(To see Cal Grondahl’s cartoon that goes with this post, click here.) Actually, Glenn Beck didn’t actually write “Agenda 21,” a fan named Harriet Parke did, but Beck’s name, huge at the top, is why this young adult, middling dystopia tale is on the best-seller charts. The right-wing Mormon talker does offer a final paragraph, in which he claims that the plot, admittedly hyped, could happen if Americans allow Beck’s bugaboos — the United Nations, progressives, environmentalists, socialists … — to enact radical plans to promote the planet over basic human rights.
Article 21, by the way, is an obscure United Nations resolution that urges local, national and global communities to make it a priority to stop humans from harming the planet through presumably pollution and excessive carbon use. Interestingly, Article 21 is specifically opposed in the Republican Party national platform.
The plot of “Article 21″ is simple: An 18-year-old girl, Emmeline, lives in a slave society, called The Republic, that provides humans the bare necessities to survive and forces them to constantly be creating energy, whether on flat treadmills or friction bicycles. People are paired (married) but love is discouraged, and children are taken from their parents at birth and raised without love.
“The Authorities” rule the people, who are mostly meek as sheep. Occasionally persons disappear. There is no communication between the population sectors and no maps, books, papers, Internet or other forms of communications. To harm the environment, or any animal or insect, can be a capital offense. The land is barren and few people can bear children. Rations (nourishment cubes) are getting smaller. The authorities blame unseen enemies for the woes.
Naturally, people are constantly under surveillance. Once an individual starts to slow down, due to age or infirmity, they are taken to a recycling center and disposed of. Rather improbably, this totalitarian world has occurred in only a generation. Emmeline was born on a farm and while too young to recall it, is told about life in free America by her parents prior to their deaths.
After her mother’s death Emmeline discovers trinkets of her past life hidden in her mom’s mattress. These include photographs of her prior life, a New Testament, and even a switchblade. To cut to the climax of the novel, Emmeline has a baby, can’t face life separated from her child, and with her new “pair,” who shares love and ideals with, plots to steal away from her sector and exist in the unknown, but free wilderness.
The plot has all the standard themes for dystopia novels and is structured somewhat as a mixture of “1984,” “The Hunger Games,” and even “Brave New World.” The paragraphs are short, in the Dan Brown style, and the book moves swiftly. I presume there will be sequels, as the novel has an ending that seems to beg for a second volume. There are several plot holes: How did society go to hell in 15 years? Why hasn’t the constant surveillance uncovered mom’s trinkets of an earlier life? Why is there a hole left unattended in a fence behind a broken wagon where our protagonists can easily flee? How are people separated between Authority figures or slaves?
Nevertheless, it’s an easy read with an appeal that goes beyond Beck fans, although it probably goes easier with conservative readers. The novel would easily translate into a potentially interesting movie.
I’ve mostly ignored the political message behind the book. I don’t share Beck’s conspiracy concerns about Agenda 21 and other radical environmental schemes that come from the United Nations or climate change extremists. To me, stuff like Agenda 21 is just silly liberal environmental politics, unpopular and ignored. All anyone has to do is look at the constant failures of the Kyoto conferences and other attempts to significantly reduce carbon use. In other words, we don’t have to worry about “nourishment cubes,” “death sentences for stepping on a snake” or “forced bicycling to harness energy” and so on.
“Agenda 21″ is at its heart a cousin of “The Hunger Games” and other similar YA fiction. It’s not in that series’ class, but it’s a fun, fast-paced read. Despite it’s heavy-handed politics, sure to be mocked, it’s escapist fare.
Of course, Beck’s answer to me is that I’m one of those feckless folks who will sit there and let the radical environmental totalitarians turn the U.S. in “Agenda 21,” always believing the worse will never happen, until it’s too late. I guess time will tell if Beck was a tad too paranoid or a latter-day prophet.