Suzy Lusk is one of the children in the Up Series. She came from a wealthy family, and lead a privileged life. As a child she attended an upper-class school for girls, where she spent time learning things like ballet; while outside school, she had a nanny to take care of her. At 7, Suzy seems to be a happy child; absent-mindedly preforming ballet, and trying to be “ladylike”. When she speaks of her parents that she becomes quiet, likely missing them as all children do at 7. However, she leaves the viewer with the impression of a happy girl who is living an extravagant life.
By 14, Suzy’s parents had divorced and she lived in Scotland with her father. In this instalment of the series that Suzy becomes more withdrawn and awkward, losing her confidence. Like most of the other participants, she would rather stare at her knees or the grass rather than the camera. This is a usual part of adolescence, but it seems to be a bit more depressive than shy with Suzy. She voices her opinion of the program, saying that she “sees no point to it”. Despite her withdrawn nature and contempt for the program, she continued to participate. At 21 the program finds a jittery Suzy, appearing strung out, chain smoking on the couch.
She dropped out of her elite school at 16, and has since been spending her time travelling throughout Europe; funded by her parents, as most wealthy children are. Her depressive nature only seems to be increasing, which is likely why she seems to be self medicating. During the interview she offers contempt for marriage and having children, saying that she “is very cynical about it”. She’s inclined to this opinion because her parent’s marriage failed, and perhaps she does not want to go through that again. At 35, a drastic change can be seen in Suzy’s demeanour.
She is almost unrecognizable, smiling confidently and enjoying the interview; answering all the questions rather than ignoring them. Since the last instalment of the series, her father has passed away and her mother has been diagnosed with lug cancer. Obviously Suzy is in a better place mentally, as she deals with these circumstances in a way the strung out 21 year old could not. She is now married with three children, which she credits for her happiness. The family lives in the country, and is fairly wealthy. Unlike her upbringing, Suzy focuses on spending a lot of time with her children instead of sending them to boarding school.
Ultimately, she does not want her children to feel the same way she did as a child; forgotten and alone. During the next instalment of the series Suzy is 49, and still happily married. Most of the interview is spent reflecting on her life and how she has grown as a person. She acknowledges her inability to take responsibility for her actions as a child, and wishes she was more confident in herself. In addition, she is displeased with the series as, in her opinion, people feel that they know her when they only see what is kept in the film.
Because of this, she contemplates quitting the series as she wanted to initially. Even though Suzy thought she would quit the series, she remained for the last interview. This interview, similar to the last, is rooted in reflecting on life. Suzy talks about her home life first, explaining how “it was never good”. She goes on to say, despite her wealth and ability, she never pushed herself forward as a child; she felt that she did not have to because everything was handed to her. Regardless, she is fulfilled in her life and especially pleased with her family life as an adult.
The viewers are left with a glimpse of the happy 7 year old girl from so long ago. The maxim of The Up Series is “Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man”. In essence, this means by the time a child is 7 they have a definite trajectory in life, based on what advantages they have received and behaviours they have learnt. In some aspects this is true for all the participants, Suzy in particular. However, the children often deviate from the maxim, with little correlation between their adult selves and their childhood selves, like Tony and Neil.
Ultimately, what a person experiences throughout life is more important to who they become than what happened at seven years old. As stated in the biographical sketch, Suzy was born into a wealthy family. She had every opportunity possible, and at 7 she was a cheerful child. In many ways her life correlated well with the maxim. She grew up in luxury, had the ability to travel Europe, married a man who was wealthy, and had a family; just as would be expected if the viewer only saw her 7 year old self.
It is obvious that she would not have been able to do many things, drop out of school at 16 and travel, if she was not born into the upper-class. Later in life, Suzy appears just as cheerful and fulfilled, so in that way the maxim fits. However, by solely looking at 7 year old Suzy, one ignores where the maxim does not apply. For example, during adolescence, her parents divorced. The impact this had on Suzy could not have been foreseen at 7. The divorce causes Suzy to become withdrawn and depressive, which is a stark contrast to her childhood personality.
As a young adult Suzy resents the thought of marriage and children. She spends most of the interview chain smoking, and talks about leaving school; which could not have been predicted. While Suzy does ultimately fit the maxim, as stated above, she proves that the circumstances a person experiences can cause them to deviate from it throughout life. Tony was born into a middle class family and attended a public school. He was an energetic child with dreams of being a jockey, which he did achieve for a short period of time.
