Monday, July 11, 2011

HARRISON BERGERON by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

I worked for five years in a nightmare job at a supermarket. I was the nightshift cleaner, the person who makes the in-store bakery clean and hygienic before the bakers start work at 4 a.m.

I used to be there 5 nights a week, 8 hours a night, from 1 a.m. to 9 a.m., cleaning the bakery, the salad bar and the other food areas.

The reason I call it a "nightmare job" is because we had an argument which ran for five years. The same argument, night after night, for five years.

The reason for the argument was this: The staff on the shop floor wanted pop music played all night long through the loudspeaker system, so they hooked up the speakers to the local short playlist pop radio station. Repetitive jangling pop music with moronic lyrics played throughout the night, interspersed with advertisements every 15 minutes or so. After an hour of this I was ready to put an axe through the speakers. After five years of it I was ready to put an axe through anybody or anything.

Night after night we had the same argument. "Why did they need the horrible noise to be played in every bloody department?" I asked, "Why couldn't we be allowed to work in peace and quiet so we could hear ourselves think?"

The response was that they didn't want to think. They wanted to listen to the jangling noise.

I suggested various compromises. I suggested, for instance, switching to a station with a less repetitive playlist and no adverts, such as BBC Radio One, 1Xtra, Two, Three, Six or the Asian Network. I suggested cycling through these stations on different nights, for more variety. I suggested people might bring their own CDs from home. I suggested speech based radio such as the World Service. All of these compromise suggestions were met with intransigence and I was described as a "freak" because I have a university degree and enjoy using my brain instead of just listening to the music.

At one stage, when I was scrubbing the bakery floor, a middle aged woman who was meant to be shelf-filling on the shop floor used to come into the bakery, walk across my wet floor, and stand over me shouting abuse. "You're only a cleaner! You're nothing but a cleaner!" she said, "You don't get to have an opinion! You don't get to say what we listen to! You're STUPID! A stupid cleaner man! Stupid man, stupid man, stupid cleaner man!"

This verbal abuse went on nearly every night.

 Of course, I complained to my cleaning supervisor about the abuse and the bullying but the supervisor just laughed and said "You're a big strong man Peter. How can you be bullied by a woman. You should be able to look after yourself!" I mean, what did he expect me to do? I think he and some others there were actually gloating over this conflict, hoping it would escalate for their entertainment.

Throughout those five years, when the radio was switched on each night and turned up to the moronic max, I would often think of "Harrison Bergeron" - the short story by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

The extent of stupidity amongst people in that place often shocked me. One time in early 2008 I mentioned to someone there that I was hoping Obama would get the Democratic Party presidential nomination. I remarked that the situation was exciting because America seemed disillusioned with Republican politics and would would probably swing to the Democrats, which would mean the next president would be either Obama or Clinton.

I said I hoped it would be Obama.

Later it turned out that the person I'd been speaking to had never heard of Barack Obama and had thought I meant "Osama". The idiot then went around the supermarket spreading a rumour that I had "wanted Osama to be president"....

That's the level of ignorance and idiocy I had to put up with from these pop fans at the supermarket during those years. 

by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

 THE YEAR WAS 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren't 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. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.

 Some things about living still weren't quite right, though. April for instance, still drove people crazy by not being springtime. And it was in that clammy month that the H-G men took George and Hazel Bergeron's fourteen-year-old son, Harrison, away.

 It was tragic, all right, but George and Hazel couldn't think about it very hard. Hazel had a perfectly average intelligence, which meant she couldn't think about anything except in short bursts. And George, while his intelligence was way above normal, had a little mental handicap radio in his ear. He was required by law to wear it at all times. It was tuned to a government transmitter. Every twenty seconds or so, the transmitter would send out some sharp noise to keep people like George from taking unfair advantage of their brains.

 George and Hazel were watching television. There were tears on Hazel's cheeks, but she'd forgotten for the moment what they were about.

 On the television screen were ballerinas.

 A buzzer sounded in George's head. His thoughts fled in panic, like bandits from a burglar alarm.

"Harrison Bergeron" is copyrighted by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., 1961.

Full text:

Harrison Bergeron on Wikipedia:
A recent adaptation:

Another one of the adaptations (under the title "2081")   :

Another adaptation: 

Various adaptations described on the IMDB:

fragments of the 1972 adaptation of "Between Time and Timbuktu":

Fragment One:

Fragment Two:

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