" I am a product [...of] endless books. My father bought all the books he read and never got rid of any of them. There were books in the study, books in the drawing room, books in the cloakroom, books (two deep) in the great bookcase on the landing, books in a bedroom, books piled as high as my shoulder in the cistern attic, books of all kinds reflecting every transient stage of my parents' interest, books readable and unreadable, books suitable for a child, and books most emphatically not. Nothing was forbidden me. In the seemingly endless rainy afternoons I took volume after volume from the shelves. I always had the same certainty of finding a book that was new to me as a man who walks into a field has of finding a new blade of grass." - C.S. Lewis
'Balance of Terror' is one of the best episodes of Star Trek: T.O.S. It marks the first appearance of the Romulan Empire, a major rival to the Federation, and this episode establishes many of the characteristics which would define their relationship in other seasons and series- the Neutral Zone, the cloaking device, their connection to the Vulcans, and the appearance of their ships (birds of prey).
The Romulans are clearly based on the Roman Empire, from the name of their home world (Romulus), to their titles (Praetor, centurion,etc.), to their practice of military conquest. The term "balance of terror" is one which was used during the Cold War, referring to nuclear weapon stockpiling by both sides. The knowledge that by using these terrible devices, one side may win the war, but both sides will effectively be destroyed, kept a tense sort of peace. This seems to be the state of affairs at the beginning of the episode: after the conflict of a century before, the Federation and the Romulans kept to their own sides of the Neutral Zone. The Romulans breach the peace in an effort to determine the strength of Star Fleet at this time. If proved to be relatively weak, the Romulans will feel empowered to attempt a conquest of Federation territory. This is why, as Spock points out, they can't afford to appear irresolute or unready. Star Fleet Command seems curiously slow to comprehend this, their desire to maintain the status quo so great that they are ready to write off the destroyed outposts and even the Enterprise rather than risk renewed conflict. This supposes, however, that the Romulan aggressors would be willing to back off if not challenged, a rather naive assumption at best, and a craven abandonment of those whom the Romulans would target at worst. This attitude is echoed in the episodes of T.N.G. and D.S.9 dealing with the demilitarized zone established with the Cardassians, and Star Fleet's willingness to overlook clear violations of it in order to keep the peace, regardless of the consequences to their citizens being victimized by them. On a purely practical note, such wavering generally only delays the inevitable, as Churchill famously pointed out: "You were given the choice between war and dishonour. You chose dishonour and you will have war." Fortunately, Kirk does not make the same decision, and Star Fleet Command eventually gets around to approving use of force if he deems it necessary, though too late to be of any practical use- typical bureaucracy.
This is not to say that Kirk is eager for conflict. On the contrary, he hates the thought of it and doesn't particularly relish the fact that he must make a decision which could result in galactic war and untold death and destruction. Nor is Kirk motivated by the hatred which Stiles feels for the Romulans, essentially telling him that they can't base the decisions they make now on resentment over past wrongs. Kirk takes the action he does, not out of a desire for war, but because it is the best of a lot of bad options.
Much of the dramatic tension in 'Balance of Terror' is derived from the battle of wits which plays out between Kirk and the Romulan commander. As the commander points out, they are very much alike. Both are experienced and skilled strategists, able to predict what the other will do based on what they would do themselves in each situation. Though enemies attempting to destroy each other, they come to a mutual respect. We also see that both of them have moments of self doubt in which they question their decisions and their duties. Kirk confides to McCoy his desire to be somewhere- anywhere- else, and his fear of doing the wrong thing. The Romulan commander muses bitterly on the prospect of yet another war, questioning the necessity for it, telling his trusted centurion that he would almost prefer death. At the end of the day, though, whatever their personal misgivings, both are determined to do what is necessary to stop the other. And because of their equal skill, it could go either way. I think what decides the outcome in the end is the differences in the two crews. The crew of the Enterprise is completely loyal to Kirk. He knows that, even when he makes a controversial decision which may put him at odds with Star Fleet, that they will follow him and carry out his orders. The Romulan Commander has no such advantage. In a system where personal advancement in rank is as fiercely sought as military advancement, any sign of weakness will be pounced on and used by his underlings. This is why he orders the final attack on the Enterprise against his better judgement, which ends so disastrously.
