Parental Manipulation and the Homogenization of Americans
Wooden arms and legs jerking, braided hair flailing, and glassy eyes rolling, the ragged dolls parade the cardboard stage. Their lifeless limbs give the appearance of haphazardry, but I know better than to be deceived by this bumbling surface. Behind the curtained stage, a woman deftly maneuvers the puppet figures; each movement is carefully controlled with a small sleight of hand. A string lifts, and their mouths open. Another tenses, and their arms rise in unison. Silently, they mimic the voices of their master: she who holds the strings.
Watching this puppet scene, I am reminded of a dinner party I once attended. Over a slice of raspberry cheesecake, I remember commenting on my aversion towards women who wore dark lipstick—how they were really just trying to be seductive in a way demeaning to the female community. The moment the words came out of my mouth, I regretted them—not because I didn’t believe what I had said but because I remembered then, that the words were not my own. Not only was I echoing my mother, I also actually believed I was expressing my own sentiments. At times like these, I feel myself being pulled along by strings invisible, propelled by unseen forces—forces that not only influence my outward actions but also my inner character and mentally as well. Under normal circumstances, I am naively unaware of their presence.
In “The Strange Homogenization of Americans,” Gibbs Staff and FA Jones relate that “Americans have been homogenized and conditioned to react in the same way.” They go on to assert that most Americans do not realize they are behaving in a “predictable and programmed manner.” And for a while, I did hold on to that deep-seated belief in America as home to “free-spirited and independent thinkers” despite the frequent reminders that beneath the surface, we are all similar.
Sometimes, my interior lighting alters, and I unexpectedly find bits and pieces of the exterior world clinging to my interior one—merging my identifiable self with that of a collective. Our lighting flickers every time we find ourselves unconsciously repeating fragments of conversations, assuming credit for phrases we may agree with that are not of our own creation. It dulls perceptibly every time we find ourselves attracted to some stylish wind-blown skirt, a result of watching the latest episode of “Friends,” a shade of red when romance centers on roses, champagne, and a stroll down a sand covered beach. Our lighting continually changes because there is no aspect of our lives ungoverned by outside forces. No matter how hard we try to be individuals with unique ideas, we will inevitably slip into the comforting habits of imitation. The dinner party was only one of many incidents that made me for a time, aware of my usual complicity in the process of homogenization. Like the wooden puppets that circle the stage, I am fast learning that it is difficult to escape the chains...