Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Harrison Bergeron

What are the implications of the opening sentence, "The year was 2081, and everyone was finally equal" (7)?
-The implication is that there has been a major shift in what society considers “equality.”

What happened?
-The government set up the Handicapper Generals Office to force everyone to be equal in everything from intelligence to physical abilities.

Are capitalism and American democracy dead?
-Yes, by forcing everyone to be “equal” the government kills any possibility of anybody becoming an entrepreneur, or being able to choose their own political platforms.

Did Soviet-style totalitarianism finally prevail?
-I’m not sure if it is really a totalitarian government that prevailed, but it is definitely not a free society

What does the elimination of advantages, difference, and competition suggest concerning the nature of the changes that have taken place?
-It suggests that people who were insecure about themselves decided to empower people that would bring other people down intellectually or physically.

Are such changes impossible under American capitalism or are they likely results of just such a system?
-Capitalism in America makes such a society impossible because capitalism makes people what to do things the way they want to.

What human tendencies underlie the sort of world described by Vonnegut?
-It shows people’s ability to overreact, and be insecure about their personalities.

Are these the end results of the progressive spread of middle class greed, envy, and pettiness (the character of, for example, the shoppers in Updike's "A&P")?
-This story is an obvious example of a sheep like society that is talked about in “A&P” but I don’t think this is an example middle class greed as much as it is an example of every humans pettiness and jealousy.

What does the experience of America in the late twentieth century suggest?
-It was a time of change in American society, while at the same time socialism in the USSR was failing showing that as stubborn as American capitalism may be it was still able to change to fit society, while socialism didn’t possess the ability to make everyone happy as planned.

What does the popularity of shows like Oprah's and Rosie O'Donnell's hint at?
-Americans like to watch happy stories about unintentional hero’s, and that is what Oprah’s show is all about.

Why are such figures role models?
-The reason somebody like Oprah is a role model is because she brought herself out of poverty and became a billionaire who decided to help other less fortunate people.

What is given center stage in such shows?
-Usually on shows like Oprah stories of people who experienced similar situations who did something extraordinary.
What about Barbie dolls redesigned to look more like "real" people?
-Barbie’s were redesigned to make them look more like the average woman, but people who are comparing themselves to dolls have more problems than to worry about what kids play with. And even with the redesigned doll Barbie is still beyond the average woman proportionally,

How about certain trends in elementary/secondary and even higher education (e.g. grade inflation)?
-More and more kids are entering school and with that more and more kids are being diagnosed with disorders, and this makes teachers grade a little less severely and making kids get grades they don’t deserve. Schools are also being overcrowded and with extra work and pressure to help kids graduate teachers are not looking close enough to a students work and giving them passing grades.

What of practices in organized sports for youth such as giving equal playing time regardless of ability, of not keeping score (and acting as if one didn't know what the score was); of giving medals to players on teams regardless of how they finished in their league?
-The practice of equal play time regardless of ability and everyone getting a trophy is acceptable while kids are young because it builds their confidence and makes them want to try harder, but as a child gets older I think they will better understand their abilities and it becomes obvious they shouldn’t get equal playing time especially if it is a competitive sport.

What are the functions of the agents of "the United States Handicapper General" (7)?
-The handicapper generals job is to make the “above average” person become the same as everyone else by hindering them if they are to smart or are impressively athletic or artistic.

What threats to society do such agents combat?
-The agents of the office of the Handicapper General find new ways to stop people from being above average by making people wear extra weight if they are fast or strong, or wearing masks if they are pretty or handsome

What political processes could lead to such absurdities?
-Things like Affirmative Action are an example of political processes that could eventually lead to an “everyone must be equal” society.

How is radical mediocrity achieved and enforced?
-Forcing people to wear masks or heavy bags full of bird shot and little radios designed to blast thought from someone’s head are a few ways to enforce mediocrity.

What actual developments, policies, trends involving government-enforced equalizing, "handicapping," in America might Vonnegut be parodying in "Harrison Bergeron"?
-The affirmative action and public housing and even the social security/unemployment benefits could be the target of parody because they assist in people not wanting to improve themselves because they think everone else and the government should and will take care of them.

What conceptions of equality motivate such policies and trends?
-There is a group of people who believe that rich people should have to share their money they worked hard for with people who either didn’t or couldn’t get done what they needed to to help them move up in the world.

How is the conception of equality related to basic forms of commercial life such as the commodity and money and the social roles of buyer, seller, and wage-laborer? (Consider what Marx observes about equality and simple commodity circulation on p. 291.)
Wage laborers consider themselves to be unequal to the buyers and sellers of society because they feel they do more work for less money and that builds contempt of people who are better off in the world. That contempt makes people feel they are being taken asvatntage of and makes them want things they haven’t earned.

Might the reliance in the story on the government to enforce equality point to such an irresolvable tension?
-I don’t think there is an irresolvable problem in America today but with people wanting and receiving things they don’t earn and makes them more dependent on government which makes the problem harder to fix.

Former U.S. Senator from Nebraska Roman Hruska was (in)famous for saying, during the hearing for a poorly regarded (and ultimately unsuccessful) nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court: "Well, mediocrity should be represented in the Court, too."
How does that sort of thinking relate to what Vonnegut's getting at with this story?
-It relates because the Senator thinks every intellectual and political platform should be involved in judicial affairs.