Looking solely at the maxim, one would expect Tony to remain in the middle class his whole life; likely marrying young and having children. While Tony does marry and have children, he does not remain middle class. By driving and owning a taxi, he and his wife make enough money to buy a summer home in Spain. In addition, they opened a bar in London and have multiple properties for sale in Spain. This proves the maxim can be somewhat true, but deviate later in life. While the maxim holds true for Suzy and Tony to varying degrees, it is Neil who deviates from the maxim in the most extreme way.
Neil was born into a relatively wealthy family and attended a school for boys. During childhood and adolescence Neil is a carefree child with a radiant smile. He is glaringly optimistic in his interviews; laughing and enjoying life. According to the maxim, Neil will remain this happy throughout his life, likely marry a wealthy woman and have a family. Nevertheless, Neil proves that life is not that simple. At 21, Neil dropped out of university, and is homeless with obvious mental health issues, most notably anxiety and depression.
He struggles with these issues his whole life, and remains homeless for many years; a severe contrast to what the maxim would predict. In addition, Neil does not just deviate from the maxim, in the way Suzy does, his life simply does not correlate with the maxim after 14, proving that is is not always true. The use of the maxim “Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man”, is helpful when exploring the lives of others critically. It allows the observer to hypothesize about the futures of these children without actually knowing them. The problem arises when the maxim no longer fits, like in the cases of Tony and Neil.
Even though a bit of the maxim holds true in all of the children, especially Suzy, the observers must understand that while the maxim can ultimately be right, people deviate from in throughout life. This means that life has less to do with what you are at 7, and more to do with what you experience later. In the last set of interviews, 49 Up and 56 Up, the participants were asked to reflect on their life and specifically how they were portrayed though the various instalments of the series. The participants we followed believe the public’s view of them has been skewed through the films.
Suzy and Nick agreed that viewers do not get a comprehensive picture of their lives, and that the films are edited to portray specific things about them; for example, Suzy says production often used clips where she appears spoiled or uncooperative to create the character of an ungrateful rich girl. This is one reason Suzy considered quitting. Additionally, people send her mail or stop her on the street, acting as though they personally knew her. By exposing aspects of their lives to the public for so long, viewers feel like they grew up with the participants, causing the majority of participants to experience similar behaviour.
However, Nick acknowledges it is nearly impossible to portray everyone completely in the format of the documentary, and that people are going to see what they want in the participants, regardless of what is kept in the film. Generally, life is described as freedom of choice, limited by certain constraints. Our lives form through the structure into which we are born, the constraint, and the agency we are responsible for later in life, the freedom of choice; the extent of which varies depending on what aspects of our lives we put significance on, and to what degree.
The social structure in one’s life is often considered a master status. Based on the functionalist approach, social structure is positive because it creates order and predictability within society; it connects people to the larger society through the pattern of relationships. However, conflict theorists say social structure can only work to marginalize people. If we can only be connected through relationships, there will always a group of disadvantaged people, those with fewer or weaker relationships.
This is why structure plays a large role is shaping our lives. What we are given, that is the social structure we are born into, either propels us forward in life or holds us at a disadvantage. For example, Suzy was able to travel around Europe at 16; something that undoubtedly helped her form relationships, and that she would have been unable to do if she was not given the advantage of wealth. In addition, because of her wealth she made connections with other wealthy people, giving her more options in life, even though she did not have to work to get them.
This would simply not be available to someone who is disadvantaged, instead they would rely more on agency to achieve relationships. While structure is considered a master status, this does not necessarily mean that it was ascribed; it is often the agency of our lives which lead to the master status. This fits well with symbolic interaction theory. Despite the fact that society keeps certain groups at a disadvantage, as outlined in conflict theory, not all people for these groups remain at a disadvantage, the same principle is true for those who are advantaged.
It is the choices of these individuals that have a greater effect on their lives. For example, Nick was raised poor on a farm, but went to Oxford University and became a nuclear physicist. It was agency, his choices and determination, that allowed him to move upward in society despite his original disadvantages. Ultimately, it is obvious that neither structure nor agency control our lives completely; both act together. Structure provides a staring point for everyone, however unequal they may be, and agency allows us to shape our own lives based on freedom of choice.