“Gattaca” is a movie about a man named Vincent who is born into a “new” society that uses genetics as the make-up for what social class you are given and will remain in, no matter what you do. Vincent is a “godchild”. He is born the “natural way”, without any genetic altering and his future is set for him as soon as he is conceived. His place in society is at the bottom of the social class and with all his “birth defects”, he seems to be placed even lower. He has poor eyesight and heart problems among many other things and is only given a life expectancy of around thirty years of age.
He is denied the basics of life such as medical care and education. When his brother, Aton, is born through genetic alteration, Vincent becomes even more aware of his “differences” when even his own family begins to turn against him in hopes of furthering Aton to an even better social class than he has already been born into. His father tells him that he can never be an astronaut and that he should be helping his little brother to succeed. Despite Vincent’s dreams, he is a “godchild” and has no real future, until he meets a DNA broker who can, and does, change his life forever.
In the movie “Gattaca” we see several terms and theories used in sociology that can be used to break down the movie into a sociological perspective of how life could be in the future. A persons’ values are their ideas of what is important and desirable in life. For Vincent, he wants to be an astronaut. This is impossible because the society that Vincent has been placed into by his birth is one of menial labor. He is placed into a life of servitude and hopelessness. He can only dream of going to the stars.
For him, his norms are menial labor and possibly a wife and kids but only if he can find a woman who is willing to accept him for his Invalid status. People in this movie go to a center where they can obtain potential mates’ life history and future in exchange for a DNA sample. This is an example of how people in this new society choose mates. Not by their charming personality or their good looks but by their DNA. This example of how this “new” society sees people is a good way of defining who these people think they are, that they can play God and chose he perfect mate when truly the perfect mate is not about genetics but about personality and the ability to love each other.
Socialization is what makes us human. We socialize with those individuals who we feel will make us better people. Later in life, we strive to surround ourselves with people who have the same goals and desires as ourselves. This is human nature at its best and in the movie Vincent is forced to accept that his only socialization will be those of his “own kind”. Other “Invalids” who have been forced into jobs that will lead them no where.
They are forced into these jobs because they were given little to no education. The rules that say he cannot be accepted into other positions because of his medical conditions. They feel that he would be a threat to their way of life, a chance they cannot risk. When his socializations changes after he becomes Jerome, he finds that “society” has a whole different set of rules for those considered Valid enough to live in their world. Macro socialization looks at the broad focus of society.
The society in Gattaca is focused on creating a perfect society where there is no disease, no disfigurations, and no mental illness. People who are not considered “Invalids” are slowly being weeded out by disgraceful mistreatment and little hopes of having a family because women want to marry a Valid, not an Invalid. Even Invalid women strive for this perfection, thinking that if they can marry a Valid they can have a better chance of having a Valid baby. Thus decreasing the chances of having their child live the life they had to lead.
Everyone wants this perfect society and within the Invalids there are DNA brokers. People who will match you to a Valid and for the right price, you can obtain all the DNA you need to turn yourself into a Valid. This is what Vincent does. He finds a man named Jerome who has been injured in an accident and is now paralyzed. He takes over Jerome’s life. By using hair, skin, blood, urine and other DNA, Vincent becomes Jerome and secures a job at Gattaca. His desire to go into space can now be a reality but only if he can keep up the facade.
Micro socialization is more of the relationship that Jerome and Vincent have. At first, Jerome treats Vincent with a mere indifference. He does not take his new “job” seriously and his constantly drinking or doing drugs in order to take his own pain away at having lost out of his own life. After a while, Jerome and Vincent become brotherly types who take care of each other. In the final parts of the movie, Jerome shows Vincent that he has stored enough DNA for “two lifetimes” and that when Vincent returns from space it will all be waiting for him.
Jerome then commits suicide by burning himself in the furnace to avoid any traces of “Jerome’s ” DNA being found while Jerome is gone in outer space. The social structure within Gattaca is simple. You are either a Valid or an Invalid. There is no in between. Invalids do no associate with Valids and so on. If you are a Valid, you have power, prestige and property. You can obtain a good job, secure a future with a perfect mate, have perfect children and do all the “right” things. If you are an Invalid you are destined to poverty and no power along with very little if any property.
You can only get menial jobs, have little prospect of a future because your genetics have more than likely given you a short life span. If you are lucky enough to have a longer life span than most Invalids do, you may have a chance at a halfway decent life. The scene within Gattaca can be defined as a bureaucracy. There is a formal organization by which all employees must conform. Everyone must submit a blood sample before being able to enter the companies’ halls. There is a clear division of labor. You are either a person who sits at the computer all day or you are an astronaut who takes a trip to the moon.
