“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” When discussing dystopian worlds, it is impossible not to mention the great, immortal George Orwell. The past quote was from his work Animal Farm. Where a group of animals on a farm become self aware and decide to turn against the humans who raised them. They eventually adopted seven commandments, the most important being “all animals are equal”, but in the end, the pigs state that some are more equal than other
Kurt Vonnegut, science fiction writer and satirist wrote a book, Harrison Bergeron that was thereafter adapted into a short film called 2081 by Chandler Tuttle. In the film, everyone has become “equal” thanks to the 211th, 212th, and 213th amendments to the United States constitution. All of this had been instituted by the Handicapper General and the United States government. How was this equality accomplished? Through the creation of these “handicaps”, meaning these little machines that the otherwise exceptional wear in order to quell their exception.
It begins with George Bergeron, married man and intellectual trying to remember the abduction of his genius son Harrison by the federal government. Because of the many handicaps he wears, it is hard for him to recall this. He and his wife Hazel then watch some TV. Hazel is a bit of a ditz and for that reason does not need any handicaps.
They watch a ballet. Each of the dancers are wearing large, ugly masks and are all wearing really heavy handicaps themselves which make them appear no more beautiful or graceful than the average person. Next, it cuts to a news report where an anchor with a speech impediment tries to report that Harrison, the son of the aforementioned couple, has escaped custody. The anchor eventually gets some handicaps which help him relay his message. Then, it cuts back to the ballet where Harrison busts in with a bomb threat and dances with one of the ballerinas until they are both killed. Harrison’s parents watch the whole ordeal but forget soon after.
Now, to summarize Vonnegut’s whole thesis in one sentence, one could say that “Seeking for true equality can cause some of the world’s best and brightest to be prisoners of even their own device.” This is shown because in order to accomplish this equality, the smartest, most skilled people are weighed down because they are different. Because they are different, they have to wear these handicaps. If you are not different, you don’t need to wear them. Can you see the contradiction here? Vonnegut’s message is that true equality is impossible.
To further this point, ballet dancers who are meant to be symbols of beauty and grace not only are held down by the handicaps to make them move with no more grace than the average girl, but they are forced to wear massive, ghastly masks to hide their exceptional beauty. These are to make them no more different than anyone else, but they are wearing masks and weighted handicaps. This still makes them different.
Then enters the anchor. He too wears a handicap which can be literary device symbolizing how the media even is controlled and regulated by their government. Thats a dangerous game to play, when the government steps in and makes even the media do their bidding.
Harrison is also a beautiful symbol here. He is more or less a Christ figure. A type and a shadow of the Teacher. When he appears, he is dressed all in white and carrying on his shoulders a large burden which is typical of the cross the Teacher dragged partway to the Hill at Golgotha or Calvary. He then, like the Teacher, teaches all that are there to listen that the status quo is wrong and that they don’t celebrate these natural gifts that we are given, but they prefer to live in a backwards world of old tradition. Harrison is a genius. He removes his handicaps (along with one of the ballerinas who also removes her mask) and knows full well that he is then fated to die, but he dances with her and they die martyrs, showing the Handicapper General for the dangerous killer that she is.
The most disconcerting part of this for any viewer though, is the fact that Harrison’s parents watch his death and afterward they don’t remember. They only remember something sad on TV. This is because of the mindset of de-sensitivity that seems to be becoming more prevalent. When we watch the news, we see a story about how a woman bashed her baby’s head in, then threw him into a lake and thereafter we put on the Voice, Blind Auditions. We then turn on our phone and see some pictures of destruction done in the middle east and read about hundreds of thousands that are either dead or homeless, then we change apps because someone we know just posted a dank meme.
If you think that these things that Vonnegut has shown us are silly future stuff, you are sorely mistaken. I believe in religion, I believe in an afterlife, I believe in the God-sanctioned holiness of marriage, I believe that premarital sex of any kind is a great evil, I believe in loving those who have wronged you, I believe that tea, coffee, alcohol and cigarettes should be avoided like the plague, I believe in Creationism. The media would have me keep these things to myself or change them. Why? They are different and different cannot be celebrated. Because I am a straight, white, middle class man with conservative upbringing, I am required to wear “handicaps” because my way of thinking is so radical that I am a danger to the status quo.
True equality is impossible. Why? Because some animals will always be more equal than others.
Featured image courtesy of wikipedia