It's a shame about Ray

Readers respond to recent articles on Ray Bradbury, the British monarchy, Jonathan Richman and a funny little newspaper column.

By Salon Staff

Published September 6, 2001 7:00PM (EDT)

Read "Ray Bradbury Is on Fire" by James Hibberd.

I'm a Republican, so I think that much of what is on Salon is bunk. Much of the rest is boring, regardless of political persuasion. But I still check the site every weekday, and often find something worth reading, usually in the cultural or techie areas. Today it was the Ray Bradbury interview; in the past it has been articles about Tolkien, Nancy Drew, Norman's "Gor" books, the recent hilarious account of a hippie childhood and articles on film, computers and video games. This stuff on art and literature is Salon's strength; frankly, if I want to hear guys say they think the president is dumb or that they hate SUVs, I can go to one of dozens of other liberal and leftist journals.

-- Mitchell Glodek

James Hibberd's fawning re-appraisal of Bradbury's hokey "classic," "Fahrenheit 451," is full of praise for the author's anticipation of certain current trends like headset radios and urban unrest, but shamefully silent on some of the book's odder notions, like the eugenicist notion that humanity might be purified by the fires of a nuclear Armageddon.

This overrated novel's most glaring flaw, though, is its skin-deep debate about the evils of censorship. To Bradbury's credit, he attacks intellectual and moral complacency, though it's doubtful that our society would blossom into maturity overnight if everyone put aside his detective novel or her romance book and took up Kant instead. The world of "451" looks ahead to today's university wars about what makes up a literary canon. It fails, however, to take into account the vitality and subversive power of popular forms of culture such as music and films and how the interplay between highbrow and lowbrow feeds into and invigorates the mainstream.

Bradbury's vision of culture is suspiciously purist: There's room for Plato and Dickens and other elitist shibboleths; no room for Danielle Steel, Snoop Doggy Dog or "Pulp Fiction." Exclusive and pretentious, this is scarcely a democratic vision of culture. Bradbury inveighs against the evils of repressing free thought, but it never occurs to him that by championing the great works of Western Civilization at the expense of popular genres (like science fiction, for instance), he's exercising his own equally pernicious brand of censorship. In the end, his self-congratulatory elitism is alienating and, ironically, just as philistine as the broad target he aims for.

-- Patrick Pritchett

Thanks for a new interview from "Papa Ray." My first memory of Bradbury is from age 8 or 9 when I read an excerpt from "Dandelion Wine" in the Readers' Digest. I've been hooked ever since. One of my greatest dreams was achieved when I finally met the Grand Master a few years ago.

As a biologist and hardcore technophile, I've take two things from his stories. First, we should have an appreciation and amazement at the works of our hands. Second, we have a responsibility for thoughtful sobriety regarding our excesses, and must consider their consequences.

The "yak yak yak" debate of whether Ray Bradbury is science fiction or fantasy or [your beloved/hated genre here] begs the point. He spans, crosses, recrosses and blurs all such lines. Ray Bradbury's stories evoke wonder at the works of humanity and provoke hubris at our excesses.

To echo his closing remark, my favorite Bradbury quote is this: "I don't try to predict the future. I try to prevent it."

Amen, Papa Ray. Amen.

-- BJD Cruz

I'm perplexed by your writer's assertion that Ray Bradbury has only recently become a "hot property." In fact Bradbury's work has been excessively mined for television and movies for decades -- in particular, his short stories are endlessly recycled, by the likes of "The Outer Limits." Bradbury's success as a writer for movies and television is mainly remarkable because, in science fiction terms, he's only a middle-ranked writer, overly given to whimsy. "Fahrenheit" is his best work, and it was a better movie than a book. "The Martian Chronicles" is a great name, but they're only a loose collection of stories, based on Mars but with no other cohesive ideas that anyone's ever discovered; I've no wish to see them at the movies. But he's a safe bet, a name well-recognized, and maybe that's what counts with producers.

-- Tom Metcalfe

Read "Diana's Uncrowning Glory" by Jason Hill.

It was odd to see such a splendidly silly article about the British monarchy (full disclosure: I am British, but not a monarchist).

OK, it's true that the monarchy is a hereditary one, so that the monarch must necessarily descend from a bunch of dead Germans, but how exactly does this relate to the problems of modern ethnic Turks in Germany? It doesn't.

And as for the idea that the monarchy "ought to offend the moral sensibilities of all Americans," surely Americans should respect the right of another country to have a different system. After all, you guys decided you didn't want a king or queen back in the 18th century, but we didn't decide this, it seems.

