Gattaca is a movie that contains a very interesting society. As in all societies, discrimination exists and it is primarily between two groups. The valids, as they are called here, are the dominant group who oppress the group known as the invalids, which is the group consisting of the less privileged individuals. However, in this society, privileged and less privileged does not refer to the individuals in terms of wealth or power, but instead, in terms of genetics.
Here, discrimination has been reduced down to genes, and this determines your place in society. Here, when parents are planning on having a baby, they are faced with having to decide whether they want a genetically engineered baby or whether they want to let nature run its course. However, this decision involves much more than a simple yes or no, as this decision will decide their child’s social location and will assign them a master status.
Deciding to genetically engineer their baby, parents are assuring their baby the master label of valid, but parents who decide to let nature run its course, are taking the huge risk of having a no-perfect child who will be labeled with the master status of ‘invalid,’ one which can’t be changed. These two labels of invalid and valid are very powerful, as they define what your life and future are going to be like and also control how the rest of your life is going to be like.
These two labels are ascribed statuses, as they are completely involuntary, as the ones that chose whether the child is genetically perfect or not are the parents. These statuses provide the exact guidelines as to how that person is to act, feel, behave and think. Symbolic Interactionism suggests that in this society, the individuals are expected to behave and perform strictly accordingly to their label, which also grants them and denies them certain things. Without these labels, this society would not be able to function, as discrimination is essential for he overall functioning of a society, looking at it from a micro-level perspective.
These labels are what define the relationship between people, especially between the valids and invalids. Ultimately, labels are the solid foundation of discrimination. The lives of invalids and valids vary widely, and the outcomes of their labels reinforce the labels that they are given. For example, invalids have low living conditions, which reinforce the valids idea that they are much more superior to invalids, yet they ignore why invalids ended up where they are in the first place.
It is very clear to which group everyone belongs, as for the most part, interaction between valids and invalids is kept to a minimum, and even to the point where both of these groups occupy different places of the city. Obviously, the invalids live in low standards and average to poor households. The valids have better living conditions, and because of their place in society that gives them better occupations, they live in much wealthier conditions and households. Functional Analysis suggests that society is a living organism.
In this society, there are clearly two groups, the invalids and the valids, and for this society to function one of the groups has to be the dominant group and the other one the minority group. Each group needs the other one, in other words, the dominant group needs the minority group to remain who they are, and the minority group needs the dominant group to also remain who they are. The dominant group needs to make sure at all times that there is a minority group, as this is why they are the superior group in the first place.
According to this theory, if a minority group didn’t exist, then the dominant group would technically not exist either, as they would have no one to look down at and there would not be anyone to reinforce their beliefs of superiority. For a society to function without problems there has to be people doing all the jobs that are required to keep it running, from the top prestigious occupations to less prestigious and simple jobs ranging from mopping floors to cleaning bathroom stalls. All of these different parts work like organs in a living body, and they are all required and needed to keep the body/organism in a working condition.
The Conflict Theory offers a whole new perspective on all the issues presented in the society in Gattaca. According to this theory, society is always fighting for the resources offered by the society. In this society, it is very clear that the invalids and valids have very different privileges. All of the privileges are granted to the valids as a reward for being genetically perfect, and the invalids are not given these privileges as they are not genetically perfect and therefore are the minority group.
In the society present in Gattaca, the valids do not have close relationships to each other and instead they are very self-centered people whose primary focus is placed on work. This reinforces the Conflict Theory to an even greater extent, as this theory states that close relationships are more likely to have conflicts within. From the relationships seen in Gattaca, it seems as if the invalids had closer relationships to each other than did the valids with each other.
As does every society, this society contains its own set of values and norms, yet these vary widely across the valids and invalids. Invalids are held to very low expectations are they are seen as the minority group for not being genetically superior as the dominant group. Taking this into account, valids are held to very high expectations and are expected to succeed without any major trouble. They are also seen as the ones that keep this society functioning, as they hold the most important and prestigious occupations.
Invalids, on the other hand, hold the unworthy jobs of everyday life, like washing bathrooms and cleaning floors. In Gattaca, the values and goals of the valids very clear; everyone there aspires to having a prestigious occupation and to achieve great things while. On the other hand though, the invalids have very few, if any, values and goals. They basically only live their lives on a daily bases, that is, working to earn money for the necessities of the everyday life. Here, people have their values and goals set for them the very minute that they are classified as either an invalid or valid.
This society has a relatively simple social structure. Segregation here is directly linked to social status, as only the wealthy can engineer genetically perfect children, well that’s if they decide to, while the poor only have the option of letting nature run its course. It is also very obvious how the invalids and valids live in different parts of the city. Genetics are the center of the society here, and knowledge doesn’t necessarily mean much, as apparently all the genetically perfect people have the same intellectual level.
This means that for a person to be accepted at a job all they have to do is have their genes examined, as was the case when the main character in Gattaca attended his “interview. ” Genes contain all the information needed to know every single detail about someone. Showing that this society is not very personal and everything relies on genes and technology, and not necessarily in person to person contact. Your genes not only contain all the information that there is to a person, but it also shows the future of that person, in terms of their life span and the exact date in which they will pass away.
However, the society present in Gattaca also has its positives. The genetically perfect people not only enjoy all of the privileges that their society has to give, but they have many other benefits that the invalids don’t have. The valids enjoy having a much healthier life, free of diseases. With this comes a much longer life span, which is something that the invalids don’t have; which is just one more type of segregation that is present in this society. Gattaca shows great social order, as deviance is well controlled.
However, just like with everything, there are exceptions to this. In the movie Gattaca, an exception is greatly portrayed as the main character of the movie, Vincent Freeman, infiltrates into the Gattaca Aerospace Corporation. This is a major issue as this Corporation only allows valids to be part of it, but yet as seen in the film, Vincent finds a way to get in, and eventually fly into space. Vincent’s infiltration into the Gattaca Aerospace Corporation shows that even a society composed of a group of genetically perfect people can still be a failure.
By separating society into an invalid and a valid culture, it was taught that many problems would be eliminated, and that it would work perfectly. In other words, having a strict social structure does not necessarily end up benefiting the society at the end. Society is a very complex thing to study. There are many theories can be used to describe and interpret them. The film Gattaca is a great film that shows how different societies have very different social structures; some societies have very complex social structures, while others only merely have simple social structures.
However, it is very interesting to study these societies using the three main sociological perspectives. This film should also be taken into consideration when thinking about our society’s future, as shown in Gattaca, discrimination could one day be taken down to science and genetics.
Niccol, Andrew. Gattaca. Columbia Pictures, 1997. Henslin, James M. “Essentials of Sociology: A-Down-To-Earth-Approach. ” Eight Edition. New York: Pearson, 2009.