Surveillance in Foucault's Panopticism and Vonnegut's Harrison Bergeron
Ever feel as though someone is watching you? You know that you are the only one in a room, but for some reason you get an eerie feeling that you are not alone? You might not see anyone, but the eyes of a stranger could be gazing down on you. In Foucault's "Panopticism," a new paradigm of discipline is introduced, surveillance. No one dares to break the law, or do anything erroneous for that matter, in fear that they are being watched. This idea of someone watching your every move compels you to obey. This is why the idea of Panopticism is such an efficient form of discipline. The Panopticon is the ideal example of Panopticism, which is a tool for surveillance that we are introduced to in “Panopticism.” Kurt Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron," has taken the idea of surveillance one step further. The government not only observes everyone, but has complete control over society. The citizens of the United States cannot even think for themselves without being interrupted by the government. They are prisoners in their own minds and bodies. The ideals of “Panopticism” have been implemented to the fullest on society in Vonnegut’s "Harrison Bergeron," through physical and mental handicaps.
In “Panopticism” Foucault states, “the major effect of the Panopticon: to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power” (Foucault, pg. 201). The function of the Panopticon is to keep the prisoners orderly by instilling fear inside of them, this fear forces them to stay in their cells, and to remain compliant. The Panopticon is a building designed for surveillance.
In “Panopticism,” the Panopticon is a central watch tower in the prison. The cells of the prison are all facing the center of a circular building. In the middle of this circular structure is a watch tower, where the guard(s) are positioned. The prisoners have no way of knowing when they are being surveyed, because they can not see inside the watch tower, and they have no way to avoid being seen. The citizens of the United States of America in 2081 are living in their own form of a cell in Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron.” They live in fear of the government. The society itself has become a prison, and the government resembles the guard in the tower of the Panopticon. The automatic power that the Panopticon has is now shown by the government as they survey their citizens.
In society today, people who are taken to prison are given a number, and their individuality is stripped from them. This stripping of individuality is exactly what has happened to the citizens in “Harrison Bergeron.” They have lost all individuality, and are similar to the prisoners of the Panopticon, which Foucault describes in “Panopticism.” (Foucault, pg. 200) The citizens in “Harrison Bergeron” are all equal in every way. As Vonnegut puts it, “They weren’t only equal before God and the law....