Some years ago, on the heels of the success of Trauma, Life in the ER, we began shooting other ‘reality’ shows – Paramedics, Police Force, Breaking News and so on.
One we tried, without success, was Fire Fighters.
We spent a month with a firehouse in Boston, but by the end of the month, the most exciting thing that had happened was a few toaster fires and a dryer that had overheated.
Technology, and the mandatory installation of sprinkler systems had rendered most big fires almost non-existant. (There are still a few, but rarities). As a result, the firefighters didn’t do much, except sit around the firehouse and cook and eat. (Maybe we should have sold it to the Food Network instead).
Firemen though, still catch our imagination.
Perhaps you will recall Montag, the Oskar Werner role in Francois Truffaut’s rendition of the Ray Bradbury book Fahrenheit 451. In the novel, and film, (set in the UK), Montag is a fireman of the future. But his job is not to put out fires, it is to burn books.
The society of the future burns books because they carry memories – because they can irrationally move people. Books are seen as dangerous. A threat to ‘cultural stability’. Of course, Truffaut’s film, produced in 1966, was meant as a statement against the dangers of Communism, but today it speaks to us in a very different way.
As our own firemen have been rendered nearly obsolete because of the impact of new technologies, so too would Montag and Bradbury’s firemen have found themselves increasingly obsolete – their jobs of book burning almost superfluous, in our own culture.
Here are some astonishing stats:
1/3 of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives.
42 percent of college graduates never read another book after college.
80 percent of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year.
(Source: Jerold Jenkins, www.JenkinsGroupInc.com)
We don’t have to burn them… we just ignore them instead.
And it is not just books, of course. Newspapers suffer the heaviest toll as their average demographics begin to arc between 85 and dead. Young newspaper readers are as rare as rockinghorse dung. In Fahrenheit 451, the population now spends its time watching large video screens at home (Bradbury, how predicted satellites also did a pretty good job with plasma monitors).
The number one rated show? Family.
It’s all about you ( or rather ‘me’) as Julie Christie tells Oskar Werner when he comes home and finds her plugged into the never-ending Family show.
Our own self-absorbed ‘family’ (its all about you) is to be found on MySpace and Facebook.
Facebook, (of which I am also a member) was recently valued at a staggering $15 billion.
By way of comparison, The New York Times Company (not the paper, the whole company, which also owns The Boston Globe and lot of other stuff) is valued at $3.2 billion, and falling.
There is, of course, a lot to read on Facebook. But is there anything there worth reading?