‘Everybody was finally equal. They were not only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else.’; This is a short, but powerful excerpt from the short story Harrison Bergeron. Not only does it make you wonder why everyone is equal, but as well makes you wonder how did everyone become equal? In the short story and the movie, Kurt Vonnegut presents a scary view of human society in the United States in the future, in which United States citizens are all uniform. This then leads to their loss of individuality, and therefore to the absolute deformity of humanness. Both the movie and the short story share these themes; they also have a multitude of other similarities, but also have just as many differences. These differences, irony and the symbolism between the two, are what I will be attempting to explore.
The first apparent difference between the movie and the short story is that the short story takes place in 2081. In the story the government regulates everything, not just intelligence, but strength and beauty as well, and handicap people appropriately. The strong are forced to wear bags filled with lead balls; beautiful people are forced to wear masks so others would not feel unequal to them in looks. The overly intelligent are forced to wear radio transmitters in their ears, which are tuned to a government station that constantly bombards them with horrible sounds to scramble their thoughts. In the movie, the year is 2053 and everyone is forced to wear mind-altering headbands that rest on their temples. These headbands electronically modify intelligence, effectively decreasing everyone’s IQ to the desired ‘average’; point. Unlike the story, in the movie, no one wears masks to conceal their looks and some are better looking than other making them unequal in appearance to everyone else. Also the only ‘weight bags’; that are worn, is by one dancer on the television that wore a small ankle weight with no resemblance to the enormous weight bags that are described in the story.
Another difference is that in the story Harrison Bergeron had the apparent status of a god among these average people. He was fourteen years old, seven feet tall, athletic, good looking, and a genius. In the movie, Harrison bares absolutely no resemblance to the one described in the story. He is portrayed as short and stalky, not very handsome. He looks closer to twenty-four than he does to fourteen, and although he seems bright, he is far from being a genius.
Finally, in the story, the ‘Handicapper General’; has more of a police status in this futuristic country; the ‘head’; Handicapper General is a woman, by the name of Diana Moon Glampers. With her swift decisions and severe actions shows resemblance to that of a dictator. She does not have to wear any handicaps of any kind, but is responsible for the regulating all the handicaps. In the movie, the handicappers’ generals are far from being portrayed as a police authority. They are a secret organization of highly intelligent individuals, that are hand picked from the general population, that are in charge of running the country and coming up with better ways to make everyone equal. The leader of this secret organization is a man by the name of John Claxton. He plays the role of a godlike advisor, leading the organization behind the scenes. He advises and monitors society, the president, and all forms of media accessible to the public, determining what people can hear, say, watch, and do.
There is also a bit of irony prevalent in the movie as well as in the short story. In the movie, Harrison is mocked and branded as an outcast for his intelligence, yet he is secretly being monitored by the secret Administers organization. It is also ironic that there is a necessity for highly intelligent persons in such a perfectly equal society. In this society the public only can see what the have been allowed to see, by this secret, non-equal, organization in this so-called ‘equal’; country.
The next instance of irony appears in a scene where Harrison illegally takes control of a broadcasting station and plays unedited and uncontrolled movies and music to the public, while he asks them to take off their mind controlling head bands. This scene gives hope for the future of American culture, and makes one believe that the time for change has arrived. Unfortunately, Harrison later learns that only 1.3% of the public actually heard the true meaning of his program, which was a scream in the dark for an up rise to revolt against this tyrannical government, and removed their bands for good. Disparity descend upon the movie and Harrison is stopped and urged to tell the people of the country that it was all a hoax, in order to preserve order. He does this but, in perfect irony, commits suicide on live television to demonstrate the reality of the situation to the people.
Symbolism is used in the story by means of Harrison Bergeron, this enormous seven-foot tall, good-looking, athletic, genius. He embodies all the traits that everyone in this equal world could or essentially would have if it were not for the enslavement that they are subject to by this overpowering government. The common people in the story have been completely brainwashed and filled with ridiculous ideas that equal and average is better, and competition is a mortal sin that causes all the wrong and bad in society.
Symbolism is also utilized in the movie, when at the end of the film, two boys enthusiastically run up the stairs in a home to view a ‘pirated’; recording of the original filming of Harrison when he took over the studio and played banned movies and music, and urged all to take of their headbands. After starting the movie the boys nonchalantly take off their bands to watch the broadcast without mental hindrance. This is symbolic of the freeing of the mind and the throwing off of societies shackles, bound on an individual by the government. Since children are more open minded, receptive to new ideas, and less fearful of change. Just the fact that the children showed the desire to watch the program illustrates hope for the future of society, as children are the future of all societies.
In the movie Harrison Bergeron, and in the short story ‘Harrison Bergeron’; there are a number of differences, as well as irony and symbolism. They both take place in the not so distant future where the government has manipulated human intelligence to the point that all persons are equal. In a place where the government ultimately has total control over not only everyone’s lives, but their minds as well. The motive behind the governments controlling society is the idea that an equal society will eliminate hatred, envy, and war. While this does prove true, the numerous side effects, such as loss of identity, lack of originality, and conformity begin to arise. In actuality these governments are creating a society with zombie like creatures, which are presented in mere shells of human beings.