Ray Badbury, famed author of Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles, passed away on Tuesday at the age of 91. His timeless meditations on man’s place in the universe were as profound as they were beautiful. That he died during a rare celestial event–the transit of Venus–is a wondrous thing, and a fitting tribute to his otherworldly influence on American fiction.
Bradbury was not only a brilliant storyteller; he was also an unrelenting foe of censorship and political correctness. Two of his stories–Fahrenheit 451 and “Usher II”–dealt with a tyrannical American government that destroys literature and suppresses dissidents. And in one of history’s greatest ironies, Fahrenheit 451 was itself censored by moral authorities trying to protect children from the frightening ideas in the book. Bradbury abhorred the idea of compromising literature to satisfy the edicts of nosy experts or the precepts of fleeting cultural trends, and made sure the unsanctioned edits to the book were reversed.
He was an especially harsh critic of political correctness and those who promote it. In 1979, he railed against PC university culture:
I sent a play, Leviathan 99, off to a university theater a month ago. My play is based on the “Moby Dick” mythology, dedicated to Melville, and concerns a rocket crew and a blind space captain who venture forth to encounter a Great White Comet and destroy the destroyer. My drama premieres as an opera in Paris this autumn.
But, for now, the university wrote back that they hardly dared do my play—it had no women in it! And the ERA ladies on campus would descend with ball-bats if the drama department even tried!
Grinding my bicuspids into powder, I suggested that would mean, from now on, no more productions of Boys in the Band (no women), or The Women (no men). Or, counting heads, male and female, a good lot of Shakespeare that would never be seen again, especially if you count lines and find that all the good stuff went to the males!
I wrote back maybe they should do my play one week, and The Women the next. They probably thought I was joking, and I’m not sure that I wasn’t.
For it is a mad world and it will get madder if we allow the minorities, be they dwarf or giant, orangutan or dolphin, nuclear-head or water-conversationist, pro-computerologist or Neo-Luddite, simpleton or sage, to interfere with aesthetics.
Such a mad world does indeed exist on university campuses, where free thought and free speech are viciously prosecuted whenever they challenge the orthodoxies of administrators. Students are forced to take government-mandated seminars on sex and dating where they learn that all men are rapists; expelled for criticizing the university; prohibited from forming groups based on certain beliefs; denied exposure to certain political views; guarded so that no one may ever utter the slightest offense against anyone else; and monitored for thought-crimes on Facebook and Twitter.
Fortunately, Bradbury’s stories will always exist–barring some sort of Fahrenheit 451-esque cataclysm–as sanity checks against these kinds of madness. May this great man rest in peace.