'Balance of Terror' doesn't conclude with a scene on the bridge, with the cast regulars and an "all's well that ends well" feel, as so many episodes do. Rather, the final scene takes place in the chapel where we witness the quiet grief of Lt. Martine and realize that victory doesn't mean a happy ending for everybody. So many movies and TV shows have scenes of mass carnage and death, which are shrugged off or not dealt with at all, rendering them meaningless. In this one scene, Trek demonstrates the individual, personal cost of war- even a just one- and the cold comfort of knowing, "There was a reason."
* The writer of 'Balance of Terror' got the general premise from submarine dramas like 'Run Silent, Run Deep' and 'The Enemy Below'. * Mark Lenard, who plays the Romulan commander, really made the rounds as a Star Trek alien: he also plays Spock's Vulcan father in a later episode of T.O.S., and in the first Star Trek movie has a role as a Klingon.
'Balance of Terror' is a first season episode of Star Trek: T.O.S. It is a great episode for a number of reasons, and remarkable in that it introduces the Romulans as enemies of the Federation for the first time. B.O.T. begins with a happy occasion: a wedding. Two members of the crew- a Lt. Tomlinson and Lt. Martine- are getting married, with Captain Kirk performing the ceremony. Unfortunately, before they can tie the knot, there is a red alert, and Kirk is called to the bridge. Three outposts along the Neutral Zone have been destroyed, and a fourth is under attack. The Neutral Zone is a stretch of neutral space separating Federation controlled space from Romulan territory. It was established one hundred years before at the end of the war between Earth and the Romulans, and entrance into it by either side is considered an act of war. As the Enterprise answers the call, there are fears that the Romulans have violated the zone. In the event that this proves true, Kirk's orders from Star Fleet Command are that under no circumstances is the Neutral Zone to be violated. The Enterprise can defend itself, but, if necessary to prevent war, the outposts and the ship are considered expendable.
Helmsman Lt. Stiles suggests that they attempt to intercept the Romulans, seemingly eager to engage the enemy. He reveals that quite a few of his family members were killed in the conflict with the Romulans a century before. Kirk points out that it was "Their war, Mr. Stiles. Not yours." Still out of range of Outpost Four, they manage to establish visual contact. The outpost has been reduced to rubble, its commander, Hansen, the only person still alive. He tells them that the attack came from a ship that was unseen until it appeared long enough to fire on them, and then disappeared again. While he's giving his report, the attacking ship reappears. The Enterprise attempts to contact them and warn them off, but there is no reply. Too far away to do anything, Kirk and his crew are forced to watch helplessly as the ship completes the destruction of the outpost, then disappears again. Spock observes that the unknown ship only became visible right before it attacked, and Kirk speculates that perhaps they must do so to fire their weapons. He asks Spock how this seeming invisibility could be achieved, and Spock says that it is technically possible, but would require tremendous amounts of energy. While unable to get a visual lock on them, Spock manages to detect a faint sensor reading, which could be the ship. Spock reports that it is moving at a leisurely pace, as if unaware of the presence of the Enterprise. Kirk guesses that the invisibility may work both ways- that the huge amount of power needed for it may hinder their ability to detect other vessels. Monitoring the 'blip', Spock notes that it is headed for the Neutral Zone, the exact course that a Romulan ship would take to return home. Kirk orders Sulu and Stiles to match the course and speed of the other vessel, so that if they do have sensors, they may think the Enterprise is just a reflection.
