One of my favorite comics and movies of all times is Ghost World, written by Daniel Clowes between 1993 and 1997, the heyday of generarion X, in the underground zine Eightball. This comic is a master piece about the always inspiring issue of the end of teenage, the lose of innocence and the entrance into the adult world and the alienation that comes with it in a monoculture society run by the media and the consumist interests, like the colors used in the comic show (blue, green and white, colors that come from the TV sets at night).
If you haven’t read this comic yet, I recommend you to do it. I’m not gonna tell the whole story now, but they show some episodes of the life of two friends, Enid and Rebecca, during their last teenage summer, after graduating in high school. These too young and intelligent girls are kind of outcasts who are able to see the decay and mediocrity of the customer culture and prefer to not take part on it. One of them, Becky, is more likely to betray herself in order to get acceptance, while Enid stick to herself and deny joining the rest of the world, fact that ends up distancing the two friends until they lose the connection and friendship between them.
There are some differences about the comics and the movie of Ghost World, and also in the feelings they brought to me. I remember the first time I read the comics, a lot of years ago, they made me feel empty, kind of depressed, something close to a nihilist feeling. It’s difficult to describe, but I’d say it was like listening to a Nirvana song. And, on the other hand, the movie has a more focused plot, there’re no caothic episodes. And the feeling it brings are quite different. The only word that comes to my mind to describe it is ‘painful’. Here, the sense of nihilism and emptyness is replaced by desolation and pain, and I think this is because the movie shows the loneliness, sadness and struggle that Enid carries inside of her, and that doesn’t appear in the original comic.
Maybe other people wouldn’t find this movie painful, or even they’d hate the character of Enid and wouldn’t understand her attitude… But I can’t help loving this tragedic character. And this is because I feel related to her in some way, that character. I can recognize a part of me in Enid’s sarcasm and cynicism, in her view of the world, her hidden sensibility, her weird likes, her loneliness and her struggle to find something authentic.
But what is the message of Ghost World? Maybe that you must follow your dreams and what is in your heart and deny what others wants you to be or do? This has been the message of most of books, songs, movies and other cultural products during modernity. But, in the case of Ghost World, this is not the what the story means. The message here is hopeless and pesimist.
What does Ghost World present to us? It shows the boring life of a girl who tries to stay truth, to do what her heart feels. She exactly does what modern books and songs have been telling for decades. If you do it, they promise you will be forever free and happy. And Ghost World is exactly that, it shows the consequences of that behavior in real life. And they’re negative: a future of loneliness and isolation in wich you’ll be a loser. This idea is what the character of Seymour represents in the movie, he’s Enid’s hopeless future.
Of course, Ghost World is not the only work which shows this. I’d like to do now a little comparative between some other well-known works belonging to different fields of arts which are about the same topic and have similar plots. The two that I’m gonna choose are a literary one, The catcher in the rye (1951) by J. D. Salinger, and a music one, American Idiot (2004), by Green Day (I’ll refer to the story plot of the album, not the music aspect. And, of course, I am aware it’s a sacrilege to compare this two works with The catcher in the rye, but I know nobody is gonna read this, so…). We have now three works all of them written by American artists, two of them modern and one more classic. If we examine the story of the three, we’ll find that they have many points in common, The three have young adults main characters (Enid/Becky, Holden Caulfield and Jimmy) who have grown up in customer American culture and see its mediocrity, rejecting it, reason why they all three are social outcast. At the same time, they desperately want to find a place to belong, what leads Holden and Jimmy to escape to find their place in the world but, instead of that, they find a person who seems to understand them or relieve them: for Enid, this is Seymour; for Holden, her innocent little sister; and for Jimmy, a kind of an extraordinary girl. But the three of them are taken away from the beloved person because of their struggling and their attitude: all people abandon Enid and she realizes she will keep hurting everyone if she’s herself; Holden sees her sister’s innocence like something he’s lost and will miss forever; and Jimmy breaks up with his girl because of his doubts about who he is. At the end, they’re all alone, everyone has left them. And the heartrending message is clear: sticking to yourself will lead you to anything. Reflecting this, at the end of the three stories, it’s not clear what happens to the characters. Holden maybe became mad and Jimmy went back home. There’s no real conclusion cause their attitude has taken them to anywhere, there’s only emptiness left.
So we have here three works by different artists and designed in different moments and we must recognize they have the same fitures, proving the important and worrying that topics like alienation, identity and authenticity are for modern man.
Oh, I have forgot to talk about the ending of Ghost World. No, the truth is that I was keeping it for now. The comics and the movie have different endings, both of them poetic in their way.
In the comic, Enid walks besides a coffee shop and sees Becky trough a window. She thinks something like ‘You’ve become a beautiful young woman’ and walks away. This shows perfectly how Becky has betrayed herself, while Enid still being an outcast. On the other hand, in the movie, when all people has abandoned Enid, she decides to make true her dream of run away and she takes a bus to wherever, making so clear the idea of the nothing where her fight has lead her.
While reading Ghost World, I wondered what was going to be my own choice, to join the mediocrity or fight against it. But, anyway, It’s a lost battle, at the end we can’t choose. So I then wondered how much time I had left before I betrayed myself and became a sad shadow of what I was, how much time before I lived in a ghost world, how much time before my face was lit with blue, white and green light coming from the TV set.