Casing the Promised Land

In one of the great ironies of the English language “flammable” and “inflammable” mean the same thing. Sometimes an extra syllable can make all the difference. “Ideas are incombustible,” wrote Ellen Hopkins in the final stanza of “Manifesto.” Unlike inflammable, that which is incombustible can’t be burned away. Most literally expressed in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, ideas are, however, endangered in a culture that claims to support them while secretly allowing them to be banned. Orwell called it doublespeak, and we all owe it to our heirs to fight it wherever we can. Sometimes the promised land may not be all that it seems. Can the brave truly be this afraid? Some politicians think “Born in the USA” is a complimentary song. Never has there been a better case for emphasizing literacy.

We fear the ideas our children might encounter, making them into the people they are meant to be. I’d like to return to an idea I broached at the beginning of this year’s Banned Book Week—the Bible has been a banned book. According to the antics of various preachers and vigilantes, so have been the Quran and the Book of Mormon. Destroying books or their authors, however, only creates martyrs. Until the world begins to understand that memes are more durable than genes we will fight our futile wars to drive the thoughts away. Azar Nafisi in Reading Lolita in Tehran tells of how some regimes want to control even our dreams. As if cutting the wings from angels were even possible. How do you physically cut an incorporeal being? Some may need to look “incorporeal” up in a dictionary.

I can’t remember when I started to read for fun, but I do know I haven’t been able to stop since. I have no idea how many books I’ve read, but it certainly comes out to more than the money I’ve ever been able to save. I write this with not an iota of regret. In my humble opinion people are products of the books they read, the songs they hear, the movies they watch. Ideas. Ideas permeate us and we, like sponges, absorb our nutrients from them. Inevitably we come to resemble the concepts we ingest. Ingesting concepts is perhaps the best way to think of Banned Book Week. Inflammable and flammable mean the same thing. Incombustible, however, is something completely different.


8 thoughts on “Casing the Promised Land

  1. … people are products of the books they read, the songs they hear, the movies they watch.

    I can feel books and movies affect me. Books, if they are long. Movies, less than long TV series — I am watching Sons of Anarchy now. I can feel the shift.

    But am I then a “product” of that? Hmmm??? Does it push me — absolutely. But how do I respond? That is hard.

    But am I product of the type of relationships I had around me when I was young — absolutely. Of my genetics, abso-absolutely? It is all so complicated, eh?

    Before movies, TV and books, for instance, was it just campside stories that made the products called people. I don’t think so.

    Long time no see — someone visited me from your blog, so I stopped in.


    • Thanks for stopping by, Sabio! Yes, the blogosphere has become a busy place these days. Unfortunately I don’t have much time to explore it myself!

      I do think the media we absorb impacts our personalities. I can’t help but think of all the times a reference from a book, song, or movie will come to me, almost automatically when I’m in a similar situation. I suppose we need to sort out what “me” is before we can really get a serious start on this issue.

      Thanks again for checking in! I always enjoy your blog when I get the chance.


  2. I agree that media impacts our personality.
    I am very selective of my kids media choices, for instance.
    But parents, peers, schooling and such has perhaps a larger impact for a lot of kids too.
    Does watching horror stories change personality very significantly, compared to the upbringing (with or without love) of our parents? Perhaps those invested in books, want to see their impact as much bigger than they actually are.


    • I tend to think books have a bigger impact than we generally admit. I do wonder, however, about other forms of media as well. I keep finding myself returning to media from my younger years to try to make sense out of where I have ended up. No success in figuring that out yet, but those movies and songs, as well as books, give me a frame of reference. Parents, absent or not, do have a definite impact, I’m sure!


      • No denying “impact”, of course.
        Media haunts our memories and images — what we do with them, how they affect our personality is another thing.
        Take for instance violent video games — tons of studies about that, and fairly equivocable. I ignore the studies, of course, and forbid them for my kids still (and they are now teenagers). Yet ….
        TV and Movies are many orders of magnitude heavier impact on people in the last 10-20 years than any written literature, no matter how much bibliophiles (like you and I) would like to imagine otherwise.


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