Most who haven’t studied British literature do not know that Gulliver’s Travels consisted of 4 parts – each with different themes and allegorical commentary on the British government and culture – and even fewer know that it has never been out of print since 1726. Each part describes some wacky land that Gulliver visits, which lend themselves well to children’s entertainment. The well known first part, in which Gulliver finds himself a giant in Lilliput, is a mirror image of the second part. Instead, Gulliver is blown off course and arrives in “Brobdingnag”; a land where he is a tiny man in a land of giants.
As a teenager, everything seemed right. I never noticed any glaring disproportion around me, perhaps because teenagers by their very nature are oblivious to anything but their immediate surroundings. Lack of world wisdom aside, I can remember only 10 years ago when many things seemed moderate and there were no surge fads of indulgence or gluttony. I remember eating normal things in normal amounts, driving on normally sized roads in normally sized cars, and remember a public that was of normal size, with normally sized attitudes.
Now, I find myself a contemporary reflection of Swift’s main-man; a small lad in a land of giant things. I am by no means large, topping off at 5’7 and weighing in a 145 lbs. I drive a small car, play small instruments, date a small (but very pretty) lady, and generally prefer things to be not very huge. I dislike massive cities, oversized chairs, and people who are condescendingly tall. While I may have a propensity towards small, I definitely have an aversion to ginormous.
A marked change in size snuck up on me, and only in the last few years have I really noticed the shift. I understand that America is a “go big or go home” country, but I fear things are getting out of hand. Starbucks recent announcement is just one of many in a trend of making things ridiculously large. In the past few years, I have seen cupcakes, sandwiches, and beverages all rise to incredible sizes, with no real explanation as to why. Bigger is not always better, especially when considering the impact on health and finances that these enlarged lifestyles will ultimately have.
A few years ago, while still in college, I spoke candidly to a representative from RedBull, about their new, 16.9 oz cans. I was once an advocate of energy drinks (mainly because I had to write many papers in short periods of time) and was curious as to why they would release such a huge can, when their original 8 oz can contained more than enough oomph. His answer was shockingly blunt. He told me that based on clinical trials, “larger Americans” were no longer satisfied with the original size, and needed something bigger/stronger. Caffeine is mitigated by fat, in a similar fashion to alcohol, meaning that obese people are less sensitive to the “wing-inducing” effect and need more precious nectar to get legally stimulated.
So as the people grow, the products grow. This seems to be the new-age cycle of consumption; if we require more of a substance to be sated, the demand goes up, and the size increases, regardless of the ramifications. I remember when a foot-long sub was a shit load of food, now it seems to be common fair for a “light” lunch. Cupcakes are no longer little joyful treats, but have become caloric monsters that dwarf and shame their humble ancestors. Even soft drinks (which were, during the time of Soda-shops, a once-in-a-while treat) surround us at every turn, and are readily available in strange places like craft stores and banks.
But this size escalation does not stop at food. As the population grows, so do the amenities. 8 passenger cars clog the road-ways, driven by a single adult who has never even used the back row of seats. King sized hotel room beds have become expected, and not for the luxury of more space. Clothes shopping has become a drawn out ordeal if you are a normal size; when I was 16 I could find a pair of size 30 jeans without much problem, now I get to pick through a half dozen pairs under size 40 and hope that my completely cinched up belt will make up the difference.
It seems the only thing that isn’t growing is me. I try my best not to be swayed by a culture that screams, “consume!” I am fighting what is becoming the norm, mainly because I disagree with the direction it is moving.
Gulliver, when taken to visit the Queen of Brobdingnag, tells her of the wonders of England. He attempts to regale the King and Queen with stories of English technology and social advancements, but to his surprise, everyone laughs at him. They find his technology quaint and unnecessary and his bravado contrived. He becomes little more than source of entertainment, whose wisdom is silly and whose notions are antiquated.
In a world of encouraged overindulgence, I understand how Gulliver felt. I trust that many people ignore or mock my advice about nutrition or fitness or sensible spending, because they refuse to acknowledge that their habits might be unhealthy for themselves and the planet. I may not be a source of entertainment, but I certainly feel alienated. Somehow in the midst of product placement and fast-food chains less than a mile apart, the norm has changed. Being healthy is somehow less acceptable, and the insult of calling someone skinny is slowly replacing that of calling someone fat. It may sound strange, but as our culture literally grows, our expectations of image are reversed, and those who were normal before suddenly get shafted for doing nothing more than holding onto tradition. The normal of my childhood is no longer normal.
Perhaps one day, when there is enough tangible proof that this gigantification of the entire American life-style is wholly self-destructive, the perception of normality will shift again. It is impossible to guess; only science fiction dares dabble in the weird worlds of tomorrow. What will remain true is the allegory set forth by our man J-Swizzle; there will always be people outside of the norm who will think their norm is correct. Whether they are wrong or not is a matter of perception and as soon as you travel somewhere else, those perceptions are thrown out the window. Those who exist in the middle world of no extremes will always have the challenge of conforming or dealing with the issues that come with nonconformity.
So what will it be? Shall I remain a Gulliver in Brobdingnag, or will a feverish fitness trend create a world of amazingly fit people, making me more like a Gulliver in Liliput? Maybe we’ll all evolve into Horse people or Wizards, negating any concern over changes in the norm, as everything will be totally crazy. Crazy and awesome.