This course of action displeases Stiles, who thinks they should challenge the ship directly. He also says that, in the wake of this successful surprise attack, they should consider the possibility that there are Romulan spies in Star Fleet- maybe even on the Enterprise. He is provided with Suspect Number One when Uhura and Spock manage to get a lock on a transmission feed from the other ship and get a visual of its bridge, revealing the Romulans to -gasp- look almost identical to Vulcans. His suspicions evident in his face, when Uhura can't translate the Romulan's coded transmission, Stiles mutters that Spock probably can.He is sharply reprimanded by Kirk. Surprisingly, the Romulan ship briefly becomes visible, giving the Enterprise visual confirmation of its position, before abruptly disappearing again. At this point, the action switches over to the Romulan bridge, where the commander is reprimanding one of his men for dropping out of cloak while they're in Federation territory and being pursued. The crewman says he was trying to conserve energy, and that he and the others think they're running from a reflection. The commander is not convinced, and orders him to reengage their cloaking device. He then chews out another crewman for breaking radio silence to send the coded message to Romulus, reporting their victory. The commander shows himself to be a shrewd and ruthless foe, but in conversation with his centurion, we see another side of him. Disillusioned and sick of the endless empire building wars, he regrets their easy victory over the outposts. He knows that it will encourage their Praetor to attempt an invasion of Federation space, leading to yet another war. Tired and bitter, he almost wishes that the Federation ship would destroy them, but reassures his friend that he is too good a soldier to let that happen.
Meanwhile, back on the Enterprise, Kirk has called a meeting of the senior staff to discuss the situation. Debris from the destroyed outpost shows that the weapons used are far superior to anything that the Federation has, in addition to their ability to cloak their position. On the plus side, Scotty reports that the ship appears to have only impulse power, so the Enterprise has the advantage of speed. The questions Kirk must face are, should they intercept the Romulan vessel, even if it means violating the Neutral Zone and if so, do they stand a reasonable chance of defeating the Romulans? Stiles, naturally, is all for attacking, stating that if they don't, the Romulans will take that as a sign of weakness, and be back in greater numbers. Unfortunately, he then turns his anger and suspicion on Spock again, causing Kirk to once again slap him down. Surprisingly, Spock sides with Stiles: he thinks they should attack. He says that Vulcan had an aggressive colonizing period in their history before they embraced logic. He speculates that, if the Romulans are an offshoot of the Vulcans of this period, who retained these violent tendencies, then the Federation has no choice but to respond forcefully. Dr McCoy is aghast, demanding to know if Spock wants a galactic war on his conscience. Kirk doesn't have much time to weigh his options: the Romulan ship will reach the Neutral Zone in 20 minutes. He also can't consult Star Fleet command, as the earliest he can expect a reply to his previous report is another three hours. Spock reports that the Romulan ship has altered course and will be passing through the tail of a nearby comet. Realizing that, though invisible, the Romulan vessel will leave a trail while passing through it, Kirk decides to seize the opportunity and attack. He orders the crew to battle stations.
What Kirk doesn't realize is that the Romulan commander is setting a trap for him. While the Enterprise's sensors are obscured by the comet, he plans to double back and attack. What he doesn't know is that Kirk's plan is to do an end run around the comet and get them from the other side. When the Enterprise isn't where he expected it to be, the commander deduces what Kirk is up to, and orders evasive maneuvers. For his part, when the Romulan ship doesn't show up, Kirk realizes that he has underestimated its captain. He orders Stiles to strafe the comet, hoping for a hit, though firing blind. They do manage a lucky hit, causing damage to the Romulan ship, and mortally injuring the centurion. Unfortunately, their luck doesn't hold, and their phasers overload, unable to be used as the Romulans turn and fire on them. Kirk orders Sulu to reverse at full speed, but the plasma blast is gaining on them. To their relief, at a certain distance the blast begins to dissipate, so that when it hits, it is no longer at full strength and damage is minimal. This provides Kirk with the information that the Romulan's weapon, though extremely powerful, has limited range.
