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Monday, November 17, 2008

Reflections from The Wonder Years

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These days I am going through seasons of 1990s serial The Wonder Years. It’s a simple story of a kid in American suburb set in 1970s. It’s about his family, his friends, his exploits at school, his love interests, and challenges of young adolescent life, and I like it very much. I noticed few things and I take this opportunity to generalize about American family system that I’ve observed, contrasting with my own experience in India in 1990s. Things have most likely changed in India, probably towards American way. Clearly my experiences are limited to small town schools I’ve attended and there are more generalizations in this post than one can handle so proceed with caution.

Sibling rivalry is well documented social concept however it seems to me that extent of it is much higher in US. I mean, impression I get from people, movies, news and books is that siblings almost always hate each other in American household and while their may be real love deep inside, for all practical day to day purpose there is no love observed in terms of helping, caring, or playing but interaction revolves mostly around taunting, ridiculing and isolation from each others’ concerns. Siblings do, of course, fight in India, but they are not in position to not be able to stay in room for long without taunting each other and involvement in each others’ activities is more. This isolation grows as they grow up and move out, and like with their parents, meetings are generally limited to Christmas and Thanksgiving.

Related issue is about hating parents. Life cycle of relationship of a American kid with his parents follows many ups and downs. Usually, a child starts by admiring their parents to be the best people in the world, soon to find them the worst people in the world in his teens, to find them slightly irritating appendage to his normal life in twenties, to come back to realize their normality in his later years. Discontent between teens and parents in universal, because of generation gap and difference in level of maturity reflected in wants and needs. Yet, the way most American adolescents hate their parents to the core seems way harsher. They cannot see eye to eye each other on almost any issue, consider involvement as interference, don't want to appear in public with them, and in general, want to minimize relationship to basic provision of shelter, money and food. There is cultural element of respecting elder people and hierarchy in India, but still, difference is too large to be explained by merely this.

Popularity in school seems to be goal in life of a teenager. School I went to had its share of popular people but there was no cut-throat race to be popular or ‘cool’ nor there was any stigma or ridicule with not being popular. Probably because in India dating scenario and concept of football captain and cheerleaders is non-existent at this young age. Yet, kids as portrayed in US are seem to be obsessed with coolness and would do anything to become popular such as drugs, drink and smoke. Concept of school factions is not far behind. American schools seem to have clearly identified labelled factions of students such as nerds, cool kids, rich kids, bullies, losers, sports studs, etc. I am sure my classification is mostly wrong but what I want to impress upon in strong desire of a student to belong to one or many of these ‘clubs’ which typically have very codified rules of membership and are generally exclusive in nature with regard to their interactions with students outside the group. I don’t recollect such phenomenon in Indian schools where friendship was based on mutual agreement rather than group charter.