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May 13, 2009 9:25 AM   Subscribe

Kurt Vonnegut's perennial 1961 story "Harrison Bergeron" has been given a new film adaptation. (via)
posted by Joe Beese (68 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Thesis: Kurt Vonnegut would not condone the rhetorical uses to which "Harrison Bergeron" has been put by right wing bigots and morons.

Discuss.
posted by DU at 9:29 AM on May 13, 2009 [9 favorites]


This is a nice thought provoking story and I'd love to discuss it, but I'm not familiar with how it's been used rhetorically. Could someone clue me in?
posted by waxboy at 9:43 AM on May 13, 2009


I am a big fan of Vonnegut and this is one of my favorite stories. I came to appreciate it even more as the parent of a young child; Diana Moon Glampers has nothing on the average 4 year old when it comes to blasting distracting sounds into your ears every few seconds when you want to concentrate on something. I hope the movie is better than the 1995 TV movie, which strayed pretty far from the original.

As for DU's thesis, I would draw a comparison with Orwell in terms of a liberal writer having his work hijacked by the right wing.
posted by TedW at 9:44 AM on May 13, 2009 [4 favorites]


This is odd, really odd. Harrison Bergeron is so short and compact and has such great economy that I don't see how it would work for a feature film. The trailer to the film told a good third of the story itself. I don't get how this won't be terrible.
posted by I Foody at 9:45 AM on May 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


This is odd, really odd. Harrison Bergeron is so short and compact and has such great economy that I don't see how it would work for a feature film. The trailer to the film told a good third of the story itself. I don't get how this won't be terrible.

The wiki article claims it has a running time of 25 minutes and cost $100,000 to make. I have a harder time believing one of those numbers than the other.
posted by jon_kill at 9:46 AM on May 13, 2009


Interesting... here's a 1995 film version of the story....
posted by HuronBob at 9:48 AM on May 13, 2009


The text in the "via" link is hilarious.
posted by uncleozzy at 9:49 AM on May 13, 2009


As for DU's thesis, I would draw a comparison with Orwell in terms of a liberal writer having his work hijacked by the right wing.

Wait, Orwell was a liberal?
posted by symbollocks at 9:49 AM on May 13, 2009


This is a nice thought provoking story and I'd love to discuss it, but I'm not familiar with how it's been used rhetorically. Could someone clue me in?

It's often used as a straw man argument against any systematic promotion of equality. A case where it was used in a specific way that Vonnegut disagreed with can be found in this article (via Wikipedia).
posted by burnmp3s at 9:49 AM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Exactly what TedW said, except that I don't have a kid.
posted by box at 9:50 AM on May 13, 2009


I hope it has a happy ending this time.
posted by Mister_A at 9:53 AM on May 13, 2009 [4 favorites]


Thesis: Kurt Vonnegut would not condone the rhetorical uses to which "Harrison Bergeron" has been put by right wing bigots and morons.

Vonnegut does not give a shit about anything anyone does or thinks because he is hanging out up in heaven with Asimov.
posted by Science! at 9:54 AM on May 13, 2009 [5 favorites]


Why did Vonnegut write the story? He had to have been responding to something.
posted by empath at 9:55 AM on May 13, 2009


I hope it has a happy ending this time.

It was all a dream!
posted by Dr-Baa at 9:57 AM on May 13, 2009


"An act of defiance that changes everything" - a simple phrase in this trailer that alerts you to the fact that this will shit all over the story, and should be avoided by anyone who respects Vonnegut.
posted by Coobeastie at 9:57 AM on May 13, 2009 [4 favorites]


Yeah you're probably right Coobeastie. In the story

SPOILER WARNING




The act of defiance didn't change anything.
posted by Mister_A at 10:02 AM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wait, Orwell was a liberal?

