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American popular culture has become obsessed with youth and the entertainment industry is consumed with looking for fresh, new faces to star in the latest movies, songs, and shows. In her novel A Visit from the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan shows how life does not lose value after one ages, that it is not only the young who can be successful and make something of themselves. Egan highlights the downfalls on the fixation of youth through her characters Kitty Jackson and Jules, and uses Rhea and Sasha to illustrate that there is so much to look forward to in life and that success and happiness can be achieved at any age despite what modern society says.
Through this process, she illustrates that it is okay to look back fondly on memories, but it is not okay to live in the past.
Egan models the character Kitty Jackson off the timeline of the rise and fall of young famous celebrities. In chapter nine of the novel, Kitty is nineteen years old and in the prime of her acting career.
She is young and beautiful, with blonde hair, blue eyes, tanned skin, and a fit body. All of the possible opportunities that she has before her seem endless. At this time in the novel, she is well-loved and admired with a “mega-grossing movie behind her [and] half the world doing a rain dance at her window” (Egan 174). Hollywood is always looking for a new crop of stars, and Kitty is lucky enough to achieve her fame and high status.
Her career, however, begins to suffer terribly after she is assaulted by Jules Jones, the reporter who interviews her for a column one afternoon.
In his column, Jules compares Kitty to Marilyn Monroe to highlight American society’s fixation on eternal youth. However, just a couple years later, at just twenty-eight, Kitty’s career seems to be over. Her antics are “relentlessly cataloged” in the tabloids and “no one [hires] Kitty anymore” (Egan 144). Egan illustrates through Kitty’s unfortunate downfall that if all one has is youth, he/she will not have a full and fruitful life because youth is not the most important attribute a person can have. It cannot be the only thing that someone possesses; if that is the case, one will ultimately be miserable because like fame, it eventually fades.
Egan juxtaposes the youthful Kitty with Jules: a heavy, middle-aged journalist struggling to makes ends meet. During his interview with Kitty, it is clear that Jules is extraordinarily envious of everything that Kitty represents. The seemingly unexplained and unjustified violence he very suddenly feels towards Kitty is due to her youth and blissful ignorance as he notices that that she is “unaware as yet that she will reach middle age and die” (Egan 180). He envies Kitty so much because “she has not yet disappointed herself” (Egan 180) like he has with his recent string of failures. He wants to be successful, and he has inaccurately coupled success with being young. At least, according to him, she is. “Her prattle about the challenging role and the trusting relationship she had with her director and what an honor it was to work opposite such a seasoned star as Tom Cruise is the bitter pill [they] both must swallow in exchange for the privilege of spending some collective time in Kitty’s company” (Egan 170) highlights how he is jealous of the enormous success she has already managed to attain. Jules is representative of the way in which American culture tends to view youth and aging. Getting older is not seen as a good thing, markedly in the entertainment business. A strong desire to go back in time and have a “do-over” is common when people are regretful. There are entire businesses and magazines dedicated to keeping people looking young, and in turn society recognizes those as essentials for happiness and achievement.
There is, however, hope. A few characters come to realize that there is potential success in the future. Sasha’s youth, for example, was really anything but golden, highlighted by the fact that she had an extremely rough time growing up and discovering herself. Her father was never around; she became depressed, and then eventually ran away. Her uncle went looking for her, but did not have the right intentions: “he wanted nothing to do with her. She was lost.” (Egan 214) Fortunately, Sasha is eventually able to find herself by the end of the novel and the readers last see her with a family where she is comfortable and happy. Another example of hope is the character of Rhea. In her youth she is very unsure of herself and generally unpleased with the way life is going for her. It is not until the readers see her in the future that she is content with life and herself. She is married, has three children, and lives in Seattle. Egan has Rhea promote the idea that it is never too late to get back on track and find success through the way she speaks to Jocelyn. Jocelyn is extremely regretful about “wasting” her youth and claims that it was all for no reason, but that is not true as Rhea explains to Jocelyn that “[she] just haven’t found the reason yet.” (Egan 87) Rhea perpetuates the notion that working towards a goal in the future is much healthier and more beneficial than looking back on the past and being regretful.
People are completely aware that time passes and they get older every second, so it should not be shocking… then why is it? Society as a whole tend to be distracted from life with trivial things, such as pop culture, without even realizing it. They subconsciously want ideny the passage of time by reading tabloids, watching talk shows, and download ingthe latest single from their favorite artist, interested in living other people’s lives while their own is passing them by. Egan, in contrast, claims that life is meant to be lived; it is not suddenly over after a certain age is reached. A person’s youth is not the only time that they can accomplish their goals and achieve their dreams.
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