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Ghost World (Terry Zwigoff, 2001) - Enid's Chance at Authenticity

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  • Ghost World (Terry Zwigoff, 2001) - Enid's Chance at Authenticity

    Director Terry Zwigoff’s Ghost World completely centers and questions the idea of authenticity. Ghost World’s lead, Enid, repeatedly asks whether or not resturants like Wowsville and bands like Blues Hammer are “serious,” as these things that make up a capitalist society are often accepted.

    The film slightly satirizes Enid’s fight against “the system” through how she is teased for dyeing her hair green, wearing leather and acting “punk.” In this scene, Enid is portrayed as any other teenager trying to beat the system, classically wearing clothing that would not get her a job in the adult (ghost) world. While Enid’s clothing and hair, even throughout the film, are what many Hollywood movies might ascribe to the average punk-teen character that eventually gives into the way of adulting, Enid’s reaction to the way she is treated in this scene is important to note. Enid fires back at the person criticizing her and her outfit, but goes home and dyes her hair back to black. In her own way, Enid failed to be authentic as she put on the average punk-teen attire, proving her to be as phony as anyone else. However, when Enid dyes her hair black again, it is in that scene when the audience realizes her obsession with authenticity, as the green hair and leather jacket pulled her too close to phony-ness for comfort.

    In thinking about this scene, it is also important to notice Enid’s gender, as her idea of what a woman should be versus the world’s is very different. While the world does not want women wearing leather jackets and dyeing their hair green, the world also claims women “find themselves” as adults, molded into the idea of a perfect woman in a capitalist society. For Enid, this transformation is alien-like and inauthentic, as she watches her best friend Rebecca undergo the shift to adulthood through Rebecca’s job as a barista, her adult/office-job clothing and her persistence to move into her own apartment.

    Some may say that while inauthenticity cultivates all around Enid in the film, Enid did have small shots at authenticity through her interest and talent in art. This idea may lead the audience to happier endings than the one in Ghost World, but a question lies in how real that happy ending may be in a film that portrays a sadly real idea of society. Enid could have been an artist, but being an artist would be accepting all of the fakeness that comes with having to create a resume, working for a company, paying rent to a landlord and so much more in the adult world. Roberta Allsworth, Enid’s summer school art teacher, falls into being inauthentic, even though she is doing something she claims to love. In the film, Roberta wants to give Enid a passing grade and have her to go an art institute on a scholarship, but Roberta is bound by the rules and phony-ness of the education system, making her own attempts at living an authentic life falter as she has to fail Enid. If comparing Roberta to Enid is valuable, then it might be fair to conclude that Enid’s possible suicide at the end of the film was Enid’s only way of living authentically.

    As audiences, though, I don’t think that we should take Ghost World as a call for suicide. But rather, the filmmakers behind Ghost World might be questioning the idea of being authentic all together. Is there a way for us to keep living on this earth and not give into being a little inauthentic sometimes? Is Enid’s goal of being authentic just a pipe dream? I would like to think it isn’t, but Ghost World does not provide enough support to what I would like to believe is true.

  • #2
    You bring up that Enid perhaps could have found authenticity in her life through her artwork, and I definitely agree with you that had she committed herself fully to pursuing a career as an artist would not save her from inauthenticity. Enid’s entire experience with the art class and with her art teacher Roberta seems to suggest that her own artwork (not the “found” piece she presents) is “light” and “amusing” and unworthy of acknowledgement (Zwigoff). Her own drawings, which I see as a genuine reflection of her own identity in her work, in the world, are dismissed; she is forced to essentially steal Seymour’s words in describing a “found” piece that she did not even create to be noticed by the art teacher. I can’t imagine her experience with a career as an artist would be any different. Enid’s main source of strife in her life and I believe her ultimate reason for committing suicide is her inability to find any genuine outlets for her own identity in the world around her. As an expression of herself, her art is misunderstood in under-acknowledged in her art class, in the same way she is misunderstood and under-acknowledged in the society she finds herself a part of. She seems to value authenticity above all else, with good reason; her decision to end her life is a realization that the world is forcing her to compromise that authenticity.

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    • #3
      I agree with you that Enid is trying to find authenticity in a society filled with fakes. However, despite her best efforts, we constantly see Enid falling prey to being a fake herself. The catalyst for this whole story was Enid and Rebecca making a prank phone call to Seymour. The girls were pretending to be a woman that Seymour had liked. They set up a date and then silently mocked him. I believe Seymour is actually the most authentic person in the movie. He does his own thing and is very honest on his type of women, or lack thereof. With this scene, we see Enid wrestle with wanting to be truly authentic or just trying to appear as if she is. She constantly wrestles with this issue. I think that it was the driving force for dying her hair and wearing the jacket. She is doing more and more to try and figure it out, but we see a trail of overcorrection which finally leads to her possible suicide. I think that we are supposed to watch this movie as the fight every teen experiences trying to find out who they are.

