Sunday, August 20, 2006

Rick and Marty's Theory of Generational Anatomical Change

Hmmm... well I do think people look physically different from generation to generation for a number of reasons beyond style. Improved diet and a different lifestyle has made a difference in body types, and of course what's considered attractive from one generation to the next can change. Marilyn Monroe looks soft compared to the "abs-of-steel" girls of today.

Being fat used to be a sign of prosperity when excess food was a luxury. Now, food is common; there's too much food. Thinness is the status symbol.

A fair complexion used to be the sign of the upper class that didn't have to work in the fields. Nowadays a good tan shows you spend a lot of time out on the tennis courts or the golf course.

But the differences that Rick and Marty sense may not all be strictly anatomical. That's my grandfather on the left, my dad in his fifties in the middle, and me on the right at about the same age. Obvious differences of hairstyle and clothing aside, I think they have more of an air of being real "adults" somehow.

It might have something to do with the way people carry themselves; the way they "project" their experiences in life. My dad was born in 1914 and picked fruit as a teenager to help the family get through the depression. His dad had to flee the Japanese in Korea, and go from being a scholar to a field laborer here. Whereas I grew up never having to worry about where my next meal was coming from. Do their harder lives show in their eyes? It seems like the kind of thing a good actor could convey through subliminal body language thus making themselver look "physically" different.

So does your theory have something to do with factors beyond these that I've mentioned? Some actual physical evolution?


rickart said...

Hmmm... perhaps I'm just not taking into account how much of a difference lighting, film quality, make-up and the rest effect our perceptions of how people look on film over the years... which is the only real way to notice any differences.

I'm still not totally convinced, though. People really seem to look different. Perhaps diet and other environmental elements effects us on a much deeper level than we imagine... not just height, but complexion, posture, muscle tone, etc.

Another strange thing I've noticed... some of those old movies from the 30s and 40s would have multiple male characters in their 30s, and I would have a devil of a time trying to tell them apart! In their gray suits, fedoras and similar haircuts, they all looked alike!

Tom Moon said...

Yes, directors certainly have a much greater consciousness of "diversity casting" nowadays since we live in a society that's so much more tolerant of nonconformity in all ways, ethnicity, hairstyle, dress.

Surly Bird said...

As a kid, I used to look at my Mom and Dad's yearbook in wonder. 15-, 16- and 17-year-old teenagers looked like they were in their mid-to-late 20s. Even little kids back then looked more mature for some reason. I have no idea what accounts for the differences. Clothing, hairstyles and lighting and film all do have something to do with it, but I do think the lifestyle, diet, and personal experiences did a great deal to shape how people looked as well.

Davis Chino said...

I've been dying to join the discussion....

I think it is more than just the diet and "lifestyle" that makes each generation's "look." And when I say look, I don't mean the fedora-toting heads of the forties versus the askew baseball caps of today--I am talking about their faces, their postures, their bodies.

I think the guiding force here is mental. But beyond mental--it's so deep, it's really like spiritual.

I had a girlfriend once who I swear simply willed herself to look a certain way. How could this be?

There is an element here of the herd mentality, ofwanting to look like the others; but more importantly, there is the wanting to look like what everyone else desires to be/to have. Could our phenomenon of generational homogenaeity be a strange outgrowth of an evolutionary, survival-of-the-fittest instinct?

This goes a lot deeper than just being willing to excercise, or wear lo-rise jeans--or cut your hair a certain way, etc. I think that people mentally drive their bodies toward an ideal; it is almost always done subconsciously, and the success often depends on the intensity of focus.

It is natural to study people to emulate, and we all do it from day one. Before the media age, a person's examples were much narrower, (Mom and Pop), and more likely to be confined to people they actually knew, who would most likely be of the same class, etc. That's blown apart--we all spend much more time studying and idolizing, or being unconsciously influenced by the presence in our lives of an army of celebrities--media creations--who are, let's face it, being celebrated not for their normality, but for their abnormality.

This has heightened the "evolutionary pressure" of looking attractive. Inside each individual's mind there exists a "marketplace" or "library" of model identities/behaviors/looks; and it has now become overstocked with incredibly varied and ingenious solutions to basic problems like, "what to wear," or "how to walk," or even, "how to say 'hello'". Under this onslaught of stimulus, our inner marketplace becomes increasingly agitated, demanding more and more resources be expended on this effort to keep up, and "evolve".

Or we'll be left behind. To die.

Mr Goodson said...

Your Dad looks a bit like Benson Fong from OUR MAN FLINT and Kung Fu. Very self possessed, like yourself. I agree with you Marty that we drive ourselves with weird appearance goals.

Krayonzilla said...

Tom's observation of the older generations seeming older and more adult. I look back at my Great Grandparents, Grandparents, and Parents and how they looked growing older. Our Great Granparents and Granparents lived in rough times. The early half of the 20th century was no walk in the park. 2 World Wars, the Great Depression, Food rationing, the Commie threat etc. All wore down on them more heavly than not I'm sure. Their generations were HEAVY smokers and drinkers. I beleive this factor alone is a major contributor to the age factor. My family were heavy smokers and drinkers it dried them out, sunk in their faces. I keep getting mistaken for late 20's or early 30's but I'm 44. I don't smoke and drink very occasionally. My sisters are the same way. We all look younger than our parents did when they were the same age. Watch and old movie or TV show from 1970 back and just about everybody had a smoke or drink in their hands. The next generation of photos I'm afraid will be of VERY obese people who fell victim to the Fast Food boom.