Friday, March 02, 2018

On pleasure and titillation

Ask yourself, What do we want in this country, above all? People want to be happy, isn’t that right?... That’s all we live for, isn’t it? For pleasure and titillation? And you must admit our culture provides plenty of these.
Contemporary life seems all about "pleasure and titillation."  Everywhere we turn, society now offers more and more avenues for "pleasure and titillation."  Sometimes, that pleasure and titillation comes from enjoying how others are humiliated.  This approach to "pleasure and titillation" has become so popular that 63 million voters elected that kind of an entertainer to the Oval Office!

I seriously doubt that this "pleasure and titillation" was what the founders stated as our inalienable rights to the pursuit of happiness.  But then, the writer was Thomas Jefferson, who continued to own slaves and defend his ownership even when his buddies were freeing their slaves.  I suppose Jefferson knew about "pleasure and titillation" through owning humans and raping them!

Ray Bradbury predicted with uncanny accuracy (except the physical act of book burning) how our madness for "pleasure and titillation" will end up.
Fahrenheit 451 also speaks of, and to, a culture that was becoming more superficial and philistine, in which television screens cover entire walls, where, in the words of the fire-chief Beatty: ‘School is shortened, discipline relaxed, philosophies, languages dropped, English and spelling gradually neglected… Life is immediate… Why learn anything save pressing buttons, pulling switches.’ Bradbury had expressed his disquiet at ‘the great centrifuge of radio, television, pre-thought-out movies, and so forth. Give us no time to “stop and stare”.’
Bradbury, who to me was always a social commentator disguised as a science fiction writer, wrote Fahrenheit 451 well before the age of flat screen TVs that seem to cover entire walls, and before anybody had even imagined a smartphone.  The book was published in 1953!  Here we are in 2018, discussing how philosophy courses have been dropped from the curriculum.  Language proficiency is no longer a mark of an educated person, it seems.  Spelling is old-fashioned.  Nobody wants to stand and stare, and think.  Because, after all, thinking could possibly lead to unhappiness.  We want, demand, pleasure and titillation. Now, dammit!

Of course, the irony of ironies is that Fahrenheit 451 was first published in a serialized form during the early and struggling years of the very symbol of pleasure and titillation: Playboy magazine!

Contemporary life is increasingly about momentary happiness.  Instant gratification seems to be our collective motto.  Therefore, not a moment shall be spent in deep thinking, which requires people to turn away from the flat screens on the walls and the bright screens in their hands.

The pleasure from reading Fahrenheit 451 is certainly not titillation!  It is profound bliss.

The author of the essay writes, echoing my own thoughts on Fahrenheit 451:
Forever trying to be the optimist, Ray Bradbury couldn’t but help demand vigilance about the future. He was like Orwell: a progressive who banefully acknowledged man’s flawed nature, his timeless thirst for power, forever wanting to push people around and tell others what to do and what to say. And, as with Orwell, Bradbury recognised that tyranny is at its most potent when it’s superficially most benevolent, when it dresses up coercion and censorship in kindly, caring language. A society that believes it paramount to keep its citizens safe, happy and comfortable for the greater good can not, and will not, tolerate dangerous words.
Fiction makes us worry about down the continuum, if the trends continued along in the same direction.  After all, as the old Chinese saying goes, "if we don’t change the direction in which we are headed, we will end up where we are going."

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