Wednesday, August 10, 2011

1996 Playboy interview with Ray Bradbury: Race, Rage, Riots

The recent riots and looting in London, Birmingham, Manchester and other British cities and towns reminds me of this lengthy excerpt from a wide-ranging May 1996 Playboy magazine interview with science fiction & fantasy author Ray Bradbury. The interview was conducted “in the wake of the Rodney King trial and the subsequent riots” and, apparently, Bradbury was “seemingly unaware that crime had begun to decrease precipitously in American cities.”
PLAYBOY: Was your faith in law enforcement shaken because of Stacey Koon and Mark Fuhrman?

BRADBURY: We’ve become what I call a Kleenex society—I saw the public’s reaction as the symbolic chance to blow its collective nose on the whole police force of the United States, holding all cops responsible for incidents in Los Angeles. Of course I knew there was a problem in the LAPD. On the other hand, three of my daughters have been raped and robbed by black men, so I have a prejudice, too, don’t I? And if I ever were to find the bastards, I’d kill them. I’ve seen violence used by police, and I’ve seen it used against white people, too.

PLAYBOY: Did the Rodney King riots shock you?

BRADBURY: I was more than shocked—I was terribly upset, and terribly angry at Mayor Bradley. The friend I’ve known for ten years was the man who went on television half an hour after the trial was over and used terrible language to say he was outraged. Boom!—next thing you know, the mobs burned the streets. Thus far I haven’t had the guts to tell Tom Bradley, face-to-face, “you did it!”

PLAYBOY: Did you have any idea there was so much rage in Los Angeles’ black community?

BRADBURY: I don’t think anybody knew.

PLAYBOY: Did you feel any empathy for the rioters?

BRADBURY: None. Why should I? I don’t approve of any mob anywhere at any time. Had we not controlled it in L.A., all the big cities in this country would have gone up in flames.

PLAYBOY: If Los Angeles is an indicator for the nation, what is the future of other big cities?

BRADBURY: Along with man’s return to the moon, my biggest hope is that L.A. will show the way for all of our cities to rebuild, because they’ve gone to hell and the crime rate has soared. When we can repopulate them, the crime rate will plunge.

PLAYBOY: What will help?

BRADBURY: We need enlightened corporations to do it; they’re the only ones who can. All the great malls have been built by corporate enterprises. We have to rebuild cities with the same conceptual flair that the great malls have. We can turn any bad section of town into a vibrant new community.

PLAYBOY: How do you convince corporate leaders and bureaucrats that you have the right approach?

BRADBURY: They listen because they know my track record. The center of downtown San Diego was nonexistent until a concept of mine, the Horton Plaza, was built right in the middle of bleakest skid row. Civilization returned to San Diego upon its completion. It became the center of a thriving community. And the Glendale Galleria, based on my concept, changed downtown Glendale when it was built nearly 25 years ago. So if I live another ten years—please, God!—I’ll be around to witness a lot of this in Los Angeles and inspire the same thing in big cities throughout the country.
The 1996 Playboy interview, published in Conversations with Ray Bradbury (2004), is considered one of Bradbury’s most important, and not just for his views on the magazine.

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