Wikipedia has a good overview of Orwell's political views, with links to source material. If you read his earlier work you will see a lot of criticism of the English class system and imperialism. He was an avowed socialist for most of his adult life (an actual socialist as opposed to an Obama "socialist") and his intense dislike of the Soviet Union was because it used leftist politics as a cover for totalitarianism. The fascism of the Spanish Civil War also had a large influence on his political views. 4 years before his death in "Why I Write" he wrote: "Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it.".
posted by TedW at 10:04 AM on May 13, 2009 [12 favorites]


DU is right on. The film is made with money from The Moving Picture Institute whose agenda is to promote a "free society".

Other films they made include:

*Mine Your Own Business, about how the environmentalist movement has impeded economic growth

*Indoctrinate U, about ideological conformism and political correctness in American higher education.
posted by stbalbach at 10:05 AM on May 13, 2009 [13 favorites]


I love Vonnegut as much as the next guy who, uh... loves Vonnegut, but unless the full movie is only three minutes longer than the trailer, this seems like an awful idea.

I haven't read the story since high school, and I remember liking it, but yeah, I'm pretty sure it is more likely to be used rhetorically by people who think that child labor laws are awful things that are holding them back from being Randian supermen.
posted by Uppity Pigeon #2 at 10:08 AM on May 13, 2009


I Foody Obviously they're going to have to pad out the story with a lot of fluff. Flashbacks to Harrison's early life, long scenes of the horrors of life in the equaltarian world, probably a few riffs on the police state implied in the story compared to various modern events (which events, of course, depends on the political views of the director), etc.

Which means, basically, the very tightly written and elegant short that Vonnegut produced will turn into a movie that is, of necessity, vastly less elegant and tightly written. It may be a good movie, I hope so because the short story was fantastic, but the odds seem against it.

In part, because I think they're going to run into Matrix style problems. The first Matrix movie had plot holes so huge, so gaping, that they made the goatse.cx guy look virginal. It managed to skim past those horrible problems by virtue of tight pacing and lots of flashy action sequences. The glitter distracted the audience from the fact that basically, the world envisioned by the Matrix was not only impossible but pretty damn silly.

Harrison Bergeron, while a vastly better and (to me anyway) more interesting story than The Matrix, suffers from much the same problem. The idea is nifty, and its expression is valuable, but the world itself is inherently unworkable. In a 2,197 word short story there's no time, or need, to explore the unworkable world, we see only the nifty and interesting concept.

In a two hour movie they're going to have to try to flesh out the world, and there they'll run into the same sort of problems that the latter two Matrix movies did: the world doesn't work. Its a world that exists not to be fully realized, not to be explored, but purely as a blurred over background to the main theme. When you try to go deeper into that world things begin to fall apart.

Pretty much by necessity they're going to have to prove, in the two hour movie, that we are *NOT* all equal, as the ones enforcing the rules must, by necessity, do a better job of it than anyone else could. We see this, already, in the previews. The police are not handicapped, because the very idea of a handicapped police force would be ridiculous. So the story turns less into a tight and well conceived story of what equality means, and more into a longer winded story of police states and aristocracy.
posted by sotonohito at 10:08 AM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wait, Orwell was a liberal?

Orwell was a democratic socialist, so no, not really.

Vonnegut was mocking anticommunism by making a utopia composed of the anti-intellectualism that runs in American society. He was making fun of the right, and they love the story. There's something funny in that. But it also illustrates the limits of satire as a form.
posted by graymouser at 10:09 AM on May 13, 2009 [5 favorites]


stbalbach: "Other films they made include..."

Nice detective work. I didn't know that.