As they repair the phasers, the Romulan ship returns to its original heading, and Spock suggests that they might believe that the Enterprise was destroyed. Kirk, however, knows that he would never make that assumption, and doesn't think the Romulan commander would, either. He tells Sulu to once again match their course and speed. On board the Romulan ship, the commander cares for his dying friend, while ordering his men to resume cloak. They are reluctant to do so, because they are running low on fuel, but the commander says that the captain of the Enterprise is not one who will repeat a mistake, and they must act accordingly. Speaking of Kirk, he now faces the dilemma of either letting the Romulans escape, or violating the Neutral Zone against orders, risking outright war. Hoping to stop them before they reach it, the Enterprise bombards the area once again with phaser fire. They manage another hit, but it's not serious, and the Romulans continue to the Zone. Kirk tells Uhura to send a message to Star Fleet, saying that, on his responsibility, they are entering the Neutral Zone. The Romulan commander doesn't return fire, realizing Kirk has estimated that they only have enough power to return home, and is trying to make them waste it. Instead, he orders all their debris to be jettisoned- including the centurion's body- to try to fool the Enterprise into thinking they've been destroyed. It doesn't work, as Spock informs Kirk that there is insufficient mass for the debris to be the ship. It does, however, distract them long enough for the Romulans to disappear, the Enterprise even losing the 'blip' they had been following. Sure that the enemy is nearby, Kirk orders all systems shut down, trying to remain undetected and wait out the other ship, which is doing the same.
Neither ship willing to betray their position, this period of silent waiting stretches out to ten hours. Kirk is resting in his quarters, when McCoy comes by to check on him. The tension getting to him, Kirk idly talks for a minute or two about wishing he was somewhere else, before asking McCoy the question that's really haunting him: "What if I'm wrong?" Returning to the bridge, Kirk continues the blackout until Spock, working on repairs, accidentally turns on one of their systems, alerting the Romulans to their position. Stiles of course thinks that this is a deliberate attempt to warn them. Noting the power surge, the Romulan commander orders his men to attack. Kirk, however, deduces where they will attack from, and orders Stiles to fire on that position. The Romulan ship is again hit and badly damaged. The commander once again orders a debris dump, and tells his men to put a nuclear warhead in with it this time. Scanning the floating rubble, Spock detects the bomb, and Kirk immediately orders Sulu to veer off, at the same time firing on the warhead. They manage to destroy it in time, but the Enterprise sustains some heavy damage. Phasers are operational, but due to injuries and repairs, Lt. Tomlinson is left manning weapons control alone. Since Stiles used to work in that department before promotion, he is sent down to help. The Enterprise also has engine capabilities and could move off, but Kirk decides to play dead, hoping to draw the Romulans back to their side of the Neutral Zone.
The Romulan commander has no desire to finish off the Enterprise.Their fuel supply is dwindling, the ship is heavily damaged, and he doesn't trust Kirk to not be pulling another trick. His second in command, however, is overly ambitious and says if the commander is unwilling to do his duty, he demands the right to destroy the Enterprise. Pushed into it, the commander says they will attack, but only on his order. Back on the Enterprise, Spock checks on the repairs being done in weapons control. He asks Stiles if he and Tomlinson need any help, but Stiles rudely repudiates the offer. After Spock leaves, however, a coolant system begins spewing poisonous gas and the two men rush to try to stop it. At this moment, the Romulans attack, and Kirk orders phasers to fire. They don't. Spock hears Kirk trying to raise a response from Stiles, and rushes back to weapons control. The room is now filled with gas, but Spock fights his way through it, activates the phasers, then drags Stiles out of the room. Hit by the Enterprise's phasers at point blank range, the Romulan ship is hopelessly crippled. Kirk contacts the commander and tells him they will beam his surviving crew aboard the Enterprise.
