May 18, 2018


In the future, after almost all of the physical books in America have been burned, Bahrani’s firemen, rising star Montag (Michael B. Jordan) and his ace boss Beatty (Michael Shannon), race around Cleveland catching malefactors surreptitiously uploading books to the Internet, only now the Internet is called “the 9.” “Drop the cord!” the firemen shout as terrified citizens fiddle with their gadgets. Huh? I picture Chinese state censors having themselves a hearty chortle. “Why do these dorks bust their butts going house to house trying to catch people in mid-upload? Why don’t they just do what we do and control the search engines and Internet service providers?”

Minus all of this manufactured drama of men with flamethrowers busting into people’s houses, though, there would be no cool visuals, hence no movie. You’d just have bored bureaucrats at desks. Yet what is the point of the movie if it doesn’t tell us something about ourselves? The whole point of the situation Bradbury feared was that information would remain decentralized, in books, whereas today it would be much easier to simply throttle information as it came sluicing through the Intertubes. Yet that isn’t the danger in the U.S. either. Today if a political leader simply called up his allies and campaign donors at FaceGoog and urged them to delete information he found dismaying, that information would effectively be hidden from America. Worse still, the tech giants could simply take it upon themselves to filter information according to their political goals, and call the stuff they’re leaving out “hate speech” or “fake news.”

Nah, they’d never do that. Let’s get back to the real threat, that thugs are going to come over and light up all your copies of Steinbeck and Proust.

Related: Spotify’s new hate speech policies should trouble artists and music fans.

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