I guess Julie Hagerty can't afford to be picky about her employers.
posted by Joe Beese at 10:10 AM on May 13, 2009


busy, busy, busy...
posted by ElmerFishpaw at 10:10 AM on May 13, 2009


"An act of defiance that changes everything"

I'm sure that this is just a marketing ploy to bring in the kind of audience that would be appalled at the story's true ending, and that most of the $100,000 budget was spent on special effects for the results of the shotgun blasts.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 10:11 AM on May 13, 2009


Actually, according to the wikipedia page, this is a short film - only 25 minutes long. So they might actually be able to do the story justice. Still "An Act of Defiance Changes Everything" Does not really bode well.
posted by orville sash at 10:13 AM on May 13, 2009


The story "Harrison Bergeron" really only makes sense in the context of when it was written, early 1960's America, when liberalism was the consensus - conservatives were a non-entity politically speaking and had yet to seriouslly challenge liberalism (that wouldn't happen until the 1966 and 1968 elections). Vonnegut's story was making a valid point, at the time, that too much great society has dangers - equal rights was the issue of the day. But putting this story into todays political context, it just comes across as more of the same old right wing bashing of the left that's been happening for the past 40 years. It's totally out of touch IMO. I suppose one could just see it as a sci-fi film, or a general warning about the dangers of totalitarianism, but it doesn't strike any chord about America like it did when it was first published.
posted by stbalbach at 10:16 AM on May 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


Every act of defiance changes everything, until the moment a counter-act of anti-defiance changes everything back.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:18 AM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think Harrison Bergeron is about basic human nature, and that if it applies well to any US government institution, that would be the public school system.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 10:22 AM on May 13, 2009


Oops, I should have put "Harrison Bergeron" in quotation marks, not italics. Sorry.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 10:24 AM on May 13, 2009


I never saw "Harrison Bergeron" as taken over by the right so much as being a rather convenient tool to whip out whenever the left strays from "our society would be well-served by treating people equivalently, if not equally, wherever possible and reasonable" into the territory of "no difference can exist based on $_, at all, and to even raise the question makes you a $_-ist and a bad, bad person."

The latter incursion does happen, and it has not served the left well when it comes to winning the middle. The left, then, could take note of it as one of the few places where criticism might have some kind of foundation, rather than dismissing it offhand.

Since I read it (and others in Welcome to the Monkey House) when I was little, I have a hard time finding interpretations of the story which indicate that it does not criticize the tendency to solve the "problems" of inequality and competition by leveling the playing field not by lifting some up, but by bringing others down. Hence the use of "Handicapper General" in lit-crit or the "Tall Poppy Syndrome" in social sciences. As a social strategy, it is subtractive and therefore sacrificial. Just ask any gifted kids who were "mainstreamed" in various school programs how well that worked out.

We would like the story to be unfairly hijacked by the right, but I tend to think of it as an uncomfortable parable about some of the less than appealing tendencies within the left.
posted by adipocere at 10:25 AM on May 13, 2009 [6 favorites]


Harrison Bergeron, like the Fountainhead, makes the most sense when you're 15, have a strong desire to separate from your parents, and haven't met any actual poor people yet.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:26 AM on May 13, 2009 [11 favorites]


Should have previewed. Coobeastie , I hadn't noticed that tagline, and you're right, its going to suck.

And, if its being produced by a bunch of right wing types then yeah, its basically going to be a screed against leftist elitists (already seen with the non-handicapped police), rather than staying true to Vonnegut's ideas.

orville sash Well, that makes my earlier post look massively stupid. 25 minutes might work except for the bit about the movie being made by right wing types.
posted by sotonohito at 10:29 AM on May 13, 2009


Note to dummy film producers:
"Harrison Bergeron" is an allegory.
posted by Mister_A at 10:33 AM on May 13, 2009


"An Act of Defiance Changes Everything"

It should be noted that taglines are written by marketing departments, not the filmmakers, and "An Act of Defiance Changes Nothing" is lousy marketing.
posted by Bookhouse at 10:41 AM on May 13, 2009


adipocere wrote I have a hard time finding interpretations of the story which indicate that it does not criticize the tendency to solve the "problems" of inequality and competition by leveling the playing field not by lifting some up, but by bringing others down.

I'd imagine you'd have a hard time finding such interpretations because in such a tight story there's not much room for people to creatively "interpret" things that were never written.

