Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Running Man

Ohhhhh, what can I say about Stephen King's The Running Man? Does anything that hasn't been said come to mind, seeing that it was released in 1982 and underneath Stephen King’s other pen name, Richard Bachman. Hmmm. Well, for starters, the book takes place in the year 2025. The world is heavily dystopian and littered with financial and social status classification problems. The rich get richer. The poor get poorer. Or something to that economic philosophic twist. As a form of entertainment, the wealthy and high-status individuals/companies offer the poorer individuals the chance to earn massive amounts of money by participating in a variety of supposedly entertaining reality game shows.  

A concept that's more or less different than today. 

Nonetheless, the deadliest of these shows is The Running Man; and with an eighteen-month-old daughter ill and slowly dying, and a wife who has resorted to prostitution to gather money for medicine, twenty-eight-year-old Ben Richards decides that he’s had enough of watching his family suffer.  Therefore, he steps forward as a contestant in one of the games, run by one of the aforementioned super companies with economic sway and power. Unfortunate for him, he’s saddled as an enemy of the state in The Running Man reality show. The whole nation is after you in this game. Police, Hunters, average citizens; everyone stands a chance of collecting money off your bounty–whether through your death or capture. However, if you survive 30 days, you are rewarded one billion dollars. Will Ben Richards make it that far?  From chapter 100 counting down to 0, that's the question that keeps you locked to the thrill involved in The Running Man.

I'll keep this quick. I hope…

There’s plenty to take from this angry book; the suspenseful speeding plot/storytelling, the dark themes, the ugliness of a capitalistic society, and the general thrill of it all. It made for a fun, quick read. Something not too involved or complicated for a leisure afternoon reading.  In other words, while it was obviously themed, it was all mostly surface and arguable because of the speeding plot leading the way. 

All the same, I had a lot of grievances with Ben Richards himself.  Those grievances were tied to this pull I had for totally hating him as a character, but admiring his resourcefulness and ability to survive. I mean, I did perk up when Ben was crawling his way through a maze of sewer drains to escape both the police and his self-created arson attack. And some of his confrontational stand-offs with empowered characters were fun.  He expressed his attitude regarding his circumstances as well as his balls to challenge authority without hesitation. And moments where the fast-pace crawled, they were saved by the discussions of dystopian conspiracies.  So that part was cool.

But perhaps it’s the tone of the book–or maybe it’s the voice of Ben Richards’s narrative–that caused me to mostly wince.  I found some heightened hypocritical things going on in The Running Man. See, one minute Ben was sloshing around the n-word to press his disgust of a particularly character in a certain position within the game (a controlling and higher position at that), the next he was deploying the assistance of two black kids to help him out of his situation. One minute he was sloshing around the f-word to press his disgust of a particular character, the next (well, a lot later in the book) he pulled a total reverse in the form of exposition regarding how important it was to put an end to cold bigotry, or what he calls, “queer-stomping“. Then there’s the burly somewhat sideman who presses racially derogatory terms aimed at Irish and Hispanic people. And you know what? Even the black kid takes a returned racial jab at a white character within the book. Really, with all the anger between the rich and poor worth focusing on in a dystopian world charged with economic depravity, I just wished everyone would shut the hell up.

Maybe it’s the stress of the economy. Maybe it’s something else altogether inside of my own hopes and beliefs for mankind.  At the end of The Running Man, I prayed that our real, actual 2025 would have progressed a lot further than some unspecified time within our 1930s. I did enjoy the book; I just didn’t really care for but a small number of characters that helped guide the thrill along. The trap was that I was stuck in Ben Richards’s head, one in which I grew so tired of that I had little sympathy for him toward the end.  Despite appreciating his ingenuity to survive.  My lasting view of him was that he was a part of the problem.

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