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Power is the central element in all social relationships. We need and want power to realize ourselves: be the people we want to be and influence the others and their decisions. As all sources of power are essentially limited, every single attempt we make to acquire power ends up causing a power struggle. For instant, the most obvious power source, money, is limited. We do not create it –thus power- out of nothing and compete with others to get more out of the shared pool. Kosinski’s novel, “Being There”, ultimately deals with the issue of power struggle between people and groups.
Equality is an illusion and can never be achieved. Whenever there are two or more people or groups in a single environment, they start to compete with each other. Each individual or group -either willingly or unwillingly- takes part in this struggle and tries to get to the top, to have more power than the others. Even in our most simple social relationships, we struggle to not only realize ourselves but also to influence the people around us and impose our personalities in them.
Many instances of power struggle can be found in “Being There.” Especially in and after Chapter 5, in which politics is introduced, we can see various examples of power struggle. After all, politics is the art of power struggle. In Chapter 5, Chance is invited to the United Nations fete, an event attended by men of power from all around the globe. These men think of Chance highly and do not know the empty mirror he actually is. Chance is seen as one of the most successful businessmen in the United States. As soon as he can, the Russian Ambassador Skrapinov gets closer to Chance. He wants to have this “prestigious businessman” on his side. He also tries to influence him by imposing himself on Chance. He things that Chance knows Russian (He obviously does not) and is a fan of Krylov’s fables. (He doesn’t even know how to read!) This is similar to the power struggle we have in our daily lives, especially when amongst friends.
Knowledge is another way of acquiring power. The more we know, the more powerful we are. When examined country-wise, we can see that governments “learn” with their intelligence agencies. Chance is of extreme importance to governments, yet nothing is known about him. So, both the American and the Russian intelligence agencies compete with each other –Russians even sacrifice one of their agents in the process- to know more about Chance. They just can’t seem to find anything about him. The Russians even give him the codename “The Blank Sheet.” (It is kind of ironic as he actually is a blank sheet.) Chance, without even knowing, actually gains power by being a blank sheet. His having no past to get in his way in politics is seen as a blessing and is to help him greatly.
Towards the end of the novel, we see the biggest instance of power struggle: The Presidential Elections. Chance is to be elected the president of the United States in the upcoming elections and be the victor of this power struggle. Of course, this is not decided by the people. “Men behind the curtain”, men that have acquired power through money, make the decision. As Chance is seen as a powerful man with no past (The perfect candidate), these men think that he should be elected.
Mass media is the biggest tool that institutions and governments use to have power over the people. Whether it be TV, newspapers or anything else, it’s used as a means of influencing people’s opinions, thus controlling their actions. As TV is right at the center of the whole novel, its effects on people can easily be observed. Chance’s ideas and his actions are completely controlled by the Television. Whatever he does, he does it as he has seen it on TV. Whatever he does not do, that’s because TV hasn’t shown him how to do it. TV has ultimate power over Chance. Kosinski doesn’t suggest that only Chance is controlled (And stupefied) by the mass media. He hints at the fact that the whole society is constantly being influenced by it.
All in all, Kosinski suggests that power struggle is everywhere. It can be between two people (The Russian Ambassador’s imposing his personality on Chance), between groups (Intelligence agencies’ trying to know more than each other) or between groups and people (Mass media). No matter on what scale we examine social relationships and the world around us, we will find some kind of power struggle. After all, it is the goal of our lives: to realize ourselves and influence others. We constantly strive to get to the top. “Being There” –even though it’s more about the TV and its effects- is a nice analysis and examination of the power struggle in the society.
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