American Beauty

The worlds that we invent around ourselves, why we build them, and what happens when they are inevitably destroyed.


Actress Kelly Carlson (pictured), stars in the series "Nip Tuck" as frequent cosmetic surgical patient, and not to mention bombshell.

In a world were plastic surgery procedures are becoming a lunch-time errand, you can pay $200 for a t-shirt, and weight-loss pills have become a morning meal, it’s no wonder that physical appearance has become the most important way to judge an individual in our society. While we would all like to believe that we have finally come to realize Dr. King’s vision that we would all be judged by the content of our character, as opposed to a meaningless physical characteristic like skin color, Americans have alarmingly regressed into the former type of thinking. The American ideal of beauty has become the key force behind this relapse.


Bollywood actress and model Aishwarya Rai was named the most beautiful woman in the world.

In many regards the way Americans judge one another has gotten even worse than racial discrimination; we discriminate based on physical characteristics from hair, teeth, and body weight to the designer label embossed on the inside of our clothes, and we discriminate based on material possessions like the houses that we live in and the cars that we drive. While most kids do not have to worry about being teased or harassed because of the color of their skin, many do have to worry about being judged poorly or mistreated because of their body weight or the type of neighborhoods where they live.

The ideals of beauty, prosperity, and happiness, regardless of the society or culture within which it exists, are very much invented worlds in. We create an idea of what is good and right to us and project this idea onto the people and things around ourselves. This is a natural human reaction and need to rationalize our environments; however, it has created several negative consequences in society as well. The problem with any invention, including invented worlds, is that it cannot solve every problem or foresee every hitch. It can only last for a limited time, because it is not self-sustaining. These invented worlds cannot sustain themselves forever and will eventually collapse and crumble beneath us.

“Necessity is the mother of all inventions.”--Plato's Republic

Ignatius Reilly encapsulated himself within his own invented world in “Confederacy of Dunces.” His lack of adequate social skills made it nearly impossible to successfully participate in the real-world on his own; he had to invent a world in his head that rationalized his seemingly awkward and inept social skills, and projected his projected his ideas onto the rest of the world. Dressed in a hunting cap that sat atop a pair of ear mufflers, and a plaid flannel shirt tucked into an enormous pair of tweed pants, Ignatius judges the crowd’s dress as an offense against taste and decency (Toole 1). In his world, Ignatius was dressed properly while he considers the rest of the people around him to be dressed insensibly and improperly. Ignatius’ world was ruled by his own invented rules of acceptable dress and behavior, but it as any invented world, it was doomed to collapse and it did. At the end of the novel his world collapse around him and Ignatius is literally saved by his friend Myrna Minkoff before he is sent away to a mental institution. Ignatius’ actions, based upon the rules that he abides by in his world, nearly brought about his demise.


The story from the mother of a family in “World War Z” is particularly relevant to modern American society. Mary Jo Miller and her family lived in a quiet suburb, probably like the ones pictured. She had invented what might seem like the perfect, content life of the average American. She had a husband, two kids, a dog, and a Suburban. She refused to pay attention to, let alone admit, the events that were happening in the real-world outside of her invented one. However, her world came crashing down when a zombie wrestled her husband down onto her living room carpet. Her invented world didn’t reserve time in between rehashing last night’s episode of Celebrity Fat Camp or totally bitching out whoever wasn’t in the break room at that moment for discussing the zombie invasion that was taking over the world (Brooks 65). The demise of Mary Jo Miller’s world is only one example of the world-ending stories told in “World War Z;” however, the message is the same. We cannot live in our invented worlds forever, because they can only sustain us for a limited time.


Much of modern America resembles the future depicted in the film “The World of Tomorrow.” Lines of beautiful homes block off millions of acres of the country, cars are no longer a luxury for the rich, and travel is fast and easy (though some might disagree on the part of ease). It would seem that we have attained the dream presented in this invented world of “Tommorow,” but if we closely examine what is happening around us we will see that it is slowly collapsing. Detrimental environmental effects and the depletion of natural resources, all effects of this invented world, are leading to the collapse of this world. Gas prices are rising, so many cannot afford to operate a car and drive it from their suburban homes to their jobs in the city. As people continue to move to the city the model of sprawling suburban enclaves will surely fade.

A more extreme proposition is that the weaknesses and inability of our government to handle certain domestic problems will worsen and lead to a dystopian world like that depicted in “Snow Crash.”

The real "World of Tomorrow."

So what exactly will happen when the invented worlds that sustain our lives collapse?

While the result might not be as extreme as the futures depicted in “World War Z” and “Snow Crash,” they must certainly not be disregarded. Death is a real and plausible consequence of a collapsed world, whether it is mental or real invention. As a more conservative prediction, we will lose the majority of our ability to function. Just take a look at what happened when the lovely Miss Teen South Carolina is presented with a problem that the real-world faces. She is a true American Beauty.

Works Cited:
Brooks, Max. World War Z. Three Rivers Press: New York, 2006.
Toole, John Kennedy. A Confederacy of Dunces. Louisiana State University Press: Baton Rouge, 1980.


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