A little while ago I wrote about my experiences of feeling like an outsider. It was a relatively easy article to write because, sadly, I’m fairly well acquainted with the nuances of feeling like you live on the fringes of society. However, it was one of those articles that was hard to hit the publish button on, mostly because I was skeptical about how relatable it would be to other people. I was under the impression that most people felt reasonably well connected to society — they had a thriving circle of friends, pass-times they enjoyed with others, and a career that they found worthwhile.
In the past few days I’ve been working my way through the Netflix series, inspired by true events, ‘Stateless’, and I’ve had to revise my opinion on how rare an occurrence it is to feel like you don’t belong.
On the surface, Stateless is a gripping drama that showcases that plight of those who find themselves in an Australian immigration center, but on a deeper level, the viewer is shown, through a complex web of interwoven stories, a wide variety of ways in which a person can feel like they’re an outsider.
Watching Stateless has opened my eyes to how common it can be to feel like you don’t belong, and how these feelings of detachment can affect the kind of person you would least suspect. In a strange way the series has helped me to feel like less of an outsider — I realize that so many of us are just trying to do what we can to find our place in the world and I’m not alone in that respect.
It’s often the people you least suspect
The characters whose lives intersect at the Australian immigration center that forms the backdrop of most of Stateless vary greatly in their age, gender, life goals, family situation, and socioeconomic status — yet they’re all outsiders in their own way.
One of the main characters is a young woman called Sofia Werner (played by Yvonne Strahovski). She is a native of Australia, but due to various events I won’t spoil (a hint; Sofia has mental-health issues resulting from time spent with a cult-like organization), eventually finds herself in the company of asylum seekers at the immigration center. Another of the characters we follow is a father, Cam Sanford (played by Jai Courtney) who has just been employed as a Detention Officer in the center — a job he took in an attempt to be the bread-winning husband and father that he feels is expected of him.
We witness the hardships faced by Sofia and Cam, both of whom seem detached from the people around them, as they search desperately for their place in their world. Cam seems to think that this sense of belonging will come once he has the finances to provide the life his family has always wanted. Sofia on the other hand is willing to do almost anything that her cult asks of her because, as she says to the cult leader Gordon Masters (played by Dominic West) she just “wants to be loved”.
Both Cam and Sofia, from the outside, are the type of people I would have assumed would have felt pretty happy with their place in their world. Cam has a good circle of friends around him and a wife he adores, whilst Sofia has an incredibly supportive family and a job that pays well and allows her to travel the world (she is an Air Stewardess). Yet, despite the seemingly fulfilling lifestyles of each of these characters, deep down they are struggling to find a path through life that allows them to feel connected to the world around them.
Seeing Cam and Sofia struggle in Stateless has opened my eyes to how little the external trappings of a person’s life tell you about how they’re truly feeling. Some of the people that we look upon as ‘having it all’, and assume must feel like they have found their place in the world, are actually a lot unhappier than their lifestyle would suggest.
Asylum seekers are outsiders too
Stateless depicts the hardships faced by a number of asylum seekers who are anxiously awaiting a decision on their application for an Australian visa. These asylum seekers are outsiders due to the simple fact that they don’t have a country, let alone a home, to call their own. Whilst they await a decision on their visa applications, they are left drifting around the immigration center, which is rather aptly situated in the most isolated setting I can imagine — in the middle of the Australian outback, where sand and sun-shriveled trees are their only company. For the asylum seekers in this center, days turn into weeks, weeks into months and possibly even years — we are told that seven years is the longest one of the detainees has been left awaiting a decision. And whilst they kill time in immigration purgatory, the threat of deportation back to their birth country constantly hangs over them.
The series focuses on the plight of one asylum seeker in particular, Ameer (played by Fayssal Bazzi), who has fled his birth country of Afghanistan with his wife and children, due to fear of persecution. Ameer and his family are treated like case numbers rather than human beings by the Australian authorities, who seem to have little empathy for their situation. Seeing Ameer try desperately to attain visas for himself and his family, when everything in the Australian legal system seems to be working against them, makes for uncomfortable but essential viewing. I was left with the overriding impression that this is what it must be like to truly feel like an outsider. The loneliness and isolation I feel on a day to day basis, sure it hurts and it gets me down, but it feels incomparable to the pain and anguish that I imagine asylum seekers like Ameer must face every day.
