One of Vonnegut’s most famous short stories, and one of my favorite short stories period, is “Harrison Bergeron.” In HB, society has achieved equality for all…by force and by lowering people’s capabilities to the most basic level possible (the only way to achieve true “equality” in skill). The agile and strong are weighted down. The intelligent have buzzing noises forced in their ears. Those with excellent vision are given lenses to distort it. And so on. The piece can be found in many collections, including Welcome to the Monkey House. So go read it!
Vonnegut first tested out the idea of equal disability in The Sirens of Titan through his description of some believers in the Church of God the Utterly Indifferent:
Everyone wore handicaps of some sort. Most handicaps were of an obvious sort—sashweights, bags of shot, old furnace grates—meant to hamper physical advantages. But there were, among Redwine’s parishioners, several true believers who had chose handicaps of a subtler and more telling kind.
There were women who had received by dint of dumb luck the terrific advantage of beauty. They had annihilated that unfair advantage with frumpish clothes, bad posture, chewing gum, and a ghoulish use of cosmetics.
One old man, whose only advantage was excellent eyesight, had spoiled that eyesight by wearing his wife’s spectacles.
A dark young man, whose lithe, predaceous sex appeal could not be spoiled by bad clothes and bad manners, had handicapped himself with a wife who was nauseated by sex.
The dark young man’s wife, who had reason to be vain about her Phi Beta Kappa key, had handicapped herself with a husband who read nothing but comic books.
Redwine’s congregation was not unique. It wasn’t especially fanatical. There were literally billions of happily self-handicapped people on Earth.
His idea was then used as inspiration for the 1995 film Harrison Bergeron. Now, in my humble opinion, many attempts at adapting Vonnegut’s material to film have been greatly flawed. I would include the 1995 Sean-Astin-vehicle Harrison Bergeron in that category. Nonetheless, there’s a new production based on Vonnegut’s famous work in the works. This one is called 2081. And I gotta say, in all fairness, the trailer looks kind of intriguing. (Gulp!)