Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Consequences of Equality

Consequences of Equality

Ray Bradbury's novel Fahrenheit 451, in conjunction with Francois Truffaut's film adaptation, reveals a glimpse into a world in which the struggles endured by various members of a class society has been remedied by providing people with a sense of equality. This remedy does not come in the historically normal form of socialism, but is found through society's expulsion of literacy. Books, which offer society a means to transfer its knowledge and allow its members to express themselves, have been replaced almost completely by technology, communication, and parks for which the people may express their aggressive tendencies, and pills to suprress their uncomfortable feelings. Only the most fundamental aspects of reading and writing have survived in order to allow society to continue to meet its members everyday needs.

Fahrenheit 451 remains relevant today in its applicability to modern social concerns such as, the media pushing various products on consumers as to increase their feelings of acceptance and equality, various minorities increasing their dissatisfaction and demanding remedies as to how they percieve to be portrayed in various movies, books, and even holloween costumes. Not to forget about the pharmaceutical industry pushing their products in order to “cure” feelings of dissastifaction. Censorship and the struggle of various minorities try to suppress ideas which they find threatening or offensive, the media's increasing tendency to provide the materialistic means in which we may all feel equal, technology making it easier and easier to be perpetually bombarded with mass amounts of useless information which ultimately leaves little or no room for information of significance, and a pill if none of the other products fulfill you.

One could argue that both Bradbury's novel and Truffaut's interpretation of Fahrenheit 451 is an examination of what happens when a society uses capitalism as a means to pursue equality. These underlying issues may be discerned through a comparative analysis of Louis Althusser's essay “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses.” Althusser comes from a Marxist tradition; he argues that a classless, i.e. equal, society can only occur when capitalism has been
abandoned. Althusser asserts that class societies are composed of an “infrastructure” or an “economic base” on which two levels of the “superstructure” stand. The first level of the superstructure is composed of the “Political-Legal” which consists of law and State. The second level, called “Ideology,” consists of the different ideologies found in a society such as religion, ethics, and legal. The basic premise is that the ruling class has absolute control over the mode of production, and by having that control is responsible for dictating the formation of the upper levels of the superstructure which are the “state” and the “ideology.”

In Fahrenheit 451 the ideology is equality through the complete censorship of ideas and thoughts, not just in the books, but through discussions between people as well. Having any sort of meaningful discussions are frowned upon, and the people are kept too busy with the technology provided to have any such discussions. In the novel Clarisse remarks, “they name a lot of cars or clothes or swimming pools mostly and say how swell! But they all say the same things and nobody says anything different from anyone else,” (P. 31).

Bradbury merely hints at the capitalistic nature of society with the inclusion of commercials which bombard the minds of people on the subway with “Denham's does it” (P. 79). However, the importance of equality to this society is quickly made clear when Captain Beaty comes to check on Montag after he has called in sick, Beaty explaints to Montag that, “not everyone [is] born free and equal, as the Constitution says, but everyone [is] made equal,” (P.58).

The “ideology” of equality through illiteracy is the most prevalent theme in the movie and the novel. In the novel Beaty explains to Montage that it was the people that demanded less controversy, and those who had to appease the market in order to push their products complied, Beaty explains:

the people in this book, this play, this TV serial are not meant to represent any actual painters, cartographers, mechanics anywhere. The bigger your market. Montag, the less you handle controversy, remember that! All the minor minor minorities with their navals to be kept clean. Authors, full of evil thoughts, lock up your typewriters. They did. Magazines became a nice blend of vanilla tapioca. Books, so the damned snobbish critics said, were dishwater....but the public , knowing what it wanted, spinning happily,let the comic books survive. And the three dimensional sex maxazines...There you have it, Montag. It didn't come from the government down (P. 58).

The issue Bradbury's novel focuses on is not that of the “haves” controlling the “have-nots,” but rather, the fact that all people who are part of any society ultimately contribute to the shaping of it - or as Althusser states, “there is no practice except by and in an ideology, [and] there is no ideology except by the subject and for subjects.”

The novel addresses how the ideology of illiteracy came about, and it is not directly attributed to the “ruling class,” but through a concoction of“technology, mass exploitation, and minority pressure,” (p. 58). So we can see that it is within this capitalistic society that it is the demands of the consumer that have shaped the society into what it is in Fahrenheit 451.

The movie clearly places greater importance on the idea of equality. It goes to some effort to demonstrate that the people are so much alike, or in other words equal, that they are not able to see differences beyond something as trivial as a choice in hair style. This focus on equality is clearly shown through the characters of Clarisse and Linda. In the movie, Clarisse asks Montag what his wife is like, and he remarks, “ [Linda] is rather like you, except her hair is long.” Truffaut made it a point to have the same actress playing both parts in order to emphasize the disintegration of individuality. A further example of the importance the film places on the idea of equality occurs near the end when Montag is on the run from the police. The News televises the intense chase and finally the execution of a man which they, with the help of the police, have made the public believe is Montag. Both instances clearly demonstrate the unpleasant consequences when a society places too much importance on equality and in so doing forces its members to sacrifice their individuality.

We see these themes of equality and the dissolution of individuality through capitalism today. They bombard us through the television, through the radio, and even through advertisements. Morning news programs include segments instructing women on how to create the perfect smile with the right makeup and what hairstyle is right for your stereotypical face shape. Segments have appeared recently which describe to the audience how everyone can fit into “skinny jeans,” and if you're too plump there is a workout program just for you called “The Skinny Jeans Workout,” which will allow you to purchase what has become the latest trend. You can have all this in our very own capitalistic society at a price custom fit for each class of individuals. We too can have the sense of equality that those of Fahrenheit 451 have found.

