Work ended at around 5 o’clock. I slumped into my car, happy to go home to relax and write. As I drove home, a yellow light on the dashboard caught my attention. Instead of taking my usual route, I veered left on 182nd street and headed to the gas station. I pulled into the busy Shell station, second in line to fill up due to the after-work traffic. This Shell station is unlike other gas stations I’m used to, for it had small TVs atop the gas pumps, blasting out the evening news.
I noticed the man at the car in front of me. Perhaps due to his tiredness from work, intrigue by the weather update, or simply to give his mind a break, he stood transfixed, eyes glued to the TV. Drool literally dripped from his gaping mouth. His absorption within the trivial newscast was complete, and there I sat, mesmerized by his mesmerization. It was only the click and jolt of the automatic gas handle that awoke both of us from our slumber. Momentarily dazed, the man nervously returned the gas nozzle to its holder, jumped in his car, and drove away.
As I subsequently filled my car with fuel, I stood there in thought. Normally, I don’t find it strange to see TV screens plastered throughout a store, restaurant, or other business. But to exit a radio filled car only to enter a pit stop and get bombarded with more noise is disturbing in the least. My thoughts naturally strayed to Ray Bradbury’s futuristic America of Farenheit 451, a book I just finished reading.
Farenheit 451 portrays a society where books are illegalized and entertainment is glorified. Books are literally burned for the sake of equality and peace. The main character, Montag, initially finds pleasure in life as a book-burning fireman. After realizing the truth behind why books are burned, and his own meaninglessness of an entertainment-saturated life, he finds himself as a Platonian character who escapes from the cave and cannot return to his shadowed and sensationalistic past. Montag gives up his comfortable place in society for his search of thought, meaning, and truth.
As the gas finished pumping and my monologue came to a close, a little ping went off and the gas station’s question popped up: Would you like a receipt for your transaction? My finger extended absent-mindedly towards the yes button until Bradbury’s eerie voice caused me pause.
Would I rebel in that entertainment saturated society as Montag did?
Of course, I thought. Why would I acquiesce to a society that suppresses independent thinking, the search for meaning, and literature? But as my hand did a double take towards that electronic yes, a more sinister, yet realistic voice arose: yes, of course I would protest if things were as extreme as Fahrenheit 451. But in the gradual, subtle climate of 21st century America, where convenience is found in instant receipts, on-the-go news coverage, and drive-through ATM’s, perhaps I wouldn’t. Or more accurately, I wouldn’t protest all the time.
That seems to be the tragic lesson Bradbury taught me: it is often the extreme situations that change a person and move them to action. Only when one realizes something as huge as say, her capitulation to the dangerous influences in an extremist society, will she be self-critical/reflective and war against those influences. In the tolerable and comfortable situations, people become complacent, and do not change unless things turn towards the unbearable. How difficult it becomes to change the comfortable.
Thus becomes my journey and my challenge: how do I question the social scripts that tell me I must be a certain way? How do I resist my own passive mindset of “ it is what it is?” How do I continue to push myself when life becomes comfortable? How do I remain proactive in the face of a reactive milieu? The extremity of Montag’s situation forced him to adapt and then to question. Our situations, while less extreme, contain that same potential. We only have to search for it.