Unhealthy Family of American Are Hungry for Traditional Family Value
By: Natalina (Sogang University)
Counterculture besides brought good changes into American lifestyle, it also brought bad change which it erased traditional family morality and turned adults into adolescents. Adults became simply irresponsible and they do exact the same things as what young people do, such numbing themselves with drugs, sex, awful party, and materialism. Thus, is this the result of the countercultural revolt that people wanted since 1960s? One of the famous American authors, Bret Easton Ellis, in his book Less than Zero which was taking place in the early 1980s at the height of Reagan administration, describes this sort of lifestyle of the rich and famous people. Ellis especially criticizes this counterculture by connecting his book with the Neoliberalism that oriented towards free market and money. Ellis describes that people in the 1980s were more interesting in money, social status, and free market rather than social welfare. This Neoliberalism is connected to these two concepts: materialism and hypersexualization.
The first concept, Neoliberalism in terms of materialism is all about superficial family’s relationship and superficial friend’s relationship. In Elli’s book, the both families of characters Clay and Blair are examples of families that have superficial relationships. Take Clay’s family. When Clay arrived home from New Hampshire for Christmas break, there was no one at home (Ellis, Less than Zero 10). Likewise, Clay himself cannot distinguish between his own two sisters, because he only mentions his two sisters as “one of my sisters” (Ellis, Less than Zero 23). Also, when he met his dad, he pretended to listen and answer sincerely to all of the questions from his dad about college’s life, “……I’m pretty nice and I smile and nod a lot and pretend to listen to all his questions about college and I answer them pretty sincerely” (Ellis, Less than Zero 41). This obviously shows how unhealthy family works because everyone in the family doesn’t care each other, and there is no real communication between them. In general, actually parents should lead and teach their kids instead of only provide money for them. On the other hand, the same thing happens in Blair’s family. Her family does the same thing as Clay’s family does, where they only cares and interests in having fun rather than caring about the problem that they face. See in the part when Blair went to Kim’s party, she found that her mom was there as well. This illustrates the attitude where each member of the family minds their own business, also shows how adults engage themselves in the same activities as young people do.
The superficial relationship can be shown also in friend’s relationship. Blair is Clay’s high school girlfriend but they don’t talk about their relationship even though they hang out a lot and sleep together sometimes. They don’t talk about either what they think about each other. The only thing that they usually talk about is drugs and parties.
If we look back in the 1950s, before the counterculture revolt, the American lifestyle was totally different, where everyone was happy, and economic troubles was few. The lifestyle in that time was characterized more by the strong element of the conservative; where everything controlled by the rules. Young people that time respected the adults, and yet they were marginalized by adults. However, since the adult kept doing that to young people, in the eyes of young people adults represented conformity, and young people felt pressure and lacking freedom of expressing themselves. Therefore, young people stood against the adult attitudes towards them. As shown in the earlier movie, Rebel without a Cause directed by Nicholas Ray (1955), the character Jim goes against everything that relates with the conformity. For example, he gets in a fight with his parents after Buzz’s death, because he asks them for guidance but their parents don’t let him to go to the police office. This shows their parent controlled everything that he wants to do. However, in contrast, Less than Zero represents Clay and his friends (teenagers) who got no attention from their parents except money.
The second concept, Neoliberalism in terms of hypersexualization is all about the sensationalism on drugs and illicit sexual relationship. All the characters that presented by Ellis in the book basically use drugs and cocaine, because their lives are so perfect, that is why they need something more to run away from it. The characters keep repeating the same thing over and over again, since they feel aroused by the drugs and cocaine. In the book also, everyone sleeps with each other, even with the same sex. This kind of sexual relationship doesn't have romantic feelings, and it’s kind of only pure physical relationship. Thus, the goal of their sexual relationship is only for physical pleasure or in other words kind of having fun. This attitude can be discussed as a little corruption of morality that connected with the sexual relationship. When Julian meets Clay for borrowing money for an abortion, Clay questions him back for the true intention the money, he swears that he needs money for an abortion, but he just doesn’t want to sell his Porsche for it (Ellis, Less than Zero 91). For him the sexual relationship is not for giving a new birth or taking responsibility of the later consequences, but it is all about having fun. In his saying, we can see life is not that important as much as Porsche. Because of there is no solution, he turned himself into a prostitute for getting money, so that he can pay for his drugs debt and for the abortion as well. Through Julian attitude’s which he turned himself into a commodity, then we can say that Ellis here describes a world where even the most incredible attempts at individuality are destined because personality itself has become commodity.
Then, what people really want? Do they want to return back to the early life in the 1950s, where they can live based on traditional moral values and family values? If you type “American family values” on Google, the result is going to give you thousands about it. It means many Americans are awareness about that traditional morality values. Generally, Ellis focuses a lot on self-abuse, unhealthy relationships, and selfishness in his book. Ellis uses the three characters Clay, Blair, and Julian to portray the life of the rich and wealthy in a repeated conservative approach. He rebel against older generation’s behavior that changed by the counterculture through his writing in Less than Zero. Although his rebellions against older generation does’t really show that clearly, he promotes to the world how worst life is, if you only care about money and forget about the traditional morality and family values. Even though you can get stuffs easily with the money you have, you will feel that they your life is meaningless and empty.
Overall, Ellis’s Less than Zero is a classic example of how people who have too many things in the way of materialistic items ends up having nothing of substance that they can turn to. Because of those reasons that mentioned above with the examples, Ellis’s book can be accepted as a criticism of the emptiness of American modern culture.