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      • #4
        What I think is important to note in this discussion of inauthenticity is the strong correlation the film appears to draw between it and egotism/self-indulgence. Most of the characters primary motivation for entering into inauthentic relationships and occupations is the desire for attaining or consuming some product. Rebecca gets a job because she wants to move out of her parent’s house; Seymour works for a company he despises because he wants to buy more records; Enid’s father and stepmother are constantly eating, even during important familial interactions. Contrasting this egotism and indulgence is Enid; we never see her eat, she is not interested in an apartment or a job. When we see Enid packing up her belongings while listening to a childish song about being unique, internally she is weighing her own envy for a normal life against her will to hold life up to a higher standard than everyone else in the film. Ultimately she chooses not to give up on being principled and critical on life; instead she abdicates any of her desires to live the idyllic American life, complete with all the accessories. Perhaps it was possible that Enid could find some way to live functionally while remaining true to her standards, however the film argues that it is our tendency to over-indulge on all of our fantasies which leads us to live such compromising lives. Whether the bus symbolizes Enid’s exodus or suicide, it is clear that her refusal to compromise goes hand in hand with a refusal to mindlessly indulge in a culture that presents consumption as synonymous with the good life.

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        • #5
          kerry.athey: I absolutely agree with you, and I think you argue your point strongly. What if Enid had a different talent? What if she wasn’t an artist, and had to cope with her talent being inauthentic (like good with computers or something the world wants)?

          S.Hickman: I agree that this film is about a teen who is struggling to be who she is in a society that won’t let her (like a lot of Hollywood films), but what makes this film different? Why might we not be satisfied by the end of the film? Is it because the end fails to reassure us that we can be authentic in an inauthentic world?

          jkane: Thank you so much for drawing that connection, as I didn’t think to in my initial response! You’re absolutely right in that self-indulgence does go with being inauthentic, but is self-indulgence maybe how the characters in the film deal with being forced to be inauthentic? If they cannot have an authentic life, then they might just self-indulge to cope with that? Also, I wonder if maybe you’re right that the world Enid lives in is incredibly Americanized. Maybe if she lived in another country, she would be happier?

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          • #6
            Odecklar: Talking about Enid’s authenticity is something striking. Enid having a somewhat of a sad life but I agree that the ending is rather bright in respect to the value of being able to finally make a choice for Enid personally. Because up until that point a lot of the choices made or being made are not authentic like deciding when you see fit to die. Considering that films cannot publically display a message that committing suicide is a answer in its own but I think it's more or less trying to inspire a deeper analyses of how many choices we make a day and what value those choices are worth and if they are unique to our own values and not society's or others. She sees that the people she surrounds herself with have essentially given all the choices that society has inspired. Enid want’s to make a choice that is purely her own escape from living a life of complete inauthenticness such as her peers do. Instead, she can just opt out of suffering in that slow and meaningless abyss that is the 80s.

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            • #7
              The concept of authenticity in this film is left to be desired because there is hardly a definition to begin with. The very start of the film begins with the inauthenticity of Enid’s graduation. Her celebration of running out of the school and flipping off the very thing that helped her define who she is, is a prime example of inauthentic. She looks at her diploma, or what she thought was her diploma, and she hasn’t even graduated. Her attending graduation is a premise for the entire film that no matter the façade any achievement or attainment is synthetic. Because of Enid’s mocked finish of high school, she cannot even begin to escape the Ghost World. Her very existence is at risk due to her position in a strange middle world in between high school and the “real” adult world. If she cannot even have a chance at authenticity, then she can only achieve authenticity in the smallest ways in her expressions of art, and you mention the way Edin can achieve authenticity through her art work. I think that she is incapable of being an authentic artist unless she is not assigned a project of artwork, but only when she seeks it for herself. Even in the very first art class she is fed up and ignores her teacher to doodle in an art class. She cannot even express herself through the work in a class that is designed for self-expression!

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              • #8
                The points you bring up in this discussion are very interesting. I agree that the film isn’t a call for actual suicide but it’s possibly a call to a figurative suicide. Perhaps Enid commits a form of “societal suicide” when she boards the bus at the end of the movie. Enid, Rebecca and most adolescents are expected to leave high school, attend college, and pursue a career that we most likely won’t enjoy. Enid refuses to follow the path that was laid out for her and instead pursues her dream of running away from home and leaving everything she knows behind. She commits societal suicide by abandoning what is expected of her and goes off on her own path. Enid kills her chances at becoming an adult who conforms and instead chooses a lifestyle that she believes will make her happy.

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