Cross-Cultural Film Analysis - Gattaca
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Vincent is destined to be a second class citizen, conceived naturally, rather than in a laboratory. He is born into a world which discriminates against genetics, rather than religion, race or gender. In order to gain access into the Gattaca Corporation and reach his dream of going to Titan he takes on the identity of Jerome Morrow, a person with ideal genes but crippled from an accident. He uses Jerome’s hair, blood, urine and skin to pass all tests and is set to reach his lifelong desire when the mission director is murdered. He inadvertently loses one of his own eyelashes at the scene and becomes the main suspect in the case. The killer is determined to be another of Gattaca’s directors who is initially overlooked because his DNA profile indicates that violence is not in his nature. In the end Vincent takes off on his mission to Titan.
Culture Shock due to contact with unfamiliar cultures (Stephen Bochner, 2003)
Culture shock is something that Vincent experiences as he makes the transition from a culture comprising of second class citizens to a culture of superiority as he takes on the identity of the genetically superior Jerome. The first stage of culture shock is the honeymoon period (Bochner, 2003). Vincent experiences this before he meets Jerome for the first time and thoughts of fulfilling his life-long dream are active. He then goes through a period of fear and denial where he is not confident and actually refuses to go ahead with the plan. He is talked around by the real Jerome, who needs the money to pay for his alcohol addiction, and prepares himself to lie and cheat just to succeed. Situations similar to this are played out in organisations regularly where people are prepared to lie, cheat and steal to gain success, typically financial success; and management must deal with effectively. As time goes on Vincent gradually adjusts to the new expectations of within the Gattaca Corporation. A cross-cultural obstacle that needed to be overcome was the difficulty that Vincent has in accepting himself as Jerome which is essential if he is to succeed within Gattaca and not give up his cover. This is overcome by the real Jerome referring to Vincent as Jerome when they spoke.
One thing that this framework does not discuss is the idea of never fully coming to grips with the new culture.
The question I pose is: Can a person entirely take on a new culture or does their childhood culture remain with them for life? The film shows that people cannot fully accept a new culture and when forced upon them they show resistance. An example of this is when Vincent becomes aggressive towards one of the murder detectives in fear of being proven as the murderer.
The implications of cultural shock for organisations can be seen when an employee is sent on sojourn, typically overseas, and needs to cope in an unfamiliar culture. Management could overcome some of these issues by educating the employee about the foreign culture and some expectations prior to leaving.
Software of the Mind (Hofstede, 2005)
Culture as mental programming: At the beginning of the film, during his childhood, Vincent’s patterns of thinking, feeling and acting are established in his mind. He learns to accept himself as inferior to his genetically ‘perfect’ brother Anton. When he finds a way of living his dream and must take on a new identity (Jerome) he finds it difficult to unlearn this mental programming. However, a person’s behaviour is only partially predetermined by their mental programming (Hofstede, 2005, p.3), and this is seen as Vincent deviates from his culture and creatively takes on the identity of Jerome. Hofstede describes culture as being derived from exposure to the world rather than from one’s genes.
Hofstede discusses the possibility of intelligence being attributed to genetics and suggests that on the basis of ethnic groups it is difficult to come to a conclusion. In the film it is clear that within Gattaca there is wide acceptance that yes a person’s genes do determine their intelligence. Vincent’s interview for entry into Gattaca entails solely a genetic test and not a physical or mental assessment.
Manifestation of cultural differences: In the film we see the divergence of two very strong cultures. One belongs to the genetically gifted; and the other to the ‘degenerates’. The ways these cultures have divided themselves is explained well by Hofstede’s depiction of the ‘skins of an onion’ (Hofstede, 2005, p.6). The heroes in the film (the genetically gifted) are highly valued and show model behaviour to inferiors or naturally conceived people. Depicted as the more capable members of society the heroes display symbols which carry specific meaning such as formal hair styles and very professional, clean clothing. The heroes display rituals such as the day on the treadmill where they assert themselves superfluous to reaching a desired end as assessors are solely interested in genetic make-up rather than fitness.
Contrary to Hofstede’s view that values are acquired early in our lives we see Vincent’s values change significantly in the film. These values are a strong determinant of culture and as Vincent takes on the identity of Jerome he moves into the hero status of society, or as Hofstede describes it, from abnormal to normal (Hofstede, 2005). His move from second class status to hero status is a good example of how culture reproduces itself. His role models become the members of the Gattaca Corporation and he sees an opportunity to fulfil his aim in life. It appears that the hero’s culture is growing as more and more parents are opting for gene selection of their babies.
The culture within the Gattaca Corporation shows clearly the human tendency to stereotype. Assessors discriminate against new applicants with undesirable genetics rather than testing each person individually to determine their capabilities. Genetics gives them a preconceived opinion of how people will perform and people are rejected or accepted accordingly. A specific example of stereotyping in the film is when the actual murderer of the mission director is excluded as a suspect because of his genetics. This would suggest that the idea of selection of people with ideal genetics and reliance on this for behaviour of people may be major a cause of stereotyping, not just a result of it. The implications that this has for managers of organisations are that they need to be aware of their stereotypes and ensure that this doesn’t affect their decisions or cause them to discriminate unnecessarily when dealing with people.
Bochner, S. (2003). Culture shock due to contact with unfamiliar cultures. Found in W. J. Lonner, D. L. Dinnel, S. A. Hayes, & D. N. Sattler (Eds.), Online Readings in Psychology and Culture (Unit 8, Chapter 7), Center for Cross-Cultural Research, Western Washington University, Bellingham, Washington USA. Accessed 1st September 2008, from http://www.ac.wwu.edu/~culture/Bochner.htm
Francesco, A.M. and Gold, B.A. (2005), International Organizational Behaviour: Text, Cases, and Exercises, 2nd Ed, Pearson Prentice Hall, pp. 17-45
Hofstede, G. and Hofstede, G.J. 2005, Culture and Organisations: Software of the Mind, 2nd Ed, McGraw-Hill
P.L. Duffy Resource Centre, 2006, Gattaca, Trinity College WA, Accessed 31st August 2008, from http://www.trinity.wa.edu.au/plduffyrc/subjects/english/media/gattaca.htm