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Paper Burns at 451 Degrees!

Fahrenheit451_QRay Bradbury is my favorite science fiction author. He passed away in 2012 and his legacy is still strong among science fiction and fantasy readers. But, Bradbury refused to allow his books to become ebooks. His devotion to the printed page is powerful. So powerful, he wrote an entire novel about books. I am currently re-reading “Fahrenheit 451” and last night started watching the movie again. For a film made in 1966 it is remarkably prophetic. In one scene in the living room of Montag, the fireman, his wife is asked to be a part of a theatrical production on television. There against the wall of the living room was a flat screen television that can be found in any Target store today. The “play” in which she was a part was very boring and involved two men talking about where people should sit when they arrived at their party. One of them would turn to the screen as if addressing “Linda” and ask for “Linda’s opinion”. A red light would blink and Linda would respond. It was obvious from the follow up dialogue that it did not matter what Linda said, the plot was contrived to move along without her real input. But, the idea that the television had a camera that could see the viewer was far ahead of its time.

The bland and boring television “theatrical” production existed in this story because books had been banned. Firemen spent their time burning books. Books have been outlawed by the government because they “make people unhappy”. Here is a quote from the novel:

“If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none.”

This is about censorship. Someone, somewhere has a better idea of what you and I should be able to read than we do. We cannot be trusted to make the right kind of judgment about the content we are putting into our minds. We must rely on some agency to decide that for us.

In my recent interviews about video game violence, I am always asked should we ban violent video games. My answer is always a resounding “No”. Why? Because that is censorship and once we start down that slippery slope, before you know it firemen will be invading our homes and burning any creative content in our possession.

I am an author. I write thrillers with a foundation in my Christian worldview. I don’t have to tell anyone who is a Christian how toxic the social climate is now to Christianity. The New Atheists are winning the war of ideas and calling for governmental intervention. They want religion to be outlawed. They want to classify parents who teach their children Christian concepts as “pedophiles” and teaching religious concepts as “child abuse”. The post huge billboards calling for Americans to “Dump the Myth”. Dawkins, Bill Nye the Science Guy, and even Elton John have taken up the cause. Destroy Christianity at all cost. Push it out of the public sphere. Eliminate churches and religion.

If you think I’m overreacting, you are woefully uneducated about this topic. We are not some Communist controlled country like China where Christians have to go underground. But, that is coming. The threat of censorship is real, loud, and pervasive. In the scientific community, if you profess that you a believer, you are blackballed, denied tenure, and sometimes outright fired. If you voice an opinion in a country that supposedly guarantees freedom of speech, you are vilified in the media and labeled as a “hatemongerer” by the well meaning people who become themselves hatemongerers in the process!

Whether or not your a believer, this should set off every alarm in your mind! It is thought control of the highest order and it is not the only area where others want to enforce their ideas and concepts upon you! So, no, I don’t want to see violent video games banned. For one thing, that would make them even more popular!

What I do want to see is a culture that emphasizes accepting responsibility for our decisions. Instead, as a culture we foster a victim mentality. “It’s not MY fault.” is a common response to bad things that happen in our culture. If you purchase a violent video game and you play that game for hours on end and then you carry out some kind of violent action then the decision to do that is yours. You cannot blame the manufacturer or the artist who designed the game. The decision to put those ideas in your heart and mind is YOURS and yours alone. Where our culture has failed is in taking away a social foundation for ethics and behavior and replacing it with consumerism, narcissism, and denial of our reality with the replacement of reality with a virtual reality.

What we must do as a culture is cultivate an environment of responsibility on the part of all three pillars of this problem:

Video game makers have stepped up to the plate and have placed labels on their games detailing content. But, in my opinion, we need a more detailed ratings system that parents and users can understand. For instance, many games have hidden levels that contain graphic sexual content and this may not be reflected on the game label.

Retailers must accept the responsibility of NOT selling mature games to children. Nor should they market those games.

Finally, parents and USERS, should be more wary of the content of some of these games. Parents tend to be intimidated by technology and push their teenagers away into their tech world and let video games and media “entertain” and babysit their kids. Parents must do the HARD thing and get involved in their children’s lives.