The commander refuses, telling Kirk that that is not their way. He also says that he regrets meeting Kirk this way- that they're very much alike and in another time and place could have been friends. He then proceeds to activate his ship's self-destruct mechanism, causing it to blow up. After this, Kirk makes his way to sickbay, checking on Spock and a chastened Stiles, who tries to thank Spock for saving his life. Spock tells him that it was the logical thing to do. Kirk asks McCoy how many men they lost, and McCoy tells him just one: Tomlinson, the man who had been going to get married that morning. As Kirk starts to leave, Yeoman Rand comes in to inform him that they finally heard from Star Fleet Command, who said they would support whatever decision Kirk made. He pauses to smile ironically at the other men, then heads to the chapel, where he finds Lt. Martine. As she leans on him for comfort, Kirk tells her that, "It never makes much sense, but you have to know there was a reason." She pulls herself together and tells him she's alright. After she leaves the chapel Kirk stays for another minute, staring grimly into space, then strides purposefully off down the Enterprise's corridor.
Well, I just got back from my family's annual family vacation. We started having a group vacation about ten years ago, when one of my sisters got married and the entire family stayed together at a hotel. The night after the wedding, we had a big family swim party at the hotel pool, and that's when the idea was born to get together once a year and spend four days somewhere in the Atlantic provinces as a family. At first, we would rent a series of cottages in some scenic area, but over the years as more spouses and kids were added to the mix, this became impractical. Now we rent a summer camp before their season starts, and spend four days having fun together. My oldest nephew, who was just a toddler when we started this tradition is now twelve, and the family has grown to include 16 adults and 22 kids, the newest addition being just four weeks old. Besides enjoying the camp facilities, taking a day trip off site, and of course doing plenty of talking, laughing, and eating, one activity which is looked forward to every year is the family talent show. There are no age restrictions or rules, so it's always a mixed bag of people singing, playing instruments, or showing off some other talent. Past years have included poorly-done magic acts, a "tap dance" routine by a niece who got a pair of tap shoes at a thrift store and gleefully stomped her way through a song, and on one memorable occasion, a nephew proudly demonstrating his ability to burp the alphabet. His parents cringed a bit, but all his cousins were in awe of his talent. This year, highlights included one nephew exhibiting his ability to stand on his head and my three year old niece belting out 'Let It Go' from Frozen. She had the melody and lyrics down pat, though her inability to pronounce some consonants made for an interesting version: "...A kingdom of isowation, and it wooks like I'm the ween..." One of my sisters and a niece performed 'Under the Bamboo Tree' from Meet Me In St Louis, complete with top hats and canes and accompanied by another sister on the piano, which was a big hit as well. I think that my favourite act of the night was the Abbott and Costello skit, "Who's On First" performed by my eldest nephew and niece. They did a great job on it, and it was almost as fun observing the reactions of their younger cousins, who were seeing it for the first time, as it was watching them perform it. The kids started giggling as they caught on to the joke, and then belly laughing and shouting out "Who's on First!" or "Third base!" along with those lines as they got repeated throughout the routine. The cheers and applause they got were hearty and well deserved. With a large, busy family which doesn't all live in the same city- or even in the same province- it's hard to find occasions when we can all be in one place at one time. Family vacation is one occasion during the year which everyone makes a priority, and noisy, crowded, and crazy as it can be, none of us would think about missing out on the fun. The talent show is part of that, giving everyone a chance to put together and and perform numbers or acts which showcase their abilities and interests before a highly uncritical audience. Making these memories together draws us closer as a family (and provides future potential for blackmail), as we share the great gifts of love and laughter. The original 'Who's On First' skit:
For one who reads, there is no limit to the number of lives that may be lived, for fiction, biography, and history offer an inexhaustible number of lives in many parts of the world, in all periods of time. - Louis L'Amour
'His Girl Friday' is a romantic comedy which is light on the romance and heavy on the comedy. Grant's Walter Burns is a great character- scheming, selfish, oblivious to the needs of others, and tramping over anyone who gets between him and what he wants, whether it's a news story or his ex wife. On paper, Hildy's fiance Bruce Baldwin is certainly the better man. Caring, courteous, with a steady job, he is extremely... worthy. And bland. And dull. No one wants Hildy to end up with this guy- not even Hildy, as it turns out. Speaking of which, Russel's Hildy Johnson is great. Smart and tough, she holds her own with Walter, something no one else in the film manages to do. Yet she also occasionally reveals a softer, more vulnerable side which makes you care about her happiness.
