Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Literally the Best Reviews: Vigilance

Vigilance - Robert Jackson Bennett
196 pages

Vigilance by Robert Jackson Bennett is a much smaller book than I would typically pick up from the shelf. At less than 200 pages, I would mostly overlook this one as being only a short afternoon read. I prefer longer books with a lot of action. However, this book jumped into my hands at the Lockport Library with a simply intriguing summary on the back cover.

It is 2030 in the United States and reality game shows still rule the airwaves. John McDean is the executive producer of one of those shows, “Vigilance.” The show is the biggest craze in the nation, supposedly designed to keep the citizenry alert and prepared for any terrorist attacks. The show releases killers onto the general populace for a live attack with first responders swooping in to save the day before too many innocent bystanders are taken out. Throughout it all, viewers can watch it all unfold on their televisions.

The show exploits the mass shootings that have become far too commonplace. Most people know to stay inside and away from public areas on the nights that the show airs. Going out could mean their death. Instead they are glued to the TV while McDean gives them everything they want through creating directing.

McDean is full of confidence for producing the greatest “Vigilance” show ever, to create an even bigger following. However, he finds out that someone outside his inner circle is suddenly controlling his show. The foreign influence could have catastrophic results for the show and the general American public. 

This book is a scathing satire of modern American life, dominated by commercialism, inherent xenophobic fears, and an unhealthy obsession with the perilous social media. Instead of truly finding a way to eliminate the mass shooting events, this future has embraced it as part of their culture. Even the people of that time understand the dangers and probable deaths associated, they cannot help but be riveted to the television as “Vigilance” plays out.

Reading this book was just as fast paced as watching the show would be. The events come quickly and furiously with producers adjusting as needed as the ordeal unfolds. It is truly frightening to see how easily reality could be twisted to suit their needs and get the most sympathy possible from their viewers. It makes you question the actual motives of corporate, for profit news outlets today. There is a very fine line between reporting the news and creating the news.

With a book as short as this one, it is difficult to get any deep understanding of the characters. Most of their actions are superficial and stereotypical, and with good reason. The characters are not the main focus of this story. The events and overall society surrounding those events is the real story. The characters are only there to propel the narrative and give it just enough humanity to be relatable to the reader. Bennett does a great job rendering the scenery and actions throughout it to the status of both protagonist and antagonist. While I am generally a far bigger fan of character development, I admire this author’s work to make that secondary to the story he was trying to tell.

Obviously, my biggest issue with this book is its length. I prefer a longer book, but Bennett is able to convey his story in such an abbreviated manner that stretching it out to anything any longer would be doing a disservice to the satirical nature of the book. Sometimes, these exceptions to my own reading rules make the best stories. In this case, Vigilance makes the grade.

Vigilance by Robert Jackson Bennett is a short book, but tells a tale that we should all heed. This could be our future. If we don’t want it to be our future, we need to stand up and do something about it. We can’t sit idly by waiting for someone to do the hard work for us. And that makes this the perfect satire. While we can laugh at the absurdity of having a show glorifying mass shootings, a part of our minds have to be cringing at the thought that we could ever do that for real. It’s nothing like lions and gladiators in the Coliseum, right?

Craig Bacon loves satire and sarcasm. Unfortunately some many people are too literal to “get” it.