June 21, 2018

Birthday request

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 2:03 am by chavisory

Hi all,

So I’ve never put up a tip jar or a Patreon because, while I spend a fair amount of time writing, I’ve never been able to get posts up with a regularity that would make me think “Hey, I should be getting paid for this.”

However, next week is my birthday, and if you’re able and would like to do something that would mean a lot to me, would you consider donating to this organization?  They work to train and network lawyers to provide pro bono legal representation to children in immigration proceedings, and are among the organizations mobilizing to help children separated from their families at the border.

The ACLU is also always a good choice. 🙂

Thank you!

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June 9, 2018

Review of HBO’s “Fahrenheit 451”

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , at 9:57 pm by chavisory

This post should be considered to contain significant spoilers for book, movie, and play versions of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.

I reread Fahrenheit 451 last year in the fall, trying in some small way to refresh the sense of courage and urgency of living life in the world that I got from the book when it had first become one of my favorites when I was barely a teenager. It felt important to do as the prospects of very real and not only literary authoritarianism seemed to draw ever closer.

I wondered whether what made it feel so important in my memory held up. It did, and in some surprisingly chilling ways and not only the ones I thought I remembered. So obviously I greeted the announcement earlier this year of HBO’s forthcoming film production of Fahrenheit 451 with a mixture of delight and trepidation.

fahrenheit 451

I wasn’t disappointed by my reread, and I wasn’t disappointed by the newly released movie, though I will say at the outset that the movie departs in some significant ways from the plot of the novel. But on the whole I found it a worthy and important adaptation of the story for our present, and I hazard to say that I think Ray Bradbury would be pleased with it.

Clarisse is the character probably furthest from her characterization in the book, and I enjoyed her adaptation a lot, though it was not what I anticipated at all. She’s both more active in the story and more dangerous than in the book, more morally compromised but better adapted to the world she actually inhabits. She is not the somewhat naïve idealist of the book, but the movie preserves something essentially tender about her and the way that it draws Montag.

It also struck me later that the Clarisse we see in the movie is a character who could plausibly be the future of the Clarisse we know from the novel, after she and her family abruptly disappear from the story. Montag hears a rumor that she may’ve been struck by a car and killed, but we never truly know what happens to her. An earlier stage production has Montag finding her again among the book people, which is also where she winds up, older, in the movie, having long-since lost her parents as a teenager.

The ubiquitous household assistant Yuxie, reminiscent not only of our present-day electronic companions Siri and Alexa but also 2001: A Space Odyssey’s traitorous Hal, serves as an alarmingly timely minor nemesis as I watched the movie during a week in which we first learned of an Echo Dot secretly recording a private conversation without prompting and e-mailing it to a random third party from among its owner’s contacts. It brings to mind the characterizations of Totalitarianism by writers like Hannah Arendt and Timothy Snyder as “not an all-powerful state, but the erasure of the difference between private and public life.” It isn’t simply that an oppressive government is constantly surveilling all we do or say; it’s that there is no such thing as a private citizen anymore. Everyone is living out their lives on computer screens in full view of all of their neighbors, all the time, driven by the exhortation to “Stay Vivid,” and the offending screens aren’t simply wall to wall installations in every home, but are literally projected across the public square.

“Could he have the Omnis? Stay Vivid to find out,” a disembodied newscaster intones as Montag is pursued by the fire department. All of reality has become a reality show.

I actually laughed out loud at the irony of Beatty’s order “Keep looking for that Omnis!” The Natives are a society utterly reliant on the “Nine,” an amorphous and completely pervasive information stream like a hybrid between our present incarnation of the internet and the Cloud, and yet the authorities don’t conceive that the Omnis may not be a discrete, tangible object.

It’s almost as if the thing they fear the most is the only threat they can imagine. (In the film version of Guy Montag’s world, not only books but virtually all analog media is banned.)

Something the movie does a great deal of that I was glad for is that even where entire characters, tropes, or plot points are omitted or radically altered, a kind of sense memory of the source material is evoked. So while the crime scene horror of the Mechanical Hound is replaced by a device used as summary punishment that obliterates a victim’s fingerprints, Beatty at one point says to Montag, “You’re still the same dog I raised, barking at someone else’s command.” Clifford’s barn of books recalls an image that occurs only in Montag’s own fantasies late in the novel. The book-memorizing collective isn’t a band of railroad-traveling hobos as they are in the novel, but we get a lovely little scene of Clarisse teaching Montag to play the harmonica. The seashell in-ear radios aren’t a thing in the film (the invasive nature of technology in this world having advanced far beyond earbuds), but the climax turns on Montag’s theft of a tiny radio transponder that fulfills the story trajectory in a slightly different manner. It’s a pattern that suffuses the film with a sense of deep respect and affection for Bradbury’s original text, and made me feel like I was seeing an alternate refraction of the story rather than a betrayal of the spirit of the book.

Probably the omission that I regretted the most was that of Faber, although to an extent, the functions of his paranoia and desperate optimism are preserved in Clarisse in this version of the story.

I’m still struggling with how I feel about a scene, not present in the book, in which the book people test Montag’s commitment by demanding he kill a hooded captive who they say is a captured fellow fireman. He’s stopped the instant before he does it in a tableau inescapably resonant of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac, but clearly recalls the moment only slightly later when he does actually kill a former colleague, although this time in actual self-preservation. Days later I’m still not sure how I feel about it, and I’m not totally sure we’re supposed to be, rather than asking some difficult questions about how far we would be willing to go in pursuit of what we believe, versus when the lengths to which we’re willing to go become betrayal of that which we claim to defend, and under what circumstances those actions may be justified.

The original book-burners of this story, after all, as Beatty relates, were trying to protect safety and happiness for all. When they determined they had a right to impose their versions of those goals at any and all costs, including the emotional autonomy of fellow citizens, they became the psychic violence they claimed to abhor. The regime of censorship wasn’t ushered in by predictable bad guys, but by people with good intentions, claiming to act on behalf of the vulnerable.

I feel remiss not to delve more deeply into Michael B. Jordan’s acting, but the truth is that he disappears so completely into a relatable, melancholy execution of Guy Montag, who is not the natural-born social media hero he sometimes pretends to be even to himself, but an understated, haunted everyman often making clumsy decisions about whether he can remain complicit with what he’s finding out about the world, that I’m not quite sure what else to say. If you enjoyed him in Black Panther, this role is definitely a demonstration of his emotional versatility. He also served as an executive producer on the film and I’m excited to see what kind of material he might take on next.