In the essay The Chosen People, Stewart Ewen, discusses his perspective of middle class America. Specifically, he explores the idea that the middle class is suffering from an identity crisis. According to Ewen’s theory, “the notion of personal distinction [in America] is leading to an identity crisis” of the non-upper class. (185) The source of this identity crisis is mass consumerism. As a result of the Industrial Revolution and mass production, products became cheaper and therefore more available to the non-elite classes. “Mass production was investing individuals with tools of identity, marks of personhood.” (Ewen 187) Through advertising, junk mail and style industries, the middle class is always striving for “a stylistic affinity to wealth,” finding “delight in the unreal,” and obsessed with “cheap luxury items.” (Ewen 185-6) In other words, instead of defining themselves based on who they are on the inside, the people of middle class America define themselves in terms of external image and material possessions.
A Bug’s Life is an animated Disney film that tells the story of how a colony of ants fight back against and overcome the domination and oppression of the bullying grasshoppers. When looking at the movie through the lens of Ewen’s theory about identity, several connections concerning identity are found between A Bug’s Life and The Chosen People. Furthermore, by looking at identity issues in A Bug’s Life under this new light, Ewen’s theory becomes incomplete. In the Chosen People, Ewen fails to explore the positive aspects of conformity, gender in relationship to identity or the correlations between tradition and identity.
Under the microscope of Ewen’s theory, A Bug’s Life changes from an everyday kid movie to a film riddled with identity issues. The first connection between A Bug’s Life and The Chosen People occurs when Ewen is explaining the rise of industrialism in the United States. He asserts that “For those laboring in many of the factories, industrial conditions systematically trampled upon their individuality and personhood” and that “artisan craft and small-scale manufacturer fell to an emerging economy of larger scale.” (187)
The ants of the colony can be seen as beings who have had their “individuality and personhood” trampled because of the grasshop...
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...nd less likely to change. Ewen does suggest that the trends of the middle class are becoming increasingly ingrained in the values and mindset of the middle class because of World War II and the “yuppie culture of the 1980’s.” (196)
Yet, Ewen’s trends, fashions and styles that could be appropriately deemed traditions, are not explored from the perspective of tradition. Upon comparing the issues of identity crises suggested in A Bugs Life with those in Stewart Ewen’s The Chosen People, the sources and characteristics of identity crises in Ewen’s essay are found incomplete. Ewen limits his exploration of the sources and characteristics of identity crises of the middle class to consumerism and materialism as well as the obsession with image, style and fashion. By restricting his analysis to these issues, Ewen overlooks the perspectives of identity crises in relationship to tradition, the positive aspects of conformity and gender roles.
A Bugs Life. Walt Disney and Pixar Productions. 1998.
Ewen, Stewart. “The Chosen People.” Literacies. Ed. Terence Brunk, Suzanne Diamond, Priscilla Perkins and Ken Smith et al. New York:: Norton, 1997. 183-97.
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