But that doesn't mean the right hasn't perverted the story into a club to bash any attempt at leveling the playing field. And, further, some inequalities can only be resolved by bringing others down. Take, for example, the privilege of being exempt from secular law that was often accorded to religious authorities in medieval Europe. The only way to produce a level playing field is either to rise everyone up to that level, and thus exempt the whole population from secular law, or to bring the priests down to the level of everyone else. Obviously during the transition to the modern era that inequality was resolved, and it was resolved by lowering the priests, not by raising the laity; a solution that I think most people would recognize as the only one that made sense at all.

In many cases we can resolve such artificial inequalities by rising everyone up, as in voting rights, sitting on juries, etc. But other artificial inequalities don't have a solution other than lowering the privileged to the same level as everyone else.

And, of course, the right wing in general enjoys shrieking in horror when the act of raising everyone up to the level of the elites necessitates spending money. See public education, for example.

So, I do argue that while the story is a valuable warning to some of the extreme and loony voices on the left, its much more frequently invoked by those on the right who wish to stop any attempt at equality.

"no difference can exist based on $_, at all, and to even raise the question makes you a $_-ist and a bad, bad person."

I agree that its not a good thing to see that argument, but I think it arises mainly from the fact that "difference" is almost inevitably seized by those on the right to mean "inferiority" and to justify unfair treatment of the different.

I'll also add that I've almost never seen that argument actually put forth. Mostly I see people on the right accusing their opponents of making that argument, when the argument actually made was "perhaps a difference exists, but its irrelevant to the discussion at hand, and its certainly no reason to produce a discriminatory policy".
posted by sotonohito at 10:49 AM on May 13, 2009 [5 favorites]


Harrison Bergeron, like the Fountainhead, makes the most sense when you're 15, have a strong desire to separate from your parents, and haven't met any actual poor people yet.
posted by Afroblanco at 1:26 PM on May 1


How would meeting poor people change the message of the story? Poor people have as much innate talent as rich people or middle class people. Yet the message that something/someone is preventing them from realizing that talent is most likely to resonate with the poor because they are poor, i.e. because the system does not provide a way for them to realize that talent and escape poverty. The proof of this is how so many of the poor managed to escape poverty through non-violent crimes (drug trafficking, gambling, bootlegging, etc.). The enterprising spirit and creative entrepreneurship is there, but the system provides no outlet for it.

The Fountainhead is different than this story. HB is about how everyone is handicapped, implying that everyone has some talent. Some may have more than others, or may be differently talented than others, but no talent is declared better than others. The fact that someone has more or less talent and expresses it is (and should be) independent of everyone else.

The Foutainhead is about trying to objectify subjective measures of talent - only Roark's talent is great, objectively so. There is no argument that it is great, similar to Reardon and Taggert in Atlas Shrugged. The philosophy in the Fountainhead is as you point out juvenile and insipid precisely for the reason that it contradicts itself. For the Fountainhead to be internally consistent, it must be a great book. Otherwise, a self-acknowledged poor work would cheer for the supremacy of work greater than itself and to its own detriment, which for the author is almost masochistic. But in real terms, the Fountainhead is not only not a great book, it is not even a good book, even judged against other books that address similar themes (like Vonnegut's for instance). Yet it's fans claim it is great, confirming that qualitative measures of talent or greatness are inherently subjective.
posted by Pastabagel at 10:50 AM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


The story "Harrison Bergeron" really only makes sense in the context of when it was written, early 1960's America, when liberalism was the consensus

The what, in the where, now? "Liberalism was the consensus" in 1961 America? When centrist Kennedy had just defeated Nixon by a (possibly rigged) squeaker?

When Jim Crow was the law of the land in much of the United States? When job listings were divided into "Men Wanted" and "Women Wanted", and women were officially paid less for the same exact jobs as men, because men had families to support?

"Liberalism was the consensus" six months after the Bay of Pigs?

History. It's what's for dinner.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:53 AM on May 13, 2009 [7 favorites]


And, of course, the right wing in general enjoys shrieking in horror when the act of raising everyone up to the level of the elites necessitates spending money.