The real star of this movie is the dialogue. It is funny, cynical, and fast. Really fast. Walter and Hildy play off each other brilliantly, exchanging witticisms and insults at a lightening pace, often talking right over each other. It takes a couple of viewings to catch- and laugh at- everything they say. As I commented about another Cary Grant film (see Gunga Din), this isn't a movie for the P.C. police. It delights in poking fun at everything: political corruption, race relations, Communism, men, women, mental illness, the police, the media, immigrants, Hitler, and people with diabetes, to name a few. Anything and everyone is fair game. The humour in 'His Girl Friday' holds up remarkably well; it's just as funny today as it was in 1940. There are only one or two references which might go over the heads of those unfamiliar with the time period. 'His Girl Friday' is funny and fast paced, and it does actually contain a love story, if a somewhat irreverent and unromantic one. It is definitely not to be missed.
* 'His Girl Friday' is a remake of an earlier movie- and play- called 'The Front Page'. * At one point in the movie, Grant- as Burns- refers in an unflattering way to someone named Archie Leach. Archibald Leach was Cary Grant's real name. * Describing Hildy's fiance Bruce Baldwin, Burns says, "He looks like that fellow in the movies... Ralph Bellamy." Bellamy was starring as Baldwin.
My favourite romantic comedy is the movie 'His Girl Friday' from 1940. It stars Cary Grant as Walter Burns, Machiavellian newspaper editor, and Rosalind Russell as Hildy Johnson, his ex-wife and former star reporter. The movie begins with Hildy coming to see Walter, having walked out on her job- and her marriage- some time before, fed up with always coming a distant third in Walter's consideration, behind the paper and any major news story. She tells him that she's getting remarried to an insurance salesman named Bruce Baldwin, and settling down to a quiet life in Albany, N.Y.
Walter wants Hildy back, both as his wife and his reporter, and he immediately begins scheming to derail the wedding plans. He talks Hildy into covering one last story, the upcoming execution of Earl Williams, a convicted murderer. Williams is obviously mentally incompetent, but the corrupt mayor and sheriff are eager to hang him for the political good it will do them in the upcoming election. The state governor orders a reprieve for Williams, and a side plot involves the efforts of the sheriff and mayor to keep the reprieve from being served until it's too late.
Meanwhile, against her own better judgement, Hildy is being pulled back into the newspaper world by her love of a good story and her competitive nature. When Williams escapes and she finds him, Hildy can't resist the opportunity to scoop the other papers, temporarily forgetting about her fiance and wedding. Speaking of the other papers, their reporters suspect that Hildy's got a big story under wraps and are hot on her trail, while the police search also rages on.
All of this provides the backdrop for Walter's wily schemes, which include getting Bruce arrested- several times- and his mother kidnapped. Then, all of these disparate plot lines converge in one place, at one time in a wonderfully zany climax which is brilliant, and absolutely hilarious.
We don't need to have just one favorite. We keep adding favorites. Our favorite book is always the book that speaks most directly to us at a particular stage in our lives. And our lives change. We have other favorites that give us what we most need at that particular time. But we never lose the old favorites. They're always with us. We just sort of accumulate them. - Lloyd Alexander
The play 'Life With Father' was written by Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse. It was adapted from three works by Clarence Day, Jr. which were essentially reminiscences about his father and family life: 'God and My Father', 'Life With Father', and 'Life With Mother'. From the start, the antics of the Day family patriarch and his unruly brood were a massive hit. The play opened in 1939, and didn't close until 1947. Imagine that happening today.
'Life With Father' is set in 1880's New York and centers around Clarence Day, a successful businessman, his wife Lavinia (Vinnie), and his four sons, Clarence Jr, John, Whitney, and Harlan. The plot has three main points, the primary one being the much-disputed baptism of Father Day. When Vinnie discovers to her horror that her husband was never baptized, she becomes convinced that he will not go to Heaven. She insists that he do this at once, but Father refuses to even consider it. Vinnie spends the rest of the play using various ploys to try to convince him- or trick him- into agreeing to be baptized. A secondary plot line deals with Clarence Jr struggling with the pangs of first love, under some difficult- and unusual- circumstances. A third plot deals with the efforts of John to earn money by selling patent medicine, and disparate as these plot lines are, they eventually converge.
