A greatly expanded version of Kurt Vonnegut’s story about the commercial restraints of television (which might have inspired the lassoing of Guido in 8½). Jack Paar has described interviews conducted without worrying when the commercials would come, because they always did, eventually, but now schedules are tighter than ever and the moment is lost. Hamstrung artistes and noise-numbed spectators are the result, which is transcended rarely.
Nowadays people mate on television, or eat bugs, or both. They rage and cry and litigate, all to no purpose. They pretend to be clever, and maybe really are naive, but it’s all going digital by Federal decree. Computers, as even Ken Burns is aware, allow doctoring.
I happened to see Harrison Bergeron on the very day when Canada went dry, after calling our President all wet. Eugene Levy’s “randomly-selected” President has four words for the world: “Don’t fuck with us.”
Buck Henry’s television executive perfectly encapsulates the breed. The equality of mediocrity means anything goes on TV, as long as it has neither truth nor beauty.
In the center of the film, Bergeron has become acculturated and attempts to introduce America to itself over television by way of jazz and Keaton, which are forbidden. This had to be deficit-financed by Jon Glascoe’s company, and filmed in Canada, and broadcast on cable television, all of which is testimony to the truth it describes.
Bergeron is not extinguished by the Handicapper-General but by his own surrealist act, in this version, though Glascoe economically incorporates the story throughout. He also notes the curious “retro” phenomenon, which has caused authentic buildings to be made over as replicas of themselves, or demolished for copies, so great is the mania for kitsch at the expense of the real.
Maybe the best thing is the subtlety with which Glascoe and Pittman reveal the soullessness of this new order as typical of Nazism or Communism indifferently. This was around the time when Newt Gingrich saw a technological elite running the world and restoring American culture via the Internet, while Bill Clinton and Al Gore personally wired schools.
Before undergoing what amounts to a lobotomy, Bergeron is permitted to call on a “head house,” which is exactly like a brothel, only the girls trade in forbidden intellectual concepts like philosophy or art.
What did our company critics think of this? So many would give their ballpoint pens to be Dorothy Parker, whom they perceive as witty and bitchy, although she actually knew what she was talking about. “You can lead a horticulture,” she famously said at the Algonquin Round Table when asked to formulate a sentence with this word, “but you can’t make her THINK.”