You're right about leveling everyone's political or civil rights in the eyes of the law, but that has nothing to do with the story, or with appropriate interpretations of it.

Second, you are ignoring the very real and likely possibility that the elites (a) weren't all born into it, and (b) are more talented than everyone else, at least in that field in which they acquired their wealth. Note that capitalizing on talent is itself a talent.

And what does "level the playing field" mean, and how do you measure this? Do you look at the outcome to determine post hoc if the field was level, or what?
posted by Pastabagel at 11:03 AM on May 13, 2009


Second, you are ignoring the very real and likely possibility that the elites (a) weren't all born into it

In the US, many members of the economic elite who weren't "born into it" advocate progressive income taxes and inheritance taxes. See Bill Gates and Warren Buffett for two prominent examples.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:05 AM on May 13, 2009


What you say is true, bookhouse, but the choice of words in that particular tagline strongly suggest that HB's actions provoke some kind of meaningful change in the milieu of the story, which is antithetical to Vonnegut's story. Also, if the film ended in the same bleak manner as the story, it is unlikely that the producers would choose that particular tagline, as it would only irritate people.
posted by Mister_A at 11:09 AM on May 13, 2009


Thesis: Kurt Vonnegut would not condone the rhetorical uses to which "Harrison Bergeron" has been put by right wing bigots and morons.

Discuss.


Thesis: When we can no longer look at satire or allegory without first using a bi-polar political filter to decide what it must mean and who or what it puts us in opposition to, we are well and truly fucked.

Seriously, what is wrong with you?
posted by Navelgazer at 11:11 AM on May 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


Neither the left nor the right has a monopoly on dystopian possibilities at the fringes of their ideology -- Vonnegut's use of this particular vehicle to me always seemed to be more about the futility of an incoherent resistance, once it had already become too late, and less about the ideology that led to the dystopia itself. It's more of a call to be on the alert, lest we let our rights be slowly sapped away by whatever system of power.

I could be totally wrong, as Vonnegut was awfully ambiguous a lot of the time, but I don't recall any of his essays being especially Randian.
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:24 AM on May 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


I think that "Harrison Bergeron" is trotted out by people who think that having contests where every kid gets a medal for participating is the equivalent of hanging big-ass weights around a ballerina's neck. I think that there's a certain sort of person who expresses their concern about the putative mediocritization of society by making a movie like Idiocracy, and another certain sort of person who whinges about how they coulda been a contender if only The Man hadn't dragged them down (see also: Anthem).
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:25 AM on May 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


Also, I think that Vonnegut was just sort of having fun with the idea.
And then, neutralizing gravity with love and pure will, they remained suspended in air inches below the ceiling, and they kissed each other for a long, long time.
But they can't dodge a shotgun. And so it goes.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:31 AM on May 13, 2009


I think the really interesting question this story raises is "What counts as an unfair advantage? What counts as a level playing field?"

When a young man gets ahead because of Daddy's money or Daddy's social connections, we feel that this is an unfair advantage. But if he gets ahead because of Daddy's genes (which make him a superior athelete or a superior student or handsome or musical or witty or whatever) then that's "natural" and (as Vonnegut's story illustrates) we feel it would be horrible to somehow take those advantages away.
posted by straight at 11:35 AM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


When we can no longer look at satire or allegory without first using a bi-polar political filter to decide what it must mean and who or what it puts us in opposition to, we are well and truly fucked.

Thesis: there has never been a time when some people, especially people most inclined to vigorous disputations, did not look at all kinds of cultural products through filters either religious, political, personal, etc.
posted by octobersurprise at 11:36 AM on May 13, 2009


Didn't Harrison Bergeron host America's No-More-or-Less-Funny-than-any-Other Videos and Dancing with the Equals? If I recall, his comedic and charismatic abilities as a host were strictly average.
posted by owtytrof at 11:40 AM on May 13, 2009 [9 favorites]


Thesis: there has never been a time when some people, especially people most inclined to vigorous disputations, did not look at all kinds of cultural products through filters either religious, political, personal, etc.