Even on a day when I’ve felt particularly detached from the world, with no friends to talk to perhaps, at least I know I’ve got a home to go back to, with a warm bed and tasty food in the fridge — home comforts that asylum seekers can only dream of having. Whilst I’m not trying to belittle my struggles, or anyone else’s for that matter, I find it helps me feel less resentful of my situation when I know that other people are struggling equally, if not more, than myself and watching Stateless certainly demonstrated that to me.
Socially connected people can still feel detached
Throughout the series, we are shown how the manager of the immigration center, Clare Kowitz (played by Asher Keddie), is suffering almost as much as the detainees she is in charge of. She deals with the scrutiny of the media on a daily basis, together with the unrealistic demands of her boss who seems impossible to please. The difficulty her job role poses is made apparent when it is suggested early on in the series that her antecedent in the role committed suicide due to the stresses of the job.
Just like with Cam and Sofia, it would appear from a superficial glance, that Clare had life sussed. She has done well in her career, gaining a promotion to get her the managers role in the immigration center, and this job provides her with the opportunity to interact with a wide variety of people every day, she has everything from journalists, lawyers, and psychiatrists waiting to talk to her at different points in the series — I look at people like Clare with a tinge of jealousy, thinking they must be immensely fulfilled and never feel alone, but as we see throughout the series, this isn’t the case with Clare. We watch her go back to her low-budget motel room each night after work, all alone, a depressed and anxious demeanor glued to her face each time. A worthwhile reminder that just because someone appears to be socially connected, they could still be feeling like an outsider on a deeper level.
Seemingly self-centered people desire connection too
While Clare works in the immigration center, she is continually trying to pair her aspirations of success in her managerial role, with her desire to connect with other people. It becomes apparent that she will have to sacrifice one of these things to achieve the other, and at the beginning of the series it is certainly the latter that suffers as she becomes increasingly narrow-minded and self-centered in pursuit of her boss’ praise.
We witness many unconformable interactions between Clare and her colleagues at the center, all of whom seem to resent her egocentric way of doing things. A disdain that is shared by an old friend of Clare’s, a journalist staying in the motel room next door to her own, who bemoans that she has “changed” as a person in order to succeed in her job — a statement that seems to hurt Clare as much as her friend, presumably because she is equally disappointed with the person she’s become and the friends she seems to have lost in the process.
Clare’s story reminded me that most people who come across like they don’t give a damn about other people, actually do. There is often a good reason for a self-centered person’s aloof attitude and they’re just as likely to be suffering from feelings of loneliness or isolation as me or you.
All of the main characters in Stateless, to some degree, suffer the consequences of changing who they are to try and ‘fit in’ and no longer feel like an outsider. Their willingness to sacrifice who they are in an attempt to belong never ends well, it only makes matters worse, as they become strangers to themselves as well as the world around them. I’ve already mentioned how this happened to Clare, but the same applies to Cam; when he manages to get a job as a Detention Officer at the immigration center, we see him slowly start to change who he is, the values he holds, the sensitive attitude that he previously had, all in an effort to succeed in his job and fit in with his co-workers. But by slowly turning into the cold and hard-hearted man that his job seems to require, he ends up hurting the very thing he cares about most — his family. Similarly, it is Ameer’s attempts to fit in with a clique of other asylum seekers which starts a chain of events that leads to him being separated from his family and makes their visa application a whole lot more complicated than it could have been.
There is a valuable lesson to be had here for anyone who feels like they’re an outsider. As isolating as it can be to feel like you don’t belong, Stateless demonstrates that you shouldn’t rush to change who you are to try and alleviate this pain — sometimes being on the outside is preferable to be connected to something, or someone, contradictory to your beliefs and values. Have faith that by staying true to who you are, that sense of connection that eludes you will come in good time, and take comfort from knowing that you’re not alone in your present struggles — a fact that Stateless makes abundantly clear in each of its six episodes.
Thank you for reading,