Monday, July 11, 2011

Don't Read This Post About Kurt Vonnegut's Harrison Bergeron

"Harrison Bergeron" is one of the 10 best short stories ever written. And it magically takes about 10 minutes to read. I revisit it every few years, usually along with several other stories from Kurt Vonnegut's masterpiece 1961 collection, Welcome to the Monkey House.

Because I'm going to spoil "Harrison Bergeron" (I won't vouch for the 1995 Showtime film, which couldn't possibly be any good), I would highly recommend you go read the story instead of this blog post.

The year is 2081 and the government has been able to successfully place handicaps on everyone to make them all equal. The U.S. Handicapper General, Diana Moon Clampers, has taken 14-year-old Harrison Bergeron away from his parents, George and Hazel because he is a genius whose handicaps are not working well enough.

But it only takes a few pages before Harrison breaks out of jail. A newswoman says "he was held on suspicion of plotting to overthrow the government. He is a genius and an athlete, is under-handicapped, and should be regarded as extremely dangerous." The handicappers had never been able to keep pace with Harrison's intelligence, despite his large earphones and glasses that made him half-blind and gave him "whanging headaches." To offset his good looks, he had to wear a rubber ball on his nose, shave his eyebrows, and wear black caps on his teeth.

Harrison bursts into the news studio and smashes all his handicaps on screen. He is revealed to be "a man that would have awed Thor, the god of thunder." And he plucks up a ballerina standing nearby to be his "empress."

Barely a moment later, Diana Moon Glampers enters the studio and mows Harrison down with a double-barreled ten-gauge shotgun. George and Hazel, watching the whole thing on their TV, forget seeing their son's execution after a minute or two.

Pure brilliance. I feel like consumerism and the fact that every town has a McDonalds and a Wal-Mart is one way everyone's become equal, or at least the same. However, the endless choices we have on TV (not to mention the web) compared to when Vonnegut wrote this, when everyone watched the exact same shows and had much more similar frames of reference, has gone in the opposite direction from what the author envisioned.

***** out of ***** stars


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