How is a dystopian society described in The Running Man by Stephen King?
Plenty of books have been written on the subject of dystopia. Authors of these books usually tend to consider their works as omens. Omens of what danger the future possess if the humanity does not change its course and renounce its wrongdoings. George Orwell wrote about dangers of carving a path to the rule of the all-seeing, all-knowing, unforgiving dictatorship that monitors your each step. Huxley warned us about giving up parts of us that make us human in exchange for an illusion of happiness, created by perishable material things and simple hedonistic pleasures. The Running Man, a novel by Stephen King, written under the pseudonym Richard Bachman, borrows from those two giants of literature yet adds something unique, entirely its own.
The novel takes place in the year 2025 in a totalitarian dystopia. The main character of the book, Ben Richards is out of a job and has to find money for his daughter medicine. Without any other option, he turns to Game Network – an in-universe organization that runs game shows where the life of a contestant is at stake. Richards is about to participate in network’s largest and the most profitable show, The Running Man. As one of the producers tell him: “The Running Man’s main functions are ‘good theater’ and ‘pleasuring’ the masses and getting rid of dangerous people” (Bachman, 1999). He is set to win a large sum of money if he manages to stay alive for 30 days, while being on the run from Hunters – assassins that have to kill him.
Disregarding the plot of the book and what happens to the protagonist, in the end, let’s look at the world itself and its main source of entertainment. This isn’t the only game that Game Network runs, there are also games like Treadmill to Bucks, where contestants with heart conditions run on the treadmill for as long as they can to earn money. Usually, it ends in the contestant’s death. The world where people enjoy the tragedies so much might look like a horrible future…if we’re not living in it already that is. We enjoy watching others suffer or experience anguish. For instance, during televised chase after OJ Simpson, pizza sales were as high as those during Super Bowl Sunday. “More than 95 million viewers tuned in to watch O.J. Simpson evade police” (Smith, 2014). Surely, King’s example is hyperbolized, but hyperbole is usually the best way to quickly convey the idea to masses.
The world depicted in The Running Man is a scary one, where the human life is disregarded for the sake of entertainment. All postulates on which modern civilization supposed to stand, with the minimization of human’s death, where war and murder are last resort necessities not the first-hand solution to the problem are thrown out the window. If you think that this world and ours are on different planes of existence, think about that again, when people tune in to watch another execution of “infidels.”
Bachman, R. (1999). The Running Man. New York, N.Y.: Signet.
Smith, A. (2014). How O.J. Simpson’s Car Chase Led To Record Sales At Domino’s Pizza.
Business Insider. Retrieved 27 June 2016, from
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