Users must recognize that IDEAS have CONSEQUENCES and stop living in denial. In one recent interview, a young woman told me she had just finished playing “Grand Theft Auto” and she didn’t feel like jumping in her car and running down any pedestrians. But, what happens the next time she is in a car and feels road rage? How will her experiences in the game affect her behavior. Studies have shown that video games do affect decision making no matter how loudly the video gaming industry tries to deny it. This is common sense. What we put into our minds will change the way we act. This is well known and well understood. It is the power of propaganda, of mind washing, of advertising. We are living in denial of this reality.

But, we don’t need government censorship. Censorship should start in our MINDS. Censorship is a personal tool. You don’t want to feel the urge to kill? Find out what would motivate you to think on that and do not allow it into your mind. Know your heart. Know your mind. Know yourself! Let’s keep the right choice where it starts, in our hearts and minds. Don’t give the government that right or we’ll end up at the business end of one of Bradbury’s firemen!

Swinging on a Star

 

A tribute to Ray Bradbury

SWINGIN’ ON A STAR

by Bruce Hennigan

 

The wind whispered secrets down the cold, dark alleyway and Tasha listened.  The secrets came from the lips of angels.

“Listen, Suzie, cain’t you hear the angels talking?” Tasha whispered.

Suzie pulled her little sister closer to her.  “Ain’t no angels, Tash.  Ain’t no angels anywhere in this world.  Only devils.  We got to get out of here.”

Tasha wiped her runny nose and glanced back down the alleyway.  Mist swirled around the trash containers and pulsed with the red and green of exit signs.  “But, they gonna tell us how to get home.  We lost, ain’t we?”

Suzie stopped at the opening to the city street and her eyes were drawn to the huddled figures moving monotonously down the neon splashed sidewalks.  Grizzled faces with tinted eyes bore down on them.  “If we can just find the subway, we be all right.”

The tinkle of metal and glass echoed from behind them.  Tasha hugged her older sister’s leg.  “The angels done gone, Suzie.  They ain’t behind us no more.  I’m scared.”

Suzie glanced over her shoulder at the menacing maw of the alleyway. Its dim eyes glowed in the mist and its jaws paused to close.  She stepped out onto the open street into the arms of perdition.

The man jostled them and his smell encircled them in warm, redolent odor.  His toothless grin shown through a cloud of gagging mist.  Suzie pulled away from him with her hand gripped on Tasha’s. They ran.  They bumped down the street from body to body, bouncing against the grim reminders of humanity caught between divinity and condemnation.

Suzie pulled them into an alcove. A dirty glass window was behind them plastered with obscenities.

“What we gonna do, Suzie?” Tasha sniffled.

“We ain’t going back, that’s for sure.  Toby gonna sell us for drugs.”

“I miss Momma.”

Suzie pulled the tiny face against her stained overcoat.  “Me, too, Tash.  Momma up with the angels.”

Tasha’s face lit up.  “If we listen to the angels, maybe Momma can tell us where to go.”

Suzie frowned.  “Maybe so, Tash.  But, we ain’t going back to Toby.  We don’t even know if he our daddy.”

Tasha pulled her knit cap up to expose her ears and glanced skyward.  “Maybe we ain’t listenin’ hard enough.”

Suzie’s eyes drifted upward, above the misted detritus of humanity shuffling down the street, above the crumbling bricks and mortar of a dream gone bad to the clear, star filled night.  The space station arced in perfect serenity.  She remembered the dead dreams of a tiny, idealistic girl, eyes drawn to the possibilities of worlds virgin with pristine future.  Dreams that had died in a crack haze of insanity and evil.

“I think those angels done got tired of listening to us humans.  We done worn out our welcome.”

“Tasha!  Suzie!” A hoarse voice echoed down the street.

Suzie’s heart raced and she pulled Tasha to her.  “Toby!”

They pulled back into the darkness of the alcove. Her feet were paralyzed with fear and suddenly the promising stars were eclipsed by chipped paint, crumbling brick, and misty haze.  A hulking figure shadowed the sidewalk and Toby stepped out of the mist.  His yellow eyes glowed with drug fever as he scanned the streets until they fell on the girls.

