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One of the persons I follow on twitter recently linked this article. It contains the following claims:

  • [Ray Bradbury] has always insisted that the main theme of the book is the role of the mass media and its effect on the populace

  • virtually nobody accepts this as the true theme of the novel, even though it’s an exact-ish quote from the guy who wrote the bloody thing.

  • The perfect example of this was a time when Bradbury himself was giving a lecture on the novel to a class of college students and upon casually mentioning that the theme of the novel was the dangers of television, he was stopped in his tracks by someone loudly exclaiming “no, it’s about censorship!“ [...] Bradbury was so pissed off at the sheer pig-headedness of the students that he straight up stormed out of the class and vowed he’d never give another lecture on it.

All these claims are unsourced in the article and I doubt than any of these are real (for example in the last claim no specific school is mentioned, raising a pretty big red flag).

My question is then: did Ray Bradbury ever claim that his book [Fahrenheit 451] was not about censorship?

As additional bonus questions, if he did:

  • is it true that virtually nobody accepts it?

  • did he ever walked out of a lecture on the novel because students were contradicting him?

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    You're asking three questions in one question. – George Chalhoub May 25 '15 at 13:03
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    There is, by the way, a fairly popular theory of literary criticism which says that the author's views on what a work 'is about' are irrelevant. It would certainly not surprise me that a student felt free to disagree with the author an the subject. – DJClayworth May 25 '15 at 14:50
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    @DJClayworth tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/DeathOfTheAuthor – March Ho May 25 '15 at 18:27
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    @Quincunx: What was the purpose of the firemen, if not censorship? If the book was merely about how full-length books would be abandoned in favor of television or abridgements (I recall an afterword by Bradbury in one edition of F451 which complained about the latter) and if trees to make paper were scarce, I could see that people who hoarded books rather than recycling them could be condemned for abuse of resources, but burning the books would be an even worse abuse). – supercat May 26 '15 at 17:18
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    @DavePhD More pertinent than the firemen, IIRC the main character ends up on the run from the law for owning a book (but like Federico, it has been a long time since I've read it as well) – Izkata May 26 '15 at 18:34
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Did Ray Bradbury ever claim that his book [Fahrenheit 451] was not about censorship?

Yes, absolutely, you can listen to him explain it in his own words (Bradbury on Censorship/Television) on his website. Transcript:

I wasn't worried about freedom, I was worried about people being turned into morons by TV...

Fahrenheit's not about censorship, it's about the moronic influence of popular culture through local TV news, the proliferation of giant screens and the bombardment of factoids. All the popular programs on TV, the competition programs, they don't give you anything but factoids. They tell you when Napoleon was born, but not who he was. So it doesn't matter about the date. You should never memorize dates, to hell with it. So we moved into this period of history that I described in Fahrenheit 50 years ago

Note that Bradbury is essentially paraphrasing a portion of the dramatic version of Fahrenheit 451, at pages 44-45 of the script:

Plenty of facts but no meaning...no Government Regulation, no dictums, no true censorship...Iron facts are safe. TV NEWS? Of course...Give the people more contests to win by remembering the names of popular songs or state capitals or how much corn Iowa grew last year. Fill them with non-combustible facts, chock them so full of data they feel stuffed...

And, yes Bradbury confirms he walked out of a lecture, in an interview with Weller in the biography Listen to the Echoes: The Ray Bradbury Interviews :

Weller: have you encounted academic misinterpretation of your work?

Bradbury: I was lecturing at Cal Fullerton once and they misinterpreted Fahrenheit 451, and after about half an hour of arguing with them, telling them that they were wrong, I said, “Fuck you.” I've never used that word before, and I left the classroom.

The remaining question is: "is it true that virtually nobody accepts [that the main theme of the book is the role of the mass media and its effect on the populace]"?

No.

For example in Ray Bradbury: A Critical Companion (2000) by Robin Reid it is stated (quoting the Fahrenheit 451 section at page 59):

Bradbury's main theme is the extent to which technology can be used for social control, specifically through the use of the mass media for all entertainment and education. The novel describes people being bombarded 24-hours a day by "TV class", "film teacher[s]", TV parlors and televisors.

She goes on to contrast Fahrenheit 451 with Orwell's 1984 explaining that in Fahrenheit 451:

Only after most Americans chose to give up reading, seduced by the simplicity and presence of the mass media, did the government step in.

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    @Ruslan: and most of the Western world only knows that date thanks to the moronic influence of Tchaikovsky bombarding us with factoids. And cannon. Neither books nor history lessons had anything to do with it. – Steve Jessop May 26 '15 at 13:11
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    While I don't disagree with the conclusion of this answer, the author's quote used to substantiate it seems to show (surprising) evidence of revisionism. Though I do not doubt the sincerity of this apparently contemporary statement by Bradbury, the fact is that there was no "proliferation of giant screens" with respect to television in 1953 when he wrote Fahrenheit 451, so it seems unlikely that the story was his reaction to that. Much more likely, he is conflating what he sees as modern confirmation of his fears with the specifics of his original intent. – RBarryYoung May 26 '15 at 15:13
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    @RBarryYoung He was (correctly) predicting a future with giant screens in the book. The future influence of television and audio (headphones) was his concern. This is more purely seen in "The Pedestrian" the short story out of which the book grew. Already by 1960 Bradbury said: "In writing the short novel Fahrenheit 451 I thought I was describing a world that might evolve in four or five decades. But only a few weeks ago, in Beverly Hills one night, a husband and wife passed me, walking their dog. (continues below) – DavePhD May 26 '15 at 16:17
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    (continues from above) I stood staring after them, absolutely stunned. The woman held in one hand a small cigarette-package-sized radio, its antenna quivering. From this sprang tiny copper wires which ended in a dainty cone plugged into her right ear. There she was, oblivious to man and dog, listening to far winds and whispers and soap opera cries, sleep walking, helped up and down curbs by a husband who might just as well not have been there. This was not fiction." I think he's disappointed people are missing the main point of the book. – DavePhD May 26 '15 at 16:19
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    @mikeserv Bradbury said “I'm not against all television, I'm just against bad television!” – DavePhD May 28 '15 at 14:55
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The LA Weekly's piece on Ray Bradbury (which includes an interview) corroborates the claim that Ray Bradbury walked out on a college lecture where he was misinterpreted:

“Useless,” Bradbury says. “They stuff you with so much useless information, you feel full.” He bristles when others tell him what his stories mean, and once walked out of a class at UCLA where students insisted his book was about government censorship. He’s now bucking the widespread conventional wisdom with a video clip on his Web site (http://www.raybradbury.com/at_home_clips.html), titled “Bradbury on censorship/television.”

  • So what does he think it means, if others aren't allowed to interpret it? – Cees Timmerman May 31 '15 at 0:18
  • @CeesTimmerman DavePhd's answer covers that part in detail. – March Ho May 31 '15 at 5:13
  • That's not this answer and it seems that he's stuck on an arbitrary distinction between past and future consumers. – Cees Timmerman May 31 '15 at 10:59
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    @CeesTimmerman He knows others will interpret it differently, that is one of the reasons to burn books given in Fahrenheit 451: " 'Oh, you were scared silly,' said Beatty, 'for I was doing a terrible thing in using the very books you clung to, to rebut you on every hand, on every point! What traitors books can be! you think they're backing you up, and they turn on you. Others can use them, too, and there you are, lost in the middle of the moor...' " – DavePhD Jun 1 '15 at 22:44
  • @DavePhD The government is of people, for people, so it's not surprising that some or most citizens agree with their censoring. – Cees Timmerman Jun 2 '15 at 7:03

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