There are clear leaders and clear supporters. The leaders are the ones who chose who goes into space and who does not while the supporters simply do their job and do not complain. The positions that people fill are impersonal to the fact that everyone seems to get the same amount of the same kind of work and you are only singled out when you are chosen as an astronaut. Everyone within Gattaca is grouped into the same category. Vincent shows extreme deviance when he becomes Jerome. He has broken all the rules of society, even though he is doing it for his own good.
He takes over the identity of someone else by using their DNA and this results in his acceptance into Gattaca. Even though he feels that he is not harming anyone, society feels differently and when the Chief turns up dead, he must face the fact that he could get busted for his deviance. According to this society he is committing a crime by simply being in the building if he is not who he says he is. Of course, he manages to avoid capture by the authorities by his use of Jerome’s’ DNA, using Jerome’s’ blood when the company forces a mandatory blood test to try and weed out the “imposter”.
When he starts to have a romantic interest in a fellow co-worker, who is a Valid, his chances of being caught become even greater. The social order of the entire company is disrupted by the Chief’s death. Now a new person is taking over and along with detectives they want to find the killer. When a stray eyelash of Vincent’s is found near the crime scene they immediately suspect him because of his Invalid status. But Vincent has disappeared and there is only Jerome now. Control theory stresses the inner and outer controls that we struggle against in our motivation to deviate.
For Vincent, his deviance is brought on by his inner control telling him that he deserves to be at Gattaca while his inner control also must keep him in check and force him to go through a process that involves ridding himself of as much DNA as possible before going to work each day. He feels a bond with Gattaca due to his struggle to get into the company. His commitments to going into space force him to attend each workday while the constant threat of being exposed after the Chiefs’ death is there.
Merton’s strain theory also works in Gattaca by Vincent’s adaptation of deviance to get into and stay in the company. He chooses an innovative and yet somewhat criminal means in which to obtain his goals. His thoughts are simple; he will obtain his goal and not harm anyone in order to do so. But these thoughts are not so simple and he begins to form a bond with Jerome and Jerome forms a bond to him. Jerome goes as far as to pretend to be Vincent when the police come to his house. He crawls up a flight of stairs and sits on a couch that will not betray the paralysis of his legs.
Vincent’s girlfriend even gets in on the charade though only half-heartedly and kisses Jerome as if he were her boyfriend. There is a definitive social class structure but it almost seems to be more of a caste system. There is little to no social mobility and how you are born is dependent on where you will go in life. However, you can marry upwardly or downwardly, depending on where you might want to end up. Social class is still made up of power, prestige, and property, though few Invalids, if any have much more than a little property and virtually no power or prestige.
There seems to be only one defined race in this movie, humans, yet there is still a sense of superiority. This is mainly caused by the Valids being given anything they desire if they can achieve it but yet holding back Invalids even though they might have a chance at achieving. Some people may even say that there is a sense of genocide to the whole movie. Once Vincent becomes a Valid, you do not see any more Invalids. It’s like they simply disappear along with Vincent’ old identity. There are however, two distinct ethnic groups when we talk about the Valids and Invalids.
The Valids are the dominant group in which they decide what rules are made and why as well as the basic fundamental rights of both groups. Invalids are simply a minority group that is hanging on to the last of its kind, trying to struggle out of the depths of despair yet knowing that they can only reach the top of their own hole. It is quite clear that the emergence of a genetically superior race came from scientists who wanted to create a perfect human. Was their desire a simple means of trying to eliminate healthcare costs by getting rid of any potential problems before the child was even considered a child?
Some may argue that this could be a way of eliminating an inferior race and replacing it slowly so that people who were still Invalids could be controlled. There is after all a need for Invalids to assume the menial tasks that a Valid would never perform such as cleaning and maintenance. Discrimination and prejudice are obvious in this movie. There is inherent discrimination towards the Invalids who are treated like trash but yet they seem to still hold their heads high and do not let things bring them down.
Prejudice towards the Invalids is also there because the Valids almost refuse to acknowledge them. If they chose to have a Valid child then the child becomes part of the Valids but the parents are still considered Invalids. I consider the movie “Gattaca” to be an excellent example of how we can find many sociological examples in the world we live in today. While Gattaca is far from being the world that we live in today, there is more and more scientific research going on everyday that is bringing us closer to the possibility of being able to “chose a child”.
Gattaca uses an almost science fiction theme to make us forget what we are really looking for in this movie. That is racism, segregation, special privileges to those who can achieve it by way of social status rather than hard work and dedication and a sense of foreboding for our future. Today’s society has brought us forward from where we were fifty years ago, but if Gattaca is our future then we are slipping back to a time when people were chosen for who they were, not who they could become.
January 9, 2018
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