2081: Who Knows What Could Happen?

Kurt Vonnegut’s short story, Harrison Bergeron, invites the reader to ask what about the story is real and how our society may be moving toward a state of ignoring based reality. In 2081, there are at least 213 amendments to The Constitution, and “equality” has finally been achieved! At one point, Harrison’s mother, Hazel, asserts that the newscaster deserves a raise, indicating that although this society handicaps people to achieve equality, it does not redistribute wealth. We read about a future that has addressed the fundamental problem of inequality in a cartoonish manner.
Though I believe the primary message in Harrison Bergeron is satirical, the theme of technology presents itself as its usual portrayal in Vonnegut’s work. It is science, Vonnegut argues, that is slowly making us less human and giving us the means to destroy ourselves. Harrison’s parents sit in front of a television for the story’s entirety. Vonnegut attempts to show how television is deceiving; it is a persuasive force that sedates, controls, and intimidates the characters. Further, it’s a means of strong-arming the citizens as Diana Moon Glampers publically shoots Harrison. The live execution effectively demonstrates to viewers what can happen to those who dare violate the law. When Harrison’s mother watches him die, she cries. Still, she is instantly preoccupied with something else on television—this calls back to the tears on Hazel’s cheeks at the story’s beginning. Television is a sedative in an endless loop of cruelty and tyranny.
In the 1990s, the 24-hour news cycle changed television forever. While in 1961, there were only a few programs broadcasted at designated hours each day, Vonnegut predicted the infinite tv programming we have today. Though modern television programming does reflect the cycle Vonnegut writes about, TikTok and social media also echo the authoritarian dystopia. Consumers can watch hours of videos in one sitting and completely forget the prior content as they scroll.


5 thoughts on “2081: Who Knows What Could Happen?”

  1. I agree that one of the prevalent themes in this story is the advancement of science and technology. This is made apparent by the handicaps which Mr. Bergeron and his son Harrison are forced to wear. In contrast, I don’t think it’s science or television that is the source of the character’s inability to take control over their own lives. I think Vonnegut is criticizing the encroachment of an overly large government into the lives of individuals. Science and technology may be how the government asserts its dominion but it is not the thing that has caused the people to lose their individuality.

  2. I thought this chapter was the most interesting of the ones that we read because the themes in it are relevant to us today. Your point at the end about TikTok and social media in general echoing the dystopia is true. I read something, on social media ironically, that said something to the effect of, in 30 years we may look back at this era of social media the way people looked at the early age of cigarettes or when Coca-Cola had cocaine in it…like ‘what were they thinking? why did they not see what it was doing to them?’ I think social media is a very controlling and manipulative tool in our lives that we all love, similar to the TV as you wrote about in your post. It can be dangerous if we’re not aware and let it take over our lives.

  3. I also felt as though Vonnegut was satirizing the modern desire to see real violence in media because of the desensitization we are beginning to have to fictional violence. Throughout history, we see an increase in demand for true crime media right before a country falls to totalitarian rule, so I think that this story takes that to the extreme by allowing for extreme violence on live television, which is then brushed off under the guise of propaganda and entertainment.

  4. I hadn’t thought about how Harrison’s parents were sitting in front of the TV the entire story. I think your take on television as a “sedative” and your connections to social media in the 21st century are really interesting! I think Vonnegut is successful in many of his stories at satirizing, warning, and scaring readers when it comes to technology and science, as you point out in this post.

  5. I recognized this short story – I think I read it in middle school or something. I had no idea who Kurt Vonnegut was, nor that it was written this early on. It seems like a piece that would be written closer to modern times, a sort of satire for our day. It is interesting that he was making these equality points in the mid 20th century.

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