How are George and Hazel Bergeron described?
-Hazel is truly average while George is above average in intelligence and is forced to become average.

What sort of life do they lead?
-They lead an average life like the rest of the world.

What is Vonnegut parodying here?
The sheep like mentality that many perceive to be the ideal life.

What does the story warn against?
-The story is a warning to people about becoming too sheep like eventually it will get out of hand and extreme measures, but not as extreme as Harrison Burgeron, will be taken to help the “downtrodden” overtake those who worked hard and are wealthy

To what extent do television, radio, and the mass media generally function like George's mental handicap radio? (Consider Neil Postman's observation in his book Amusing Ourselves to Death: "this ensemble of electronic techniques called into being a new world-a peek-a-boo world, where now this event, now that, pops into view for a moment, then vanishes again. It is a world without much coherence or sense; a world that does not permit us to do anything; a world that is, like the child's game of peek-a-boo, entirely self-contained. But like peek-a-boo, it is also endlessly entertaining" (77). "Infotainment" did you say?
-The TV in Harrison Burgeron numbs people to what is going on, for example Hazel sees her son killed on tv but quickly forgets what is going on after watching more of the ballerinas. That Television today also numbs people to what goes on all over the world, and many are desensitized by television.

Why is Harrison Bergeron such a threat to society? How old is he? How has he been "handicapped"?
-Harrison is a 14 year old male who was extremely strong and 7 feet tall. He was handicapped with pieces ridiculous weights of scrap metal and instead of a small radio in his ears he had head phones attached to both ears, and he has glasses that had wavy lenses that made him half blind and gave him migraines. He has these handicaps because he is tall and strong and smart and he also encourages people to be different and excel in life which some don’t want people to do for fear they will look bad.

What is the significance of the real Harrison suddenly appearing on the TV set where his escape from prison was being reported?
-It shows he knew people would watch him and hoped people would realize they can do extraordinary things rather than conforming to society.

Why does he repeatedly say, "I am the Emperor!" (11)?
-Harrison believes be is genetically superior to the rest of the world and believes the less qualified people should not be in charge of him.

Is Vonnegut suggesting a return to feudalism and its aristocratic political institutions?
-I think this story is really a satire of the socialist/communist society rather than wanting a return to feudalism.

Is this similar in some way to the case of Ellison's protagonist on the stage of the Bingo game?

What is Harrison trying to accomplish?
-Harrisons goal is to set people free of their handicaps and think they should express themselves.

Can his actions be compared to those of Sammy in Updike's "A&P"? (Harrison says "I shall now select my Empress!" while Sammy chooses his "Queenie").
-It is similar, except Harrison is looking for the good of everyone while Sammy is really only looking out for a few girls, and looking for a date.

What different sets of values clash in these cases?
-Harrison is trying to free society from their sheep like nature and thinks everyone should be free to express themselves where as Sammy isn’t looking out for society rather he is looking for a date.

How are the young pitted against the old?
-After seeing their parents being sheep like, children want to be free from handicapps.

How does the motif of the rescue of the 'damsel in distress' translate in socioeconomic terms?

What is the significance of Harrison telling the musicians, "I'll make you barons and dukes and earls" (12)?
-He is saying if you tear off your handicaps and be free he will reward you.

What different values underlie such ennoblement?
-It shows that he values artistic ability.

What role do beauty and aesthetics play in Harrison's rebellion?
-He wants the beautiful and artistic people to show their abilities and help people showcase their abilities and talents.

What is the meaning of Harrison's and the ballerina's flight-like dance and kissing?
-I think this is showing the fight for freedom of expression in a repressed society.

What is meant by the statement, "not only were the laws of the land abandoned, but the law of gravity and the laws of motion as well" (12)?
-It means that it was so beautiful that people saw it as them doing something that was physically impossible.

What is the meaning of Harrison and the ballerina being shot down by Diana Moon Glampers, the Handicapper General?
-It says that people who try to exceed and help others will be repressed because they cannot do what some other may do.

What are the suggestions of her name?
-Her name doesn’t really stand out which suggest that someone like Hazel really could be the handicapper general.

What ethos is conjured by the mythological associations of the Greek goddess Diana and the moon (e.g. virginity, coldness, sterility).
-The goddess Diana is a Roman Goddess who helped those less fortunate. Glampers might be helping those less fortunate, but is really creating less fortunate people by causing more intellectual people to hide what they really are.

How is the figure of Ms. Glampers similar to that of the manager, Lengel, in A&P?
-She is an ignorant individual about change much like Mr. Lengel.

Why does Hazel Bergeron forget what she is crying about?
-She forgets because she is average in intelligence and the average human only pays attention for a few seconds with no short term memories.

How is this similar to, for example, the case of Mrs. Gradgrind in Dickens's Hard Times?

What is the meaning of the last words of the Bergerons, "that one was a doozy" (13)?
-It is a satire for people being desensitized, because normally a bottle being hit with a ball peen hammer would cause most people to feel awful.

What's striking about Vonnegut's story is its hyperbole: equality is enforced in every identifiable respect.
-It says that if you have some kind of difference they will hinder it in a way that will make it obvious to everyone why you are better or different.

What are the appropriate limits to ensuring equality and why?
-It is nobody’s job to to ensure equality except the individual.