Glenn Beck’s “Agenda 21” is set in an undated but futuristic totalitarian United States. Unfortunately, the book offers nothing new to the dystopian genre and is cliched.
The novel is authored by well-known conservative talk show host Glenn Beck and registered nurse Harriet Parke. It is titled after the United Nation’s Agenda 21, an action plan that was created for future urban development that aims to be sustainable. Tea Party and Republican Party members have criticized Agenda 21 as entrenching upon property rights. Beck and Parke take their criticism of the United Nations to an extreme, arguing that Agenda 21 will result in the complete collapse of democracy and freedom and will create a dictatorship-ruled society similar to George Orwell’s “1984.”
Unlike Orwell’s “1984,” the world presented to readers in Agenda 21 is boring and flat. The narration follows the life of a young woman in two different confinement camps, or “compounds,” that are identical to each other. The Central Authority rules the lives of the people in the Republic, where people live in undecorated, gray “living spaces,” work dull jobs and eat “food cubes” as their only reward. Citizens’ lives are monitored by the Authority Figures, Enforcers and Gatekeepers.
It is clear Beck and Parke did not stretch any imaginative muscles. The details they give their readers are stale and sparse. “Agenda 21” does not have Orwell’s imagination or his brilliance. The only new technologies Beck and Parke bring to the world are energy-garnering treadmills and bikes that citizens use every day to make energy for the Republic. This pales in comparison to the horrifying torture methods Orwell described in terrifying detail.
The most disappointing aspect of the novel is its main character, a young woman named Emmeline. Her narrative voice belongs to a 12-year-old even though she is 17. In a style eerily similar to the anti-feminist Bella Swan of “Twilight,” Emmeline depends on the adults and men in her life for nearly everything. She quickly falls for the attractive David, a gatekeeper who is actually a good guy and is nothing more than a handsome, strong shoulder to cry on.
To add insult to the sexist injury, Beck and Parke romanticize a sexual encounter between 17-year-old Emmeline and George, a 30-year-old man she met before David. In some states, such a scenario is statutory rape, but Beck and Harriet describe the scene with phrases like “it was good to feel his breath on my neck” and “it was good to be paired with [George].”
“Paired” is the word Beck and Parke use to refer to sex, which is never used a single time in the novel.
The book has some relevance to Austin — maybe. In the afterword, Beck says that, on an unspecified date, Austin’s City Council unanimously adopted Agenda 21-friendly initiatives. What these initiatives are, or what they did, he does not specify or say.
Beck is as sparse with detail in his afterword as he is throughout the rest of the book. “Agenda 21” paints a colorless, dull world with flat, stereotypical characters and the occasional offensive and sexist theme. Its conclusion resolves nothing and leaves readers with more questions than answers.”
Printed on Monday, Nov. 26, 2012 as: Glenn Beck's dystopian future lacks depth