Hello, Failure

Of all the enemies of literature, success is the most insidious

Thursday, July 03, 2003

Failure of the Day: Harrison Bergeron

Ok, so I admit it, I'm watching Charlie Rose, which I love. And they're having a relatively egg-headed discussion of movies with a bunch of critics, and it's great. And when it was time for the obligatory discussion of the greatness of the newly departed Peck and Hepburn, one of the egg heads said that they were both actors from a time when studios were not afraid to show characters that audience members would feel out-classed by.

And that's interesting to me. I'm not sure I've thought about it in those terms before. Of course everyone is out-classed in looks by people in the movies, but really that's the only way. I suppose there's an athletic component in which audience members are out-classed but I'm not sure that counts because with the exception of the odd Jet Li or Jackie Chan, the remarkable athleticism in movies isn't really being performed by any one super guy.

And so that got me thinking about the great short story by Kurt Vonnegut, Harrison Bergeron, in which to achieve equality among people, anyone with any sort of skill or talent was given a disability that would in essence, make them unable to excel at the thing they were good at. (They made it into an incredibly depressing movie—that happens a lot with KV; it's like the ideas seem merely thought-provoking on the page but when they are translated on to the screen you want to kill yourself.)

I could spin off in any number of directions here and I'm trying to pick one…The Presidentish GWB comes to mind as fine example of people seeming to prefer their leaders not be smarter than them. As if that's what's meant by democracy. Why doesn't anyone focus on the most important word in the clause: all [people] are created equal. I don't think that's meant to entail that all people are absolutely equal in every possible way, forever, and I don't think anybody really wants it to mean that, as KV pointed out so well. I'm not talking about being entitled to rights, etc, I'm just saying that I myself don't want to live in a world where no one is a better, say, musician than me. That world would be a cacophonous hell.

I'm not really getting at anything here. Just thinking.


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