In "The Pedestrian", what is the television's role in society?

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Ray Bradbury published his story "The Pedestrian" in 1951. These were the early days of television, with little black-and-white screens and mostly poor-quality local programming. Some people feared this new invention and either refused to have one in their homes or else kept it in a back room where they would only watch what they considered "worthwhile" programs. Many parents were afraid their children will become hooked on audio-visual entertainment and become illiterate because they would stop reading books. Bradbury, who, of course, as a professional writer had a vested interest in the printed word, was one such person. He lived in Los Angeles but never even learned to drive a car. Such fears of the hypnotic power of television may have been partly valid, but there are still plenty of pedestrians in the cities, and television has become a permanent institution in American life. Television has been a blessing for the elderly and infirm who are confined to hospitals or to their bedrooms. With the proliferation of all the hand-held electronic gadgetry, including cell phones and portable computer devices, people are free to go anywhere, and many young people are making friends in distant places via texting and whatnot. This portable gadgetry, much more than television, seems to be the wave of the future--for better or worse. Everything, it seems, has a good side and a bad side. Television, for example, is educational but overloaded with commercials. Children love it, but it interferes with their school work. Things are better than they used to be--and worse!

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litteacher8's profile pic

litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Television serves to control the population and keep them from interacting with each other.

The main character in the story, the pedestrian (which means a person who walks) Mr. Leonard Mead, walks for hours and miles without interacting with a single human being because everyone is inside their houses watching television.

And on his way he would see the cottages and homes with their dark windows, and it was not unequal to walking through a graveyard where only the faintest glimmers of firefly light appeared in flickers behind the windows.

As the story continues, we learn why Mr. Mead is the only one walking.  It is actually very uncommon for people to walk.  It is uncommon for them to leave their houses at all.  They stay inside and watch television.  Television has gone beyond the purpose of entertainment.  It has taken over people’s lives.  All they do is watch. 

When Mr. Mead is arrested for walking, he is accused of being abnormal and having a mental illness.  No one reads books.  We know this because when Mead tells the arresting officers that he is a writer, they respond that he has, “No profession.”  They take him to “the Psychiatric Center for Research on Regressive Tendencies” because taking a walk is considered abnormal.

Like his other famous work about watching too much television and not reading books, Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury focuses on the dangers of a society where people succumb to the simple.  Television is passive entertainment, as opposed to books where the mind is active.  It is too easy to control people when their minds are active.  Television allows people to be isolated into their houses, alienated, and removed from each other. 

One of the main lessons of the story is that no one interacts with anyone else.  The comments about Mead being a writer and no one reading books anymore are secondary to the main comment—no one leaves the house.  No one interacts.  Mead compares the houses to tombs.  Society is dead.   

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