‘‘Harrison Bergeron’’ was first published in the October, 1961, issue of the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. It was Vonnegut's third publication in a science fiction magazine following the drying up of the once-lucrative weekly family magazine market where he had published more than twenty stories between 1950 and 1961. The story did not receive any critical attention, however, until 1968 when it appeared in Vonnegut's collection Welcome to the Monkey House. Initial reviews of the collection generally were less than favorable, with even more positive reviewers, such as Mitchel Levitas in the New York Times and Charles Nicol in the Atlantic Monthly, commenting negatively on the commercial quality of many of the stories. By the late 1980s, however, ‘‘Harrison Bergeron’’ was being reprinted in high school and college literature anthologies. Popular aspects of the story include Vonnegut's satire of both enforced equality and the power of the Handicapper General, and the enervating effect television can have on viewers. "Harrison Bergeron’’ likely draws upon a controversial 1961 speech by then Federal Communications Commission chairman Newton Minow titled "The Vast Wasteland,’’ a reference to a supposed dearth of quality in television programming. Coincidentally, ‘‘Harrison Bergeron’’ also alludes to the George Burns and Gracie Allen television show, a weekly situation comedy and variety show popular in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Vonnegut has said that he learned most of what he believes about social and political idealism from junior civics class, as well as from the democratic institution of the public school itself. A futuristic story dealing with universal themes of equality, freedom, power and its abuses, and media influence, ‘‘Harrison Bergeron’’ continues to evoke thoughtful responses about equality and individual freedom in the United States.
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