In today’s social media-obsessed culture, where your opinion ain’t worth squat unless you tweet it out, it’s been noted – and tweeted, you bet – that we’re getting dangerously close to the dystopian future that sci-fi writers made careers out of prophesizing. In fact, it’s mostly a single work that our modern world gets compared to: Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. It’s a comparison as easy as it is flawed, and it’s often used to critique our currently cultural shift toward inclusiveness. That view, unlike Bradbury’s work, lacks nuance, though. The parallels exist between reality and Bradbury’s foreboding tales of futuristic terror run far deeper than that.
I dig Fahrenheit as much as the next paranoid English major, but today I revisited two of Ray Bradbury’s shorter works: The Pedestrian and The Veldt, two works that I’d read in college for assignments. When I began to dig back into Bradbury’s library of work this month, the titles stuck out as familiar, but I didn’t immediately remember the stories. I had a vague recollection of enjoying The Pedestrian by the time I was through re-reading, but it was The Veldt that hit me like a sudden memory of last night’s bad dream just a paragraph into the story.
“To enter out into that silence that was the city at eight o’clock of a misty evening in November, to put your feet upon that buckling concrete walk, to step over grassy seams and make your way, hands in pockets, through the silences, that was what Mr. Leonard Mead most dearly loved to do.”
The Pedestrian tells the story of a man who moves as the world stands still. It’s, on the surface, the epitome of Ray Bradbury’s distrust of technological advancement distilled into a short, concise story. It’s deceptively simple, just like the man’s predicament: while everyone – that’s everyone – else is inside watching their “viewing screens,” a gentleman named Leonard Mead is taking his nightly walk when he’s approached by the city’s only cop, who wants to know what the hell he’s doingWhat’s great about this story is its trick. Is Bradbury distrustful of technological advances? Sure, I think it would be hard to argue that point.
What The Pedestrian does, though, is examine that distrust in a completely different way. It may seem like a condemnation of technology, and I’d say that interpretation is as valid as any, but I read Bradbury’s conclusion here as a question left hanging. The fact that everyone – everyone! – has “moved on,” in an ironic way, while Leonard Mead spends his time walking, isn’t just a condemnation of obsession with technology. It leaves the reader to ponder… who is correct here? Mead has no wife, no people in his life, no one has ever wanted him, and he stands for those who don’t embrace technology. Meanwhile? Crime is down, so down that the entire city only employs one policeman, who isn’t even actually in the police car that ends up hassling Mead.
That story takes place in 2053. It’s 2016 now, and we are far away from the type of culture Bradbury wrote about, but you know what? The crime rate is still pretty damn high, isn’t it?
The Pedestrian, originally published in The Reporter, can be found in Ray Bradbury’s short story collection: The Golden Apples of the Sun.
NEXT: Revisiting Ray Bradbury continues, when I follow up on my nightmarish memories of The Veldt, Bradbury’s vicious takedown of bad parents.
PAT SHAND writes comics (Robyn Hood, Hellchild, Grimm Fairy Tales), novels (Charmed for HarperCollins), and pop culture journalism (Sad Girls Guide, Blastoff Comics). He has written his fair share of short stories for horror anthologies, and would love to get back to it someday… but that damn viewing screen has captured his attention.