My Year of King, #10-The Running Man

Thursday, July 05, 2018

I suspect The Running Man is probably the best known of the Bachman books, thanks to the 1987 movie starring the future governor of California. Like The Long Walk, it takes place in a near future where the main form of entertainment is watching people compete in life-or-death competitions for fame and fortune. In the dystopian society of The Running Man, the wealthy and powerful see the poor as vermin who selfishly expect things like jobs and safety and health care (how rude!). To keep them in line, a powerful media company, specializing in reality game shows, gives some of the poor the opportunity to make money by competing in competitions where they must risk embarrassment, injury, or death for the entertainment of the masses. The protagonist, Ben Richards, signs up for the biggest competition of them all, The Running Man, in an effort to save his infant daughter who is gravely ill. As a contestant on this sadistic show, Richards must try to evade the Hunters for as long as possible, all while people on the street are tracking his movements and reporting them back to the Hunters for cash rewards. For every hour he stays alive, he earns what would be a month's salary at most jobs. For every police officer or Hunter he kills, he receives a bonus. If he can last 30 days, he will win a $1 billion prize. No one has ever lasted more than eight days, but Richards hopes he can survive long enough to get his daughter the care she needs.

As books go, this one is pretty dark. There is really nothing to lighten the bleakness of Richards's situation-every time he begins to feel a little bit of hope, he is betrayed, injured, etc...Sadly, considering the book was written over 30 years ago, there are an awful lot of parallels between the casual cruelty of King's future America and the one we are living in right now. So much rhetoric has gone into convincing people that the poor are leeches, lazy welfare queens who just expect hand-outs, that there is little stomach in the country for addressing the systemic causes of poverty. King also describes reality TV before it was really a thing, predicting the rise of shows such as Survivor, Big Brother, and The Amazing Race. Is it so difficult to imagine a more desperate future where the stakes for contestants on these shows rise to the level of life and death? The Running Man also explores the idea that the media will rise to be the greatest power in society, and how it can be manipulated by the wealthy and powerful to their own ends. Considering the number of people who never look up from their smartphones (and I'm not judging-sometimes I'm one of those people), we've already reaches saturation in terms of media consumption. And we've already seen how that media can be manipulated to produce a desired result. Of course, propaganda has been around for a long time, but never before has it had such an easy time reaching the masses, nor has it been as ubiquitous as it is now. We've seen the effects of that biased media manipulation in many ways, not least during the last election cycle, and right up to the present. There are large swaths of people who believe that the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. is a true patriot, looking out for the little guy, "draining the swamp" and fighting the "deep state", despite the OVERWHELMING evidence to the contrary. All this because our news sources have become so politically polarized, and because the rise of the internet allows any yahoo with a cause to have a world-wide platform.

Yeah, this was actually a really bad book to read right now. As someone who is already having trouble dealing with the many terrible things this administration is doing, I didn't really need to read something that is so dark and feels so utterly, frighteningly possible. Darn you, Uncle Stevie, for being so prescient. I'd rather your flights of imagination didn't land so close to home.

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