While watching the movie “Fahrenheit 451” with my class today, I heard a line that had escaped my notice in the past. Montag was summoned from his teaching duties to a conference with his superior, Beatty. Two lower ranking officers had just been reprimanded and Montag’s commander followed up by asking him how he felt about sports. The commander proceeded to list many different sports, all of which Montag found to be pleasant ways to spend time. The commander, making a reference to the two officers who had just left, told Montag, “More sports for everyone. ..Keep them busy and you keep them happy.”
I have taught this book for several years now and am still amazed at how prophetic it is/was. We are so like the world that was created by Ray Bradbury. Many students no longer read for the mere pleasure of it. Some brag that the only time they grace the library is to do research for a term paper, while others (embarrassingly so) don’t even know where the library is! Paper books have been replaced by iPod, Kindle, and, even worse, movies. I have students who won’t complete a book report assignment unless they can find a movie based on a novel which allows them to watch it instead of read it.
Another similarity is in our entertainment. While a parlor wall unit seemed like science fiction 50 years ago, it is as common today as the cold! Not only does each home have a television set in it (with surround sound), most homes have multiple sets, one for each room. Children, as well as adults, sit idol for hours in front of these built-in baby sitters and allow the media to dictate what is fashionable, acceptable and holy. In addition to our wall units, we carry our digital worlds around with us in our purses and pockets. Students are reprimanded daily for walking the halls and sitting in class with devices plugged into their ears. They eat plugged-in, study plugged-in, and sleep plugged-in (kind of reminiscent of a seashell?).
The element of the movie that caught my attention today wasn’t a line from the book, but it is true of our society none the less. “Keep them busy to keep them happy.” “Increase sports.” Now why would that be promoted? It’s quite simple. In a society adept at keeping the populace from thinking, to allow “down time” or “quiet time” would be terribly detrimental. In fact, it might lead people to ponder the mysteries of the universe and/or their own existence! By filling every waking hour with activity, a person doesn’t have time to question or reflect. He/She merely absorbs what is diplayed before him/her and moves on to the next activity.
This is a philosphy that I have personally witnessed while teaching school. The idea of getting students involved in multiple sports/activities looked innocent enough when proposed, even noble in its endeavor. The philosophy was that students needed something to do or they would become deviants. Be in sports or be in jail! Again, a noble attempt to keep kids in school and off of drugs, but what are some other ramifications of this?
First, if we consider the context of Fahrenheit 451, the idea was that mankind was not to think on his own. Therefore, to keep the mind preoccupied with television, sports, or anything else would prevent him from enjoying the beauty of silence. It would erase the option of having free thought and individuality.
Second, looking at the outcome of this philosophy, it has effectively helped to disintegrate the family unit. Not only are the school hours consumed with activities, but so are those before and after. There are choir and band practices before and after school, ball games and Club activities every other day including weekends. Sports practices are now being held on Sundays, something that not too long ago was unthinkable! Sports camps break up the summer. And parents are madly, blindly rushing from one activity to another believing that this is best for their children. How many families still sit down at least once a day and have a meal together? How many families spend time interacting as a family without outside distractions? How can children be molded by parents into upstanding citizens when they are never together longer than a commercial?
We have become a society that only relates to one another via technology, even when in the same house. Every waking hour is consumed or allocated to some task. We no longer entertain ourselves; we rely on media or other people to do that for us. We cry boredom because we no longer have the capacity to imagine or invent. Ray Bradbury’s prophesy has, in fact, become truth. People have given away their freedoms in return for ease and leisure. We have sacrificed generations upon the alter of busyness with the idea that this will bring happiness and prosperity.
Several years ago, a girl looked at me in surprise and said, “You’re not a soccer mom, are you?” The odd part of this question was in the context it was asked. I was sitting with my three year old son at the time, and he was playing peek-a-boo around my shoulders. Evidently the relationship I had with my son was not something commonly seen among the other “soccer moms”. I must admit that I swell with pride at that reflection. I’m glad I’m not a soccer mom and that I have a healthy relationship with my kids. We wrestle together, talk together, work together, and when life isn’t going crazy, we eat together. Happiness is not busyness. It is not more sports, more television, more…you fill in the blank. It is less.