Works Cited

Althusser, Louis. “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses: Notes towards an Investigation.” Trans. Brewster. Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, Monthly Review Press 1971.

Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451. 50th Anniversary Ed. New York: Ballantine Books, 1953.

Fahrenheit 451. Dir. Francois Truffaut. Perf. Julie Christie, Oskar Werner, Cyril Cusack, Anton Diffring, Jeremy Spenser, Alex Scott. Vineyard Films, Ltd., 1966.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Material Behavior of an At Risk Subject

Stanley Kubrick's rendition of the social satire, A Clockwork Orange provides a window into the implications of a class society and it's devastating affects on those individuals who occupy the lower realms.

Randy Martin's essay “Where Did the Future Go,” and Louis Althusser's “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses,” have some interesting correlations in their arguments regarding the social structures of society. However, after a close reading of both, it is apparent that their arguments intersect, particularly where the implications of the structure of the society adversely affect those citizens who occupy its lower class.

In the eyes of Martin, the protagonist Alex by virtue of his working class background dwells in the realm of those “incapable of taking risk,” and thus is “cast [in a population] at risk and [is the] target of all manner of domestic wars (on drugs, crime, kids and culture),” in this society. This is exemplified in the beginning scene where Alex and his droogs are drinking milk spiked with a drug that increases their ultra-violent tendencies, which for Alex and his mates is the embodiment of their Utopia.

According to Martin there has been a shift from the fairy tale of Capitalism, to “Imperialism's renaissance,” and accordingly there are “implications of finance's rules on the experience of daily life.” In the “political economy,” shaped by these implications of finance's rules, the government depicted in A Clockwork Orange, must employ pre-emptive policies and aggressive tactics. Martin would say, “patience and forbearance must give way to incessant agressivity in the face of evil and vigilant opportunism for the prospect of good.” In A Clockwork Orange, we see the face of evil depicted by The Minister of the Interior. The Minister of the Interior see's the Ludovico Technique the pre-emptive policy (aggressive and opportunistic) as being the means to an end in the prospect for good.

Alex is living in an “interventionist” State. The State views the current penal system as a bad investment. It is a penal system where you get “concentrated criminality...crime in the midst of punishment,” and as The Minister of the Interior further remarks, “outmoded penalogical theories. Soon we may need all prison space for political offenders,” which apparently would be more profitable. Imprisoning common criminals is not, according to the Minister of the Interior a cost effective process. He remarks, “criminals are best dealt with on a purely curative basis, kill the criminal reflex,” in other words employ the pre-emptive policies.

This Ludovico Technique is a form of brain washing. It is believed that through this technique Alex will learn “along with his body that violence is a very horrible thing,” and the state will achieve containment. After the treatment it is explained that paradoxically Alex is “impelled toward the good by paradoxically being impelled toward evil.” Thus when the State fully implements this process of “rehabilitation” it will then be able to “leverage high risk to widely dispersed effect in a manner consistent with the derivative,” in the war on criminality.

However, the result is met with “strategic failure.” The intelligence was not reliable, and the high risk did not yield high returns but rather a political nightmare, requiring further investment.

In comparison, Althusser views the social structure of a capitalistic society through the metaphor of a firm. In order for the society to survive it must abide by the same rules of corporate governance. Where the firm can be seen as being the ruling class, and having great influence over the State apparatus.

Althusser asserts that, “the State Apparatus, which defines the state as a force of repressive execution and intervention 'in the interests of the ruling classes' in the class struggle conducted by the bourgeoisie and its allies against the proletariat, is quite certainly the State, and quite certainly defines its basic 'function'.” According to Althusser, Alex is a “bad subject” who also belongs to the class of the proletariat and his actions have “provoke[d] the intervention of one of the detachments of the (Repressive) state apparatus.”
In the beginning Alex refuses to be “governed by the rituals of the ISAs,” and it is not until he is repressed (put in jail) and forced to “recognize the existing state of affairs, that 'it really is true that it is so and not otherwise' and that [he] must be obedient,” or continue to suffer the adverse consequences.

While in prison Alex attempts to “exist in his actions,” that is he attempts through his material actions to represent himself as a subject embodying the ideology of the state apparatus, i.e. the church who is symbolized through the Preacher. However through this material action, Alex is “len[t] other ideas corresponding to the actions.” In opposition to empathizing with Jesus in his readings of the bible (the material action), Alex relates to the Romans, and prefers to read the stories of the Romans who are tended to by the handmaidens, and shies away from the “preachy” parts. Thus furthering the argument that Alex is a “bad subject.”

Thus the repressive state apparatus as represented by the Minister of the Interior, feels the need for the use of force. As a result the Ludovico Technique is used in order to “enable the ruling classes [and] to ensure their domination of the working class.”

However, as Althusser points out, the ISA's have their own forms of punishment and are not strictly strictly ideological and the same for the State Apparatuses while “predominately” repressive, functions secondarily by ideology. We see this “punishment” through the ISA of the family. When Alex is “rehabilitated” and attempts to go home, he is not welcomed.

As I have demonstrated, while appearing to be rather disconnected Althusser and Martins discussion are in essence related. Martin and Althusser both have convincing arguments that those who occupy the lowest classes are victims of the structures of it's society. Through the calculating intervention the lower class is further exploited and victimized as we see evident in Alex's situation.

Works Cited
A Clockwork Orange. Dir. Stanley Kubrick. Perf. Malcolmmm McDowell, Patrick Magee, Adrienne Corrri, Miriam Karlin. Warner Brothers, 1971.

Althusser, Louis. “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses: Notes towards an Investigation.” Trans. Brewster. Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, Monthly Review Press 1971.

Martin, Randy. “Where Did The Future Go?” Logosonline Winter 2006. 6 October 2009.