You said a mouthful there, Jasper.

Also, if only Kurt Vonnegut had said what the story was and wasn't about, specifically about whether or not it related to wealth. Oh, wait, he did.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:47 AM on May 13, 2009


Dr-Baa: "I hope it has a happy ending this time.

It was all a dream!
"

I used to read Word Up Magazine!

wrong thread?
posted by shmegegge at 12:06 PM on May 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


owtytrof, that was Tom Bergeron. Tom got his start announcing the winning number of the Massachusetts state lottery ("The Game") on TV every night.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:25 PM on May 13, 2009


Xtacle 2: Yeah, so who's read Flowers for Algernon?
Nearl: Ken!
Xtacle 3: About the kid with all the chains and the goggles and at the end he gets killed with a shotgun?
Xtacle 2: No, that's ...
Xtacle 4: Boosh!
Xtacle 3: Boosh!
Xtacle 1: Boosh!
Xtacle 2: No ...
Xtacle 4: Buh-buh-Boosh!
Xtacle 2: That's Harrison Bergeron.
[pause]
Xtacle 1, Xtacle 3, Xtacle 4: Hollywood Squares!
Xtacle 2: That's Tom Bergeron!
Xtacle 3: Brother of Menelaus.
Xtacle 2: Dammit, that's Agamemnon!
Xtacle 3: Boosh!
Xtacle 2: Okay.
Xtacle 1: Boosh!
Xtacle 2: Greek.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:34 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Sidhedevil Actually, Bill Gates was "born into it". Yes, he's got an undeniable talent for making money, but he started life as a multimillionaire. If Bill Gates' highest ambition in life had been to drink beer and watch porn, if he'd had the brains of George W. Bush, he'd still be a multimillionaire. He was a trust fund kid, its that simple.

You could argue that he moved up from being a Count to being an Emperor, economically speaking, by his own efforts. But he didn't start life as a metaphorical Freeman. He started in the ranks of America's unofficial nobility.

Pastabagel wrote Second, you are ignoring the very real and likely possibility that the elites (a) weren't all born into it, and (b) are more talented than everyone else, at least in that field in which they acquired their wealth. Note that capitalizing on talent is itself a talent.

I don't think I'm ignoring that at all. Yes, there are elites who weren't born into it, talent exists and the modern USA is sufficiently meritocratic that a person with talent and drive can often succeed. But its difficult to say how many are successful purely on their own merits. See Bill Gates as a canonical example. He's got drive, talent, and ambition in spades, but he also started out as a full fledged member of our unofficial aristocracy. He got one hell of a boost from the fact that the name "Gates" had pull, and from the fact that when he quit MIT he had a few million from his trust fund to play with.

And what does "level the playing field" mean, and how do you measure this? Do you look at the outcome to determine post hoc if the field was level, or what?

I think you're being somewhat deliberately obtuse here. "Leveling the playing field" would seem to me to imply equality of opportunity. Equal access to equally good education would be the most obvious starting place, and its one that many on the right oppose quite vigorously. Hell, there's still a sizable minority in the Republican party who are opposed, on principle, to public education.

Public education, public libraries, and public health care are the three big equalizers I can think of that are often subject to right wing shrieks of outrage at the expense. Public health care is the biggest point of outrage, but schools and libraries are perennial favorites for right wing attacks.

You can't give everyone the same education, but you can give everyone the same opportunity for education. Some will take advantage of it, others won't. Obviously the outcome will be different because people are different. And, even with all that, you'll still have an inherently unfair system because parental influence, inheritance, and so forth can't be eliminated without causing truly horrible problems. But we can make opportunity as equal as possible.