Looking back at this description, it doesn't sound all that exciting. But the great charm of 'Life With Father' isn't the plot, it's the people-especially Father Day. He is a great character, one you can't help loving while acknowledging he'd be extraordinarily difficult to live with. Genial and generous when in a good mood- i.e. when everything is as he likes it- he bellows and blusters when crossed or inconvenienced in any way. This has resulted in the family going through one maid after another, with Father innocently bewildered as to what's wrong with them all. His family is quite used to his mercurial temperament and generally react with equanimity to his rants and rages. As well, Margaret, the cook who has been with the family for years, is completely inured to Mr Day's behaviour, accepting to both his lavish praises and shouted criticisms with complacency.
Some of the funniest scenes in the play are those taking place in social situations, because Mr. Day has no filter, and generally says what he thinks. His pungent comments, for example, upon the arrival of unexpected guests, are quite humorous- and probably what we've all secretly thought at one time or another. Also, Clare's blunt assessment of the Rector's business plan when he comes to solicit funds for the church building project as being feckless and unsound makes for an awkward tea time, though he is in fact right.
Father Day's personality is so forceful that it exerts influence even when he's not present, as Clarence Jr. realizes, to his dismay. He wants a new suit, but is told by his father that there'll be no new clothes until he leaves for college in the fall. Instead, Clarence Jr. has one of Father's old suits altered to fit him, but this has dire consequences, as he explains to his mother when she asks him why he's stopped kneeling in church:
Clarence: Mother, I can't make these clothes do anything Father wouldn't do. Vinnie: That's nonsense- and not to kneel in church is a sacrilege. Clarence: But making Father's trousers kneel is more of a sacrilege. Vinnie: Clarence! Clarence: No! Remember the first night I wore this? It was at Dora Wakefield's party for Mary. Do you know what happened? We were playing Musical Chairs and Dora Wakefield sat down suddenly right in my lap. I jumped up so fast that she almost got hurt. Vinnie: But it was all perfectly innocent. Clarence: It wasn't that Dora was sitting on my lap- she was sitting on Father's trousers.
This, as you can imagine, makes his wooing of Mary, the girl he's infatuated with, extremely difficult. Fortunately, Father is a veritable font of wisdom when it comes to women:
Father: Women. They get stirred up-and they try to get you stirred up, too- but don't you let them, Clarence. As long as you can keep reason and logic in the argument, no matter what it's about, a man can hold his own, of course. But if they can switch you- pretty soon the argument's about whether you love them or not. I swear I don't know how they do it. Don't you let 'em, Clarence, don't you let 'em. Clarence: I see what you mean so far, Father. If you don't watch yourself, love can make you do a lot of things you don't want to do. Father: Exactly. Clarence (with new knowledge): But if you do watch out and know just how to handle women- Father: Then you'll be all right. All a man has to do is be firm. You know how at times I have to be firm with your mother.
This advice is a bit of a laugh, as Father's "firmness" with Vinnie never amounts to much. As exasperated as he gets over her lack of money sense, and as often as he storms about her (to him) inexplicable actions, he seldom gets her to do as he wants. While never outright flouting his wishes, Vinnie usually manages to get her way, never intimidated by his stomping and roaring. The truth is that the two of them love each other very much- a fact which is demonstrated forcefully in the last act- and can never stay angry with each other. 'Life With Father' is ostensibly a play about a man attempting to avoid getting baptized, but is in reality much more than that. Always funny- and sometimes touching- the play is light, frothy entertainment. And while you might not want to live 'Life with Father', it sure is a lot of fun to visit for a while.
