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, that 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 everyones 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.