But when you compare, for example, the school that Sasha and Malia attend to the schools in East St. Louis we see that there is no level playing field, no equality of opportunity, and that's a problem. Moreover its a problem that will require spending billions to fix, because self evidently we don't want to bring down all schools to the level of those in East St. Louis, so the only fix is to throw money, lots of money, at the problem. Which brings us back to right wingers shrieking in horror.

straight I think the main reason is that we can't, not yet anyway, give everyone the advantages of superior genetics. But, in theory, we could give everyone the same education, extracurricular opportunities, etc that the wealthy enjoy.
posted by sotonohito at 12:34 PM on May 13, 2009


While I understand why Harrison Bergeron is almost always understood in political terms, that's never been my favorite interpretation. The story doesn't have to be about totalitarianism - the government in the story could just be a metaphor for an indifferent world that doesn't recognize the value of a rare individual or a plot device to conveniently stack an infinite number of obstacles in the path of our idealized perfect hero.

You have a young man whose convinced he's better than everyone else. The whole world is structured to rob him of his speciality, but he's determined to overcome, to prove his worth, because he's a born rebel. And he meets a girl whose also special, whose also chafing against the boring ol' mediocre world, and they fall instantly into very special love, and leap to the heaven, and their passion is intense and awe-inspiring... And immediately they calmly get shot to hell by a very mundane but very powerful person who is intent on maintaining the status quo and who doesn't give a shit about special, and within a matter of minutes everyone has forgotten that they were ever there or that they had potential. They were determined to conquer the machine, they got burnt out, the machine is still there and it is indifferent to their corpses.

Perhaps I read it as a skewering of delusions of grandeur because I've read enough Vonnegut to know that he's fond of taking the big issues like man's insistence that he is the center of the universe and unquestionably important and deflating them down to nothing more than an "and so it goes". Perhaps I read it as a parody of Romeo and Juliet stories because I truly despise works of art which rely on nothing more than love-at-first-sight to propel the plot forward, since the big concepts like love and art require not just initial talent and energy but work, steady and dedicated work, and because I believe that sometimes obstacles and handicaps produce better products in the end. Perhaps I prefer this explanation because I really chafe at the Jack Kerouacs of the world who go around spouting gibberish about how they are vital roman candles who just have to burn, burn, burn, even though - realistically - there's probably not much proof that they are any more special or any more vital than anyone else, and because I, too, am a unique snowflake but I don't feel like I have to burst into a tv studio and leap towards the cieling to prove it.

But I suspect that the real reason why this speaks to me more than the political arguments is because the political arguments (as discussed above) go in and out of style and the intended meaning of the parable isn't necessarily clear, while the underlying view of human nature that I'm talking about here doesn't ever change and is as plain as day. After all, there will always be people who think that they're better than the system - it doesn't matter which system, although the system in Bergeron is particularly nice for this because its such an idealized version of extremity - and those people will always get ground down, because the system is too large and has too many controls in place. You can go out and rebel against normal and average and boring all you want, and you can swear you will never get old or settle down or take shit from anyone, but you know what? In a fight against the world, most of the time the world doesn't even know it's fighting and all of the time the world wins in the end.
posted by Kiablokirk at 12:41 PM on May 13, 2009 [7 favorites]


Bill Gates was "born into it". Yes, he's got an undeniable talent for making money, but he started life as a multimillionaire.

News to me! I knew that Gates senior was a successful attorney, and that Gates had gone to private school and what-not, but did not know that they were super-rich.

Okay, withdraw Bill Gates and substitute Paul Allen. Allen's father was a university librarian.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:50 PM on May 13, 2009


How has no one in 50 comments complained about Harrison Bergeron being portrayed by the namesake of a baking soda magnate?
posted by crataegus at 12:55 PM on May 13, 2009


That's an excellent way to look at this story, Kiablokirk. Well put!
posted by Mister_A at 12:56 PM on May 13, 2009


The 15 year old in me is amused that the director/screenwriter's name is BTuttle.

I could have sworn I saw, in the trailer, Tommy Lee Jones in the role of Diana Moon Glampers.