Kurt Vonnegut's 'Harrison Bergeron' takes place in a grim future America. Competition in all its forms has been eliminated, through laws which are designed to enforce equality and bring about "fairness" for all. It is now wrong- and illegal- to be smarter, faster, or stronger than anyone else. Also to be prettier, more graceful, or more talented. This is accomplished through "handicaps" which people are required to wear to correct whatever unequal skills or abilities they might have which would make them superior in any way.
What does this mean on an individual level? Well, most importantly, it means that everyone is stupid. Since it would be unfair for anyone to have the advantage of higher intelligence, the allowable IQ level is set to the lowest level at which people are still able to function. Anyone born with greater intelligence has it squelched by the state imposed ear radios. It also means that everyone is kept in a weakened state, since no one can be stronger or faster than anyone else. There must be complete equality between the sexes as well, as we find out when Hazel suggests that George remove a couple of his weights to rest, stating that she doesn't mind if he's not equal with her for a while. What does this mean for society? It is completely stagnant. No longer is striving for individual success and betterment looked on as a good thing; it is dangerous and evil. Equality in everything is everything. This means that people cannot attain their employment through skill and ability... that would discriminate against those who have neither. This is why the TV announcer is someone with a speech impediment: it would hardly be fair to keep someone from a job simply because they weren't good at it. Promotion must not be based on talent or success. This leads to incompetence and poor performance, as witnessed when the TV station has to make three attempts to broadcast the photo of Harrison right side up. There is no greatness- of thought, feeling, word, or deed. This is because there is no freedom of thought, feeling, word, or deed. We see the insipid thought and speech which is all that people are now capable of in the characters of George and Hazel. They have also become incapable of strong feeling; while they seem to harbour some affection for each other, nothing goes very deep. Their son- their son - has been taken away by the state, and is eventually killed, and all they have is a vague notion that something isn't quite right.
The only person we see react passionately is Harrison Bergeron, who rebels against his handicaps and tries to overthrow the government. Unfortunately, he chooses the wrong way to do this, declaring himself to be Emperor. Rather than attempting to free everyone from the tyrannical government, he merely offers a change of overlords. Of course, immersed in this totalitarian system since birth, he has no concept of anything else, and unfortunately, will not be given time to develop one. This brings us to the only other person in the story whom we see act autonomously: the Handicapper General, Diana Moon Glamper. Harrison acts violently to throw off the chains- literal and figurative- of oppression, and Glamper reacts even more violently to keep them in place. I think that Vonnegut's choice of names for her was positively inspired: Diana Moon Glamper. The first part sounds like the flaky type who makes fluffy, amorphous speeches about fairness and social justice. The second part- Glamper- sounds rather authoritarian, which she is, determined to retain a grasping, unbreakable hold on the citizenry, willing to stamp out personal liberties in the name of the Greater Good.
One of the most horrifying things about this story is that the people have done this to themselves.They somehow convinced themselves that competition in any form was so entirely unfair that anything was better than that- even giving up all personal freedom. George Bergeron is so convinced of this that he lives in constant pain from what amounts to torture by the state, rather than risk even a slight infraction of the rules. This is partially out of fear of reprisals, but also due to his conviction that inequality would be far worse. Better everybody equally miserable than everyone relatively happy (or successful, or talented), but some more than others. Of course 'Harrison Bergeron' is exaggerated, but I do think that western society has taken some unhealthy steps in this general direction: the practice, for example, of employment or acceptance not achieved solely through merit and ability, but dependent upon quotas for special interest groups. Designed to promote "fairness", it is patently unfair to those of superior ability outside of these favoured sets. I don't believe the answer to unequal ability or access is lowered standards and expectations. Besides, when anyone- especially the government- starts implementing policies to make life "fairer" and people more "equal", it usually doesn't turn out very well (see Animal Farm). The fact is, this type of "equality" for everyone means freedom for no one.
Equality, rightly understood as our founding fathers understood it, leads to liberty and to the emancipation of creative differences; wrongly understood, as it has been so tragically in our time, it leads first to conformity, and then to despotism. - Barry Goldwater