“There you heathens are.  Why you run away from Toby?” He leaned forward and his rancid breath filled the alcove.  “I got some candy for you.” His hands were behind his back.

Tasha looked up at Suzie.  “We don’t want none of your candy.”

“Leave us alone, Toby.  We don’t need you no more.”

Toby’s grin faded to a leer of insane resolution.  “Then you won’t be needing this candy.” His hands came out and Suzie saw the glint of light on metal.  A gun and a pair of handcuffs.  “Now let’s put on these bracelets, little girls.  I got some friends want to meet you.”

Light cracked somewhere inside Suzie’s mind; star light, hope light, angel light and through the cloying mist she watched a star move across the cityscape, promising hope and redemption.  She kicked out viciously and drove into her foot all the anger and desperation of a world that had lost its promise, lost its heart.  Toby collapsed in sudden pain and writhed on the ground.  Suzie jerked Tasha behind her and they ran over Toby’s writhing body out into the mist.

“We got to run, Tash.  We got to run and never stop.”

Tasha clambered after her as her eyes misted with tears.  “But I can’t hear the angels, Suzie.  We gotta stop and listen.”

“We ain’t stopping, Tash.  We ain’t never gonna stop.”

Figures began to materialize out of the mist, down the street, across the street. Somewhere behind them, Toby’s angry cursing bounced from brick walls.  Tash stumbled and Suzie lost her. The tiny girl disappeared into the mist.  She slid to a stop and ran back along a chain link fence.  No Tasha.  Toby was coming.  A gap in the chain link fence appeared from the mist. A tiny shred of fabric from Tasha’s coat was caught on the rusted metal.  Suzie squeezed through the gap and pulled it back together. Furiously she knitted the rusted, twisted metal edges together.  She backed away into the mist and prayed that Tasha was somewhere within the fence.  Toby’s hulking figure rocketed by them, mist swirling behind him.  She held her breath.  Toby didn’t come back.

Suzie stood suspended in the low lying haze with her breath coming quickly and her heart racing.  She calmed and paused to listen.  To listen for an angel.  A creaking sounded somewhere behind her.  She stepped out of the mist into a clearing.  A playground surrounded her. It was long abandoned filled with rusted metal frameworks like skeletons of dead beasts, dead hopes.

“Tasha.” She whispered loudly.  The creaking continued.  Tasha sat in an old swing with her head bobbing down and then up. “Tasha, what are you doing?”

Tasha turned her face and her eyes bright with hope.  “The angels, Suzie.  They told me to reach up.” The words waxed and waned as Tasha swung up and back.  “See that star.  See it way up there.”

Suzie squinted in the darkness and spied a bright, pulsing star halfway up the horizon hovering above the misty horror of this world.  “They say if I can touch it with my foot, if I can swing high enough, I can go there.  Momma’s there.  She’s an angel and she’s helping them learn about God and goodness and all.  They want us to go there, too.”

Suzie moaned in sorrow and collapsed on the ground.  Tasha moved higher and higher.  “Tasha, that ain’t gonna happen.  Momma ain’t no angel.  She ain’t on no planet in the sky.  She dead.  And, so are we.  We can’t go on running.”

Tasha seemed not to hear, stretching her foot farther out on each upward swing.  “I almost got it, Suzie.  I almost touched it.  Come on, you gotta go, too.  Momma’s waiting.  All you gotta do is try.  Don’t give up hope now.”

Suzie felt the tears begin and the dam broke on months of hidden sorrow.  Her heart fell as the cadence of the creaking swing increased.  “There ain’t no hope, no more, Tash.  There ain’t no angels.”

Light gushed around her, brighter than noonday sun, burning away the mist in a sudden gulp of warm air.  A giggle echoed in the air and darkness returned.  The swing tumbled down and was empty and stilled.

Suzie rushed to the empty swing.  “Tash?  Tash?” Her eyes darted around the playground.  It was empty and barren.  She blinked away the burning aftermath of light as her heart raced.

“No!  Don’t leave me, too.  Tasha, don’t leave me!” Tears clouded her vision.  Behind her, out in the desperate street she heard metal screech.  Toby had found her.  She glanced up at the star pulsing with hope and promise in the night; the star holding out the welcoming hand of a future and a hope.  She climbed into the swing.

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