Amoeba’s Lorica: The Parlor Walls

floor to ceiling TVs, 2013

floor to ceiling TVs, 2013

Your Friendly Neighborhood Amoeba finally encountered one of those “big screen” televisions that have been all the rage lately. Yes, yes, YFNA is a bit behind the times.

The owner took some pride in demonstrating the unit in question. It was by a famous maker of top gear. It generated blow-you-out-of-the-room stereo sound, without benefit of visible speakers. It was interactive in the manner of all computer-driven video devices these days, with all the “stop” and “start” and “go here” commands that, to those who immerse themselves in such things, are commonplace to the point of ennui.

And it took up a whole wall of the house. Similar units, which the owner lamented were not as good as the first, took up two additional walls …

YFNA probably disappointed by not going “ooh” and “ahh” at the exposition. Truth is, he wasn’t really there. His body might have been in the room, but his mind was not. It was in another space, watching firemen spew kerosene on books.

Science fiction legend Ray Bradbury published the novel Fahrenheit 451 in 1953. It had interactive flat-screen TVs in it, TVs that took up entire walls. In the book, they were referred to as “the parlor walls”. And they became more important to their owners and users than the real life on the other side of those walls.

Fahrenheit 451 described a world in which firemen were called to fireproof houses to burn their inflammatory contents. Books contained dangerous information, information out of the control of those who programmed the parlor walls. The writers of books whose contents were controversial were condemned for putting down [pick any] minority. Writers of books whose contents could not immediately be understood by all were lambasted for making readers feel inferior. Some of those writers were probably climate scientists. By the time we meet fireman Guy Montag, books have been banned (they weren’t selling anyway, which probably was the most important factor in their damnation), and their authors removed from society, one way or another.

All that society – the you and me of the Fahrenheit 451 universe – would accept from their media were the shallow pleasures of the moment, served up by the parlor walls. And when Montag shut down the walls in an attempt to get people to see past them, he was spurned for making people uncomfortable – and his wife denounced him to the authorities.

Parlor walls across these Untied States get tuned, in astounding numbers, to the Super Bowl, the championship game (for the three persons left on the planet who haven’t had this knowledge ground into them) of the National Football Gridiron League. The spectacle provides an entertainment that millions find pleasurable (so the Nielsens tell us), and a pack of advertisers find profitable.

YFNA looked up the website of the four-letter sports network to check on the score of Super Bowl XLVII – YFNA recommends that folk learn what this means, lest some incautious soul remind the U. S. Congress that ’47’ is in arabic numerals …

[Ahem] YFNA looked up the website of the four-letter sports network to check on the score of Super Bowl XLVII, and found an article by columnist Bill Simmons, effectively accusing several of the leading personalities of the 2012 MMXII pro gridiron scene of cheating – and of The Media, personified by his “Four-Letter Network Self”, of conspiring to cover up that cheating.

YFNA is unsure whether this article represents a courageous, job-risking exposé on Simmons’s part, or a cynical attempt to stir up controversy, and therefore readership, to help the four-letter sports network ride out the annual post-Super Bowl ratings doldrums. Give us dirty laundry, right, Don?

Whatever. The spectre of professional athletes once again bending and breaking the rules of their sports to achieve “victory” certainly should make viewers uncomfortable. Shouldn’t it?

“Hey you. Grab a beer, sit down, shut up. Or leave. Got it? So what if Junior Seau died of this CTE whatchamacallit? We ain’t watchin’ no flag football. Give us our hits! The bigger the better!”

Ave fanatici. Morituri vos salutant. (Hail Fandom. Those about to die salute you.)

Meanwhile, the parent company of the four-letter sports network rakes in more money than God, while YFNA’s scientific colleagues doing significant, if uncomfortable to contemplate, work plan bake sales to recover, maybe, pennies on the dollar of research funds lost to them through governmental and private budget cutting.

A critic of Fahrenheit 451, writing shortly after the book’s publication, characterized the volume as “one of Bradbury’s bitter, almost hysterical diatribes”. YFNA wonders what word that same critic would use today, were he alive to reconsider his review.

YFNA ventures to suggest that the word would be “prescient”.

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