9 January 2014
Ideal in the Eyes of Society
Humans have constructed a society where perfection is idolized. Individuals attempt to reach this farfetched ideality yet they fail to acknowledge that it is not within arm’s reach. People, as civilized as they are, crave aspects of structure. The absence of set rules and guidelines leave the citizens of this world clueless. Expectations differ from culture to culture and that is what results in a diversity of norms, morals and desires. Cultural expectations influence the way the citizens of that society think, talk and act. In Douglas Coupland’s novel, Generation X, he uses a variety of diverse characters to represent different groups of people born in the time frame of the late 1950’s to the early 1960’s. The novel follows three main characters Andy, Dag and Claire who are experiencing hardship at this time in their lives. They all struggle to find themselves in a society that is constantly trying to mold them into a set perception of the “ideal” individual. To be yourself in a world is constantly trying to change you is the greatest accomplishment. Society places these unrealistic expectations on its citizens resulting in a loss of identity, fear towards the future and a string of obsessive actions.
Humans are unique because they acquire this unique ability to distinguish themselves from everybody else. Individuals use personal taste and creativity to form themselves. Since the beginning of time, society has managed to paint a picture of what the perfect individual is like in regards to beauty and success. As a result, people are motivated to strive for a lifestyle that fits society’s definition of beautiful or successful. However, as people are trying to be the ideal individual, they lose a sense of who they really are. In Coupland’s novel, Claire and Dag experience this for themselves. Dag is the ideal man who attends a post-secondary institute and receives a degree and then goes on to find a decent job. He works at a marketing office for a fair bit of time. At the beginning, he believes that he is leading a successful life in accordance with what people think. However, as time progresses he begins to realize that this is not what he wants to be doing with his life. This is not who he is as an individual. At one point in the novel, Dag says “I had decided that morning that is was very hard to see myself doing the same job two years down the road”, this quote is crucial to Dag’s discovery because he catches on to the fact that he was so caught up being what everyone else wanted him to be that he neglected what he himself wanted to be. He was on the verge of losing his identity but quickly discovered that it is fine to be someone different. People do not have to be exactly alike. Next, Claire is a helpless romantic who fantasizes about the ideal man. The ideal man during that period of time would be a character like Tobias. Tobias, in society’s eyes, is the ideal man. He leads a “successful” life, working as a business man in New York living a luxurious lifestyle. He acquires the good looks and the hefty wallet, making him the main attraction for all women. Claire obsesses over Tobias at one point because she believes that he is a good catch despite the fact he lacks the personality qualities that she desires in a man. She prefers men who give the time and the effort in a relationship. She admires a man who is sweet, sensitive and caring. Unfortunately, Tobias lacks all these qualities. However, Claire continues to crave him because she believes he is a good catch in the eyes of people. When Claire flies to New York to see Tobias she than realizes that he is not the ideal man in her eyes. “And I don’t know who that someone will be, but that’s who I’m going to fall in love with. Someone who’s dowsing for water, just like me”, this quote is significant in the way that it reveals Claire’s development as an individual. This quote emphasizes that Claire has figured out that Tobias, although ideal in the eyes of others, is not ideal from her perspective. The sad part was that she herself began to believe that this is the type of man that she should be with. She lost a sense of who she truly was in the midst of all this. Fortunately, she caught on before it was too late. Humans must learn that even in the most difficult of times, they must keep true to themselves and not get lost within the crowd.
Society does not only attempt to mold people into different individuals, it creates this imaginary path that humans are supposed to follow if they wish to create a successful future for themselves. In Coupland’s novel, he reenacts the idea that people are so busy trying to create this idealistic future that they unintentionally neglect the present. At the beginning of the novel, Andy was explaining life in Palm Springs, at one point he said “we spend our youth attaining wealth and our wealth attaining youth”. (10) This quote is important as it reinforces the idea that humans are so caught up trying to create this future for themselves that they do not realize that they were slowly taking away their present. People get too caught up in attaining the wealth and the success that they forget to live their youth. They end up using the wealth they have trying to pick up the pieces of what could have been their youth. Next, the high expectations placed by society create a sense of fear within individuals. They are afraid that if they do not live up to the set standards their future will not be acceptable. When Andy was describing his parent’s lifestyle he mentioned their upbringing; “I want to tell them that I envy their upbringings that were so clean, so free of futurelessness” (86). This quote further proves how society’s ideology of the “perfect” future works against the human race as it results in fear as to what they might become and if it will be enough. Success does not have a specific measurement. Success varies from individual to individual making their lives original to them.
With the presence of fear towards the future, a direct correlation with the past is also present. When people are afraid of the future, one can assume that this is because they are afraid to leave behind the past. The past is always “safe” because it is familiar and people have adapted to it. When Andy is explaining his parent’s house to Dag, he states “Nothing ever changes there; they’re terrified of the future” (84). He is referring to their house and how it looks exactly the same way as it did fifteen years ago. This quote proves how people grasp on to the past because they are used to it and avoid the future because they fear change.
When humans are provided with tasks, they often strive to accomplish such. In some cases, an unwanted obsession to achieve such task comes about. For instance, when Claire decided that Tobias was the perfect man, she began to do whatever it would take so she could make their relationship work. Tobias had left for New York City and Claire decided to follow him. To follow a man to a completely different state is beyond wanting something, it turns into needing something. Before she leaves she says “I know you guys think I’m an obsequious doormat for following Tobias to New York” (136). This shows how society’s image of the perfect man influenced Claire’s behavior, eventually turning it into obsessive acts. Expectations, especially those placed by society, have the capability to alter ones way of thought. During all this, the individual loses sense of what is truly valuable and of importance to them because they are busy trying to achieve “success”.
Societal expectations are capable of allowing an individual to lose their identity, live in a fearful present because of what the future might be and leads to obsessive actions which drag the person’s focus away from what is truly important. Whether it is in regards to what society thinks is beautiful or successful, people live in a community where they are obliged to believe that what society says is true. However, it does not stop at simply believing, it continues on that person acting on behalf of those beliefs to achieve what society has set out as ideal. This results in the individual losing a sense of who they really, what they value and limits them from reaching their fullest potential. For individuals to be themselves in a world that is constantly attempting to change them is truly the greatest accomplishment.