Lastly, it may well be that Thomas Paine said, "The idea of hereditary legislators is as inconsistent as that of hereditary juries." But anyone who thinks that the British monarchy has any substantive role as hereditary legislators is entirely wrong. The monarch is not a legislator, does not sit in the Houses of Parliament and constitutionally just signs the bills that Parliament passes. Of course, if you want a sensible way of choosing a head of state (but not chief executive), perhaps it is best to keep it in the family. After all, a head of state chosen by heredity (or luck) is pretty independent of special interest groups or lobbyists, and owes his or her appointment to no major oil companies.

-- Gavin Cameron

I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiments expressed by Jason Hill on the English monarchy and the act of succession.

As an Australian it is hard to accept that when the matter of our head of state was put to a plebiscite last year, the vote was lost in every state and territory in the country. That a civilized country like Australia can opt to have a foreign sovereign for a head of state is baffling.

The attitude of our head of state seems to be "if it ain't broke don't fix it" -- the reality is that it is broken.

-- Mark Perica

In his article "Diana's Uncrowning Glory," Jason Hill manages to condemn the concept of monarchy without ever showing a real understanding of it. He seems to have no idea that there are other monarchies outside of Britain -- for instance, half of Western Europe, all of which are democracies despite their undemocratic heads of state. Indeed, Hill falls into the old trap of claiming that monarchy is an outdated dinosaur when just the opposite is true. Take Norway, for example: After gaining independence from Sweden, the Norwegians actually voted to establish a monarchy in a referendum. Other examples include Bulgaria, where the ex-king's political party was recently voted into power, and Uganda, which saw the restoration of several traditional kingships in the 1990s.

Certainly Hill is right to criticize the British monarchy, yet most of its problems are not inherent to monarchy itself. The incredible wealth that makes Queen Elizabeth the richest woman in the world, her lingering political and religious power -- she meets the prime minister once a week and still has many nominal rights in forming and dissolving governments -- and the rights and privileges of her family are not present in many monarchies, nor is primogeniture the rule in Sweden (where the next ruler will be a Queen). Yet, in one respect, the British monarchy is in step with other monarchies: It is increasingly British, not German as Hill claims. William will be the most British monarch by genealogy since James I 400 years ago.

In any case, I would rather live in a country where the hereditary leaders are confined to merely symbolic positions than one where a hereditary monarchy from Texas can take power without even winning an election.

-- Elliott Green

Read "Brilliant Careers: Jonathan Richman" by Chris Colin.

Thanks for a heartfelt homage to my kind of musical heartthrob -- Richman's wry, whimsical, bittersweet and buoyant songs have always had that "soundtrack for my life" quality, and it's nice to see him hailed in print for the first time in a long time.

-- Lisa Finn

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Chris Colin's profile of Jonathan Richman, and not just because I was supposed to be writing a computer program and thus experienced this amphetamine rush of techie lawlessness while devouring the paragraphs. The only teensy-weensy cavil that I have with it is that he begins his article with the sentence "Like Dylan, Springsteen, Waits, Paul Simon, Emmylou Harris and a half-dozen others, Jonathan Richman is the best living songwriter of his generation." Which would be fine and dadgum near irrefutable if Emmylou Harris was sufficiently prolific as a songwriter to merit being included in this lofty grouping.

You'd hear no argument from moi with Colin's or anyone's naming Emmylou as one of the best living song interpreters of her generation, or any generation. She is an utterly mesmerizing singer whose voice can be like caramel or the wind or both in the same song, and the tunes that she has written are consistently wondrous, but there simply haven't been enough of them for her to be a "best songwriter of a generation," unless the generation to which you're consigning her didn't have all that much to say. Which might be true if Emmylou were 19 in the here and now of 2001 and her generation consisted of Spears, Aguilera and the subtly clever tunesmiths of Blink 182, but being as she was a contemporary of so many classic and prolific composers, I must regretfully quibble with putting her in the same category as Dylan or Waits or Elvis Costello or Polly Jean Harvey, the latter two assumedly being among the unnamed "half-dozen others." Otherwise, great portrait and celebration of that rarest of birds: a positive punk.

-- Jeff Hughes

I love Jonathan Richman! What a great article.

I talked with him outside a club here one night (he was hanging around outside because the music was too loud) and he told me he was sad.

When I asked him why, he said he was "worried about all the baby chickens. Like, what happens to them when they grow up."

-- Lauren Proctor

Read "And Another Thing ..." by King Kaufman.

King Kaufman has hit on the thing that is missing from journalism these days. The "Sound Off" column is the best thing in the Troy Record, and it's a shame the other two papers that cover our area are too sophisticated to have one. After a while, the threads even begin to feed on each other, so that sometimes the rants start to take on a standard format: "It's a [crime, nuisance, tragedy] the way some [politicians, neighbors, schoolteachers] carry on about [abortion, the lottery, lawn-watering restrictions]. When are people going to wake up?"

-- Carl Johnson

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