One of the things that was out of place for me, from the original "Harrison Bergeron," is that the Handicappers were, themselves, not handicapped - a situation where some are more equal than others. (Although it'd be fun to see handicapped Handicappers shoot ineffectually at the liberated Harrison and the ballerina.)
posted by porpoise at 12:59 PM on May 13, 2009


Is it a perennial story, or is it a 1961 story?
posted by Eideteker at 2:55 PM on May 13, 2009


In addition to the dumb and wrong catchphrase, it seems from the trailer that the ballerina is graceful with the weights on. The whole point of the weights and whatnot was to remove her grace and make her as clumsy as the rest of us bumblefucks.
posted by graventy at 3:03 PM on May 13, 2009


...the government in the story could just be a metaphor for an indifferent world that doesn't recognize the value of a rare individual...

Well put. This is how the story was presented to me in 7th grade.
posted by coolguymichael at 3:05 PM on May 13, 2009


Harrison Bergeron is about tall poppy syndrome, it is not a critique of egalitarianism. And let's face it, folks, the ideology that believes dijon mustard is elitist has a terminal case of the disease.

Sidhedevil's link should be posted everywhere this movie is marketed. What is a bigger weight around a child's neck: being rich but average, or being highly intelligent but poor, living in an impoverished neighborhood?
posted by 0xdeadc0de at 5:00 PM on May 13, 2009


The more I think about this, the more I realize we just don't need a re-make of Brazil.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:34 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Liberalism was the consensus" in 1961 America?

Of course it really didn't reach an apex until 1964 with the landslide LBJ election, when the future looked so bright for liberalism it was called the "Great Society" - but the trend was clear already in the early 1960's after the election of JFK.
posted by stbalbach at 8:20 PM on May 13, 2009


There's isn't really much more to the story than what they showed in the trailer. And their evident desire to pass it off as a dystopian prophecy ironically misses the critique of unreflective devotion to comfortable ideologies inherent in the parody.
posted by clockzero at 9:09 PM on May 13, 2009


How is "Harrison Bergeron" a conservative story or a story that demonstrates conservative values?

Pointing out the dangers of excessive zeal in the pursuit of equality is not the same thing as offering educational opportunities and support to all.
posted by notmtwain at 4:46 AM on May 14, 2009


Hopefully the movie stays a short film. Other than that, I wouldn't mind the same team behind the look and feel of the film (as much as we've seen through the trailer) tackle Fahrenheit 451, rather than, say, the oft-rumored Mel Gibson attempt.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:57 AM on May 14, 2009


"Perhaps I read it as a parody of Romeo and Juliet stories..."
Me too. Same sort of myopic forces at work as well.

"Okay, withdraw Bill Gates and substitute Paul Allen. Allen's father was a university librarian."

Hnh. I thought I killed Paul Allen with an axe while enjoying Huey Lewis' Fore (their most accomplished album) I think their undisputed masterpiece is "Hip to be Square", a song so catchy, most people probably don't listen to the lyrics. But they should, because it's not just about the pleasures of conformity, and the importance of trends, it's also a personal statement about the band itself.
Someone told me they saw him in London though.
Perhaps this Halberstram Bergeron fellow just wanted to have a meaningful relationship with someone special.
Anyway, I suppose I could make some counterpoint concerning privilege and how most people are unaware of even the rudimentary opportunities that exist in their lives because it's how one uses whatever gifts that one has been given ... whatever, I just want to fit in. Dorsia? Anyone?
posted by Smedleyman at 12:51 PM on May 14, 2009


"Pointing out the dangers of excessive zeal in the pursuit of equality is not the same thing as offering educational opportunities and support to all."

Conservatives argue that the opportunities are there for everyone already. They also feel that giving a 'leg up' to some, is the same as pulling everyone else down. I think they're wrong, but I can understand the viewpoint.
posted by DigDoug at 5:55 AM on May 15, 2009


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