag
Page Number: 52
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Captain Beatty--Guy's superior at the fire station--gives Guy a condensed history of the United States. Once, information was thorough and analytical. But with the rise of the mass media and the invention of television, information became increasingly brief and superficial. In an effort to entertain, rather than inform, newspapers condensed their articles. The result is that the overall "pace" of human society seemed to increase: people processed information at a quicker speed, but only because the information was designed to be simpler and less nuanced.

Beatty's informal history (itself a highly "simplified" version of a big, complicated topic) suggests that American society as a whole has embraced the tenets of modern advertising. Just as the point of an ad slogan is to be quick, digestible, and above all entertaining, newspapers and books have begun to aspire to simplicity, with the goal of attracting as many "customers" as possible. It's easy to see the costs of the social changes Beatty describes, even if he never explicitly names them: in trading popularity and simplicity for thoroughness, society has become less thoughtful, less well-informed, and generally less mature.

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"Bigger the population, the more minorities. Don't step on the toes of the dog lovers, the cat lovers, doctors, lawyers, merchants, chiefs, Mormons, Baptists, Unitarians, second-generation Chinese, Swedes, Italians, Germans, Texans, Brooklynites, Irishmen, people from Oregon or Mexico. The people in this book, this play, this TV serial are not meant to represent any actual painters, cartographers, mechanics anywhere. The bigger your market, Montag, the less you handle controversy, remember that!... Authors, full of evil thoughts, lock up your typewriters. They did."
Related Characters: Captain Beatty (speaker), Guy Montag
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:

Captain Beatty continues offering Guy an informal history of the changes in information flow during the 20th century. With the rise of identity politics, the media were placed under close scrutiny. If a newspaper article was perceived as being insensitive to a particular religion, occupation, or ethnic group, that group could lobby to have the article removed or even permanently erased. In general, demographic groups gained more and more political power, to the point where all media had to be extra careful not to offend any group of people in particular.

The passage is one of the most famous and widely quoted in the entire book, because it's often interpreted as a scathing critique of "political correctness." As Bradbury sees it, it's wrong to censor a book for its perceived insensitivity to a group of people, because doing so will lead to a slippery slope in which no remotely controversial opinions can be printed. The end result, then, is that creativity and free speech are neutered, and only socially-approved ideas can be publicized. As Bradbury makes very clear, however, the reason for the slippery slope of political correctness has very little to do with genuine respect for the demographic groups who claim to be offended. Rather, media groups censor their own products for fear of alienating potential customers--in other words, censorship prevails because it makes economic sense. Companies make the most money when they appeal--however blandly--to "everyone."

Part 2 Quotes
"It's not books you need, it's some of the things that once were it books....The same infinite detail and awareness could be projected through radios and televisors, but are not."
Related Characters: Faber (speaker)
Page Number: 78
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Faber--an elderly professor whom Guy first met years before--gives Guy his theory for why books are superior to television. Faber believes that books are important because they offer a complex  view of life. In a good book, there are no clear heroes and villains--life is not described in terms of "black and white." Instead, good books describe reality in nuanced terms. It's different on television: on the TV shows of Montag's society, life is described in terms of good and evil, sensationalism and pure entertainment, so that everything is simplified and, at heart, unrealistic.

Faber adds an important qualifier to his point. It's not that books are inherently better than movies--rather, TV producers have chosen to create TV shows that ignore the "infinite detail" that literature offers. It's certainly possible for TV to convey moral and intellectual complexity; but, perhaps because complexity doesn't sell well, TV producers opt instead for cartoonish simplicity. (Makes you wonder what Bradbury would have said about shows like The Wire or Breaking Bad...)