Sunday, November 30, 2014

Caricature of an American Brat

There is a holiday tradition in my family (and many others) that takes place at Christmas time. We all gather around an open hearth to enjoy hot chocolate, laughter with loved ones, and a tirade from anyone over 63 entitled, “The Problem with Your Generation.” This tirade will usually begin with a short anecdote about some atrocity recently witnessed in a public place, such as a young child using an iPhone or a teenaged clerk demonstrating a blatant dislike of his or her minimum wage position, and digress into a complete list of grievances with Today’s Youth. In writing Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Jeff Kinney creates a caricature of the “American Brat” – the type of kid that fuels the speech of my incensed family members, rolling every accusation leveled at today’s youth into the character of middle schooler Greg Heffley.

The premise of Diary of a Wimpy Kid is simple: life through the eyes of an average American kid attempting to navigate the trials and tribulations of adolescence. He is the middle child of a middle-class family with two married parents and two bothersome brothers. His averageness is typified by his self-ranked popularity at school, which he estimates to be “around 52nd or 53rd most popular” (7). Every aspect of Greg’s life is a carefully controlled normal. However, in creating this portrait of an “Every-kid” character, Kinney weaves in several fairly unflattering characteristics.

Greg is greedy, selfish, and lazy. He wants an expensive video game for Christmas and fails to recognize the good that may come from the mix-up that resulted in an underprivileged child getting the game instead. He regularly mocks and is embarrassed by his “best friend,” who he describes to be relatively slow, unpopular, and undeserving of the regular vacations taken by his family. He shirks responsibility and is guilty of bullying as often as he is bullied himself. A “smart kid who doesn’t apply himself” (according to his mother), Greg regularly looks to cut corners to achieve his self-serving goals.

In short, Greg is a personification of the supposed corruptive influences of contemporary American society. Technology has made us lazy, consumerism has made us selfish, and modern media has destroyed our moral compass. Thus, grumpy Baby Boomers and their seniors would likely miss the inherent humor in Greg’s many mishaps, imagining instead a workforce one day filled with former “wimpy kids.” 

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