Rick’s Distorted Reality a Reader Response by Elissa Teresa Cristina Biasone

Rick’s Distorted Reality a Reader Response by Elissa Teresa Cristina Biasone

It’s near the end of spring break and like most university students; my friends are just coming back from their all-inclusive vacations. As I think about this in the library, I wonder why I decided to decline their offers to join them for a week, vacationing on a beach, somewhere. Then I ask myself why I would blow fifteen hundred dollars on a one-week vacation when I could go to Europe for the same price later this summer? I can’t see myself spending that kind of money on a one-week vacation. But as I think about this more often, I wonder where these ideas of saving money originate. Like most immigrant families, my parents have always wanted me to live an easier life than they did growing up here, in Canada. Both my parents emigrated from Italy with their families after the war. My parents have been working and continue to work to help their families. The language barriers at the time made it extremely difficult for them to become academically successful. Nonetheless with the booming economy at the time, their dreams of “social [and] economic mobility did not seem out of reach” (Giroux, 1998, p. 5). For my parents’ generation having a job and making money was far more important than having an education. For the most part, Italian-speaking children did not have the same opportunities as their English-speaking counterparts did with regards to post-secondary education, because they were too busy working and/or translating everything for their parents.

As a child, I vividly remember my parents’ positive encouragement throughout my school years. My parents and family have always wanted me to have the very best life possible. This includes attending post-secondary institutions and acquiring a “proper” education within the context of Canadian culture. Nowadays, a post-secondary education will present far more opportunities in life than a “minimal” high school diploma. My parents always wanted me to have the opportunities they lacked. Thus, in spite of my desire to acquire a trade, I was strongly encouraged to opt for a university degree.

The Banana Boys novel is a prime example of the realities middle class immigrant families face on a daily basis when they want to Live the Canadian Dream. Rick, Mike, Luke, Dave and Shel are perfect examples of the type of disasters that can happen when people are on a quest for fame and fortune. Like Health Leger or Michael Jackson, the Banana Boys are all struggling with their identity and trying to figure out who they are personally. As a result, the Banana Boys drink excessively, curse constantly, and cause mischief. The boys also fall subject to, what Macdonald (1957) calls, the “Mass Culture imposed from above” (p. 40).

In turn, Woo’s (2000) representation of the youth in this novel, resembles what Giroux (1998) identifies as the stereotypical representation of youth in Hollywood. The reader is introduced to images of “teens that resonate with current right-wing attacks on youth, who become symbols of menace, aberrant promiscuity, and social degeneracy” (Giroux, 1998, p. 27). Throughout the duration of the novel, the Banana boys spend their spare time from high school to university drinking, talking about sex, and idolizing women. For example when “Dave rolled his eyes,” saying

She’s a fucking cock-tease. The makeup, the bare midriff, the short skirt, the Fuck Me Boots, the crowd of guys around her drooling a pool. That ‘nauty schoolgirl’ look countered by a solid dose of Look-But-Don’t-Touch… fuck, man! …You know you’d do her until her eyes changed colour if she gave you half the chance (Woo, 2000, p. 161).

The boys discuss and misogynize women by calling them names such as, “a real beaut”, a “blonde bombshell”, and “babes” etc. Daphne is seen as an alluring, seductress, femme fatale. While the boys remain, as Giroux (1998) makes clear in Channel Surfing, “groveling dimwits” (p. 2). These demeaning representations of youth can provide for interesting analysis for both teachers and students in the classroom. Reading this novel from a critical standpoint will provide “students with the knowledge and skills [they need] to read media critically” so that they can reflect upon the messages disseminated by Mass Culture and the media (p. 33). Success and media appear to be synonymous with one another.

