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It is difficult for one to imagine themselves as thirteen years old, not having a clear sense of their own being, and hardly being able to walk or speak. Unfortunately this was the reality for young girl Genie, in the film “Genie: Secret of the Wild Child”. Instead of growing up in a loving home, Genie was locked up, sometimes bound to chains, in a dark room, alone and under the control of her abusive parents. More than a decade of solitary confinement left her barely being able to walk or speak at the age of thirteen. Genie’s story is a prime example of how one’s behaviour correlates with their early life and can be explained through sociological theories, not by human nature.
This analysis will focus on the importance of primary socialization, symbolic interactionism and culture, underlining how these factors were needed in the development of Genie’s early ‘sense of self’. Primary socialization starts at the beginning of a child’s life and is essential because during this time children develop basic values and norms, as well as ideas of the self. Through parents and family influences, we gain a collective set of knowledge that sets us up for future social interactions. As shown in the film, Genie had been isolated from any social interaction, except minimal encounters with her abusive parents. This deeply affected Genie’s psyche and her ability to learn, as she should have developed these skills years before. Researchers had to compare Genie’s mind to an infant’s, unaware of themselves, and not knowing anything about the outside world yet. Symbolic interactionism is the development of someone’s self-concept and identity, through daily interaction with others.
To acquire basic socialization skills, symbolic interactionism is needed. This method attaches meaning to one’s social surroundings. Genie lacked social skills, because she was never put into a social environment or given the opportunity to develop her own identity. Solitary confinement is arguably the worst type of punishment she received, as it deprived her from basic human interactions she needed to survive. After being rescued, Genie’s transition to a public environment was very difficult. It took many months of hard work from professionals to see the slightest bit of progress in hear speech and mannerisms. Overtime, Genie could recognize certain symbols, and was able to speak several words, through the constant interaction she should have received as a young child.
Most children grow up interacting with society, however Genie was deficient of this for thirteen years. More progress that includes the basics of symbolic interactionism was needed, to allow her to develop her own identity.Societal expectations for a girl in her early teens are typically specific, many would expect them to be in seventh grade, having acquired basic reading, writing, and communication skills. These expectations are a result of culture, Genie was far off from any of these expectations, which is why researchers were so drawn to her. Although culture is always changing, it is still crucial for one to belong to certain social groups in order to develop a sense of self. Most people start to belong to a culture, or multiple cultures, in the earliest periods of their lives. For Genie, it was impossible for her to see herself belonging to any culture, especially in the thirteen years she was alone. Soon after Genie was rescued, she had no means of communication, or basic skills, she had a distinct ‘bunny walk’, and communicated through sounds rather than words, which was unusual to everyone who witnessed her. As a result of these factors, many found her behaviour as being ‘anti-normative’ or ‘wild’.
Although Genie’s behaviour was completely out of her own control, she was still viewed as a ‘wild child’ because she did not fit into the basic cultural standards of a young girl. In this film, it was clear that Genie required primary socialization, symbolic interactionism and culture in her early life, for her to have properly developed a sense of self. Lack in any one these factors could result in someone becoming an outcast or spectacle in today’s society, which unfortunately, is exactly what happened to Genie.
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