Tuesday, November 13, 2007


Gattaca takes a unique look at the power of organizations and their ability to create a class system within society. The main character Vincent is called an invalid because his parents did not have him genetically modified. Despite his enormous talent, society restricted his career choices because of his genetics. The ideology of the community is that those who are genetically modified are superior compared to those who are not. A person’s value is defined only by their genetics, not their skills or ability. The power of society and organizations to belittle people who were classified as invalid is enormous. This ideology invades peoples' life by forcing them to be either in a superior or subservient role based on genetics alone. Everyday people must accept their class status as defined by society. When the detectives at Gattaca find Vincent’s eyelash, they automatically assume he is the murder. Even though they had no background on him, they believed that since he was an invalid, he must have motive to kill a valid.

The organization had significant control over its employees. They took daily blood test, random urine and skin samples. Almost anything could be used to prove a person’s value. Vincent took on the identity of a man named Jerome who was genetically modified so he could pursue his dream job at Gattaca. When he went for the interview, they took his blood and he got the job. He was not asked any questions about his background or knowledge in his chosen field.

Vincent’s parents are one example of hegemony, where those in the oppressed class further the oppression. Vincent’s parents never believed Vincent could amount to anything because he was an invalid. His brother, who was a valid, was also treated specially. Regular women also used the class system to find a mate. They would take samples to be tested to find out what a guy’s genetics look like. So not only did organizations judge on the basis of genes, but potential mates did too. Even though the main female character, Irene has a heart defect, she still wanted to make sure Vincent’s genes were acceptable for her. At the beginning, she was only attracted to him because she believed he had Jerome’s genes.

Individuals positioned themselves differently as members of the valid class. When Vincent was acting as Jerome, he was very cocky and was even expected to be this way. In one scene, he was very rude to the doctor at Gattaca even though in previous scenes we had seen them talking like friends. No one questions Vincent’s rude behavior since he is a valid. Vincent is also caught looking up at the mission launches by Irene. This was odd to Irene, because looking up at the launches was out of character for a valid. None of the other Gattaca valids ever looked at them. Irene did not know Vincent was an invalid at the time, but we knew that Vincent looked up because he was in such awe that he got to be where he was. For Vincent, being able to launch into space would be his emancipation. For the other Gattaca employees, it was just work.

Vincent’s attitude can also be analyzed using Karen Ashcraft’s frames of identity from our textbook. When you change the word gender to genetics, Ashcraft’s four frames become genetic differences at work, genetic identity as organizational performance, genetic organizations and genetic narratives in popular culture. Vincent’s arrogance, but acceptable attitude at work reflects that valids are allowed and even expected to act superior to invalids. Vincent’s brother and the real Jerome also possess the same arrogant attitude that they are better than invalids. This reflects Ashcraft’s second frame of genetic identity as organizational performance. Vincent, Irene, and the detective all have to portray certain emotions and appearances that reflect their genetic superiority. The more each of these characters can perform this role, the more they are respected as valids. Being distant and showing little emotion is the most acceptable attitude for them, but it still involves emotional labor as described on page 209 of our textbook.
Similar to how society has made women’s work to be of lesser importance, invalids are only allowed into certain lower status positions such as janitors. This reflects Ashcraft’s third frame: genetic organizations. The gendered, or genetic, organization emerges out of five processes. The first process is ‘the social construction of divisions of labor, positions and types of work along gendered (or genetic) lines’ (211). The technology used to identity ‘invalids’ and even the word invalid itself help to reinforce the genetic division. Since society is so restrictive to what valids and invalids can do as a profession, the forth process, which involves individuals taking up those career choices that reinforce the genetic differences, is also apparent in the film Gattaca. Only when Vincent lies about his genetic identity is he hired into a ‘valid’ position.

These are just some of the examples of how Gattaca shows the four frames of identity as well as how organizations use power. Vincent is able to break the chains of an invalid but it is only through a lot of hard work and trickery. He did not change society’s ideology; he only found a way to get around it. Even though Gattaca is an extreme form of discrimination and power, it can help us to see in real life, how organizations use power to control employees and how society’s ideology may limit our expectations of people.

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