For instance, Rick is a prime example of a man stuck in this Mass Culture. At a very young age, Rick wishes to become successful and make money regardless of the cost. Rick’s desire for wealth consumes him –quite literally! This is clear from the very beginning of the novel. Rick explains, “To make money, you must first have it” (Woo, 2000, p.86). He will go to any length to get what he wants, regardless the price. Rick even steals from his own mother. “My starting capital”, he rationalizes, “was Mom’s emergency stash, which I’d enterprisingly found at the back of her closet” (Woo, 2000, p.86). Rick is remorseless about his method of procuring money; even if he first had to steal it from his own flesh and blood. Rick then targets his classmates who have no concept of the value of money. He claims his classmates were “blowing their allowances on video games or hockey cards” (Woo, 2000. p.86). Rick takes full advantage of his classmates’ ignorance by introducing them to a number of spending ventures such as drugs and gambling (Woo, 2000, p.86). As Rick ages, he realizes that in order to be successful in this world, he must first get a proper education. Thus, he decides to get a degree at Waterloo. Rick falls for Academicism, which Macdonald (1957), explains as “Kitsch for the elite: spurious High Culture that is outwardly the real thing but actually as much a manufactured article as the cheaper cultural goods produced by the masses” (p. 42). Rick is driven by his greed for money and power. Because money is Rick’s most important focus, it also becomes the root of his downfall. As time goes on, Rick becomes more and more obsessed with becoming successful and “taking over the world.” Rick is ultimately always thinking about wealth. For instance, his brain chart illustrates that he is both thinking about “power” and “money” equally approximately 45% of the time. One can assume that with money comes power, thus, he is actually thinking about the same thing 90% of the time. This consumes him so much; that he even goes to seek help from a psychiatrist to increase his brain activity though prescribed drugs, mainly anti-depressants. Rick often mixes alcohol with the drugs to over stimulate his brain and takes this medication concoction sporadically.

At first, this plan for power and world domination seems to be working quite well until Rick’s anti-depressants stop working. Macdonald (1957) explains the pitfall of Mass Culture as follows, “as people are organized…as masses, they lose their human identity and quality” (p. 43). This becomes true for Rick. His desire for success or High Culture if you will ultimately kills him. Rick loses control of what’s really important in life. This is clear early on in the novel when Rick thinks about how well he is doing at work. “The slickster Rickster, master technology consultant and deal-closer extordinare. And behind that lies… what? I can’t seem to remember” (Woo, 2000, p.172). At this point in time, Rick no longer remembers who he is as a person. His quest for success has taken over and he is slowly losing control of his own person. Rick rarely speaks to his family and cuts all ties with his friends, the Banana Boys. Unfortunately, his self-induced isolation and medication lead him to severe depression. Rick kills himself under the influence of both alcohol and drugs, and for what? The pursuit of what he thought would be his happiness… The absolute power Rick wanted ended up consuming him.

Using this novel in a classroom with students can be a very useful tool or starting point for various discussions. Students will be able to see how each Banana Boy copes with life in a world where academicism is of utmost importance. Students will also be able to analyze the various representations of youth and pressures placed on each character (e.g., parents want their children to be successful and have good jobs, girls will like them if they have money etc.). In this novel, the basic values in life have been tossed away. Greed and power consume Rick and finally destroy him. Most importantly, by reading this novel from a critical standpoint, students will be equipped “with the skills to develop counter-media spheres” (Giroux, 1998, p. 33).

References

Giroux, H.A. (1998). Preface: race and the trauma of youth. Channel Surfing: Racism, the Media, and the Destruction of Today’s Youth (pp. 2-17). New York, New York: St. Martin’s Griffin.

Giroux, H.A. (1998). One: something comes between kids and their calvins, youthful bodies and commercialized pleasures. Channel Surfing: Racism, the Media, and the Destruction of Today’s Youth (pp. 22-34). New York, New York: St. Martin’s Griffin.

Macdonald, D. (1957). A theory of mass culture. In E.B. Rosenberg, & D.M. White (Eds.), Mass Culture The Popular Arts in America (pp.40-46). New York: The Free Press.

Woo, T. (2000). Banana Boys. Toronto: The Riverbank Press.