Perfection For Sale!

When did body issues start?

Perhaps the dawn of the printing press. I'm sure Johann Gutenberg had a notion of what his invention meant and what it would do.

Mass-produced media. Mass-produced ideas. Mass-produced ideals.

Mass production of anything has the potential to effect people's perspective.

I wonder, as I do, if people who didn't match their mass produced ideals of their day felt self-conscience.

Did Greek culture, with it's artistic preference for smaller genitals on men, cause men with bodies outside the ideal to feel inadequate? Surely. Perhaps less due to less saturation, since producing the fine art that constituted the mass media of the day took much more effort.

Perhaps it was the Victorian era, however, where mass-produced forms of the both men and women came into their own. Not only were pictures of what men and women should look like printed (should look like according to god knows who, really), but products for reaching those physical ideals were advertised and sold. Girdles and mustache wax being merely two.

If you look at some of these illustrations and photographs from those times, it really appears that all men had thick, heavy handle bar mustaches. All women had the hour glass figure and long hair piled high on their heads.

Imagine being one of those men who had thin, fine hair that took forever to grow in. Give me a year and half maybe I'll get a mustache out of it if I never, ever shave.

Imagine being an athletically built, thin hipped woman.

Naturally I wonder about these things as I wander the urban landscapes of America and see the two main ideals of gender plastered wall to wall trying to sell everything from cars to contraceptives.

If our advertising is to be believed, women are to be very thin, frail and bored. Men are to be huge, ripped and scowling.

This is of course, not all advertising, but enough of it that I can make such a broad generalization that and still hit pretty close to the mark.

Sometimes the marketing doesn't make a ton of sense. Like using naked people to sell clothing (I'm looking at you, Abercrombie & Fitch), or using people with pearly white teeth to sell tobacco products (Newport).

It goes well beyond that, of course. Being a regular watcher of TV these days, I saw a Mazda commercial where people who weren't driving Mazdas magically looked old when they saw themselves reflected in their non-Mazda cars. That's right.

"Drive a Mazda or you will age prematurely."

There's a kind of mercenary ruthlessness in that sort of advertising. Reinforcing a cruel lust for youth (a topic I will sink my teeth into soon enough, I assure you), the advertisement is itself a symptom of the ideals that people are told they need to reach, and the suggests that it's product will help you reach them. This is counter intuitive, because let's face it: no one ever got physically fit driving anywhere.

Naturally, if the advertising were an honest business, people wouldn't buy anywhere near as much stuff.

I don't meet those physical ideals myself. Try though I might, I am thin. I come from a long line of thin men. Thin their whole lives, perhaps a gut toward the end of life. I used to work out all the time and eat tons of food and if I worked really hard I could gain twenty pounds or so. If I stopped my body would burn off everything while I slept.

Broad-shouldered, yet lanky and stork-like, the men of my family except one family on my mothers side would have been excellent chimney sweeps one hundred years ago.

Naturally, a first response is "You don't know how lucky you are." I used to scowl at that sentiment. These days I'm actually more okay with myself. In my early 20's I realized just how much bullshit was being forced down our collective throats and how I shouldn't try very hard to built like a superhero (Massive torso, small waist, power legs, great calves and so on).

Of course I don't own a car, either.

I've found true physical fitness has only a little bit to do with appearance and more to do with strength and endurance. I think it's a safe bet that most underwear models, while delicious looking, cannot "run flat out for two miles before [their] hands start shaking."

The Creepy, Creepy Future of Marketing: "FREE Implant surgery with purchase!"

The iphone is being advertised an awful lot.

I don't own a cellphone because I don't like them. The iphone freaks me out.

My stance on cell phones is this: you pay money so that you have no solitude. You're never alone when you have a cell phone, which I'm sure is a comfort to some but not to me, since I don't substitute comm-tech for actual human interaction.

Cybernetics, as you can guess from previous posts, freak me out. The concept freaks me out. I'm not entirely comfortable relying on a car for transport, but I deal with it.

The iphone, by design, appears to demand human manipulation to a greater extent than any other device of its kind.

Now, I made a post before about the marketing of products and how most advertising's only real point is to make want things you don't need.

As electronics become more and more personalized to their user, and these devices become more and more complex (the iphone knows how you are holding it) how long do you think it's really going to be before people are comfortable with implanted devices and when that market is in infancy, how soon do you think people will be willing to produce product for that market?

Cell phones embedded in ear drums with key pads woven and tattooed into the back of your hand.

Cameras and lasers that display the time, date and temperature in the lower left of your field vision.

Extra sensitive nerve endings and tiny pressure valves embedded in genitals for enhanced sexual pleasure and performance.

In one way it's very possible that such body modification may obliterate out-moded concepts of gender; but in another more precise way it might make being human obsolete.

Naturally, these sound like ravings but let's look again at advertising.

"You need our product to he happy in life, you need our product to be masculine/feminine, you need our product to be cool."

It's well within the realm of possibility that eventually those products will actually alter the physical properties of the consumer.

This isn't as outlandish as it sounds and here's why: cars.

In order to drive a car you must learn how. Now, learning in general doesn't make you great driver. A great driver drives a lot. There's a whole skill set there that didn't exist in the general population 100 years ago. Now, consider how much driving alters your way of perceiving the world. Now instead of thinking in footsteps, you think in miles. You consider gas mileage and acceleration at the very least. There's a new wrinkle in your brain for driving things.

We already have artificial hearts and robotic limbs hooked directly to the human nervous system. These were added on so the recipients could lead a normal life.

How long before leading a normal life means getting your body altered by science?


Parental Horror and Mr. Brooks

Mr. Brooks, while sometimes a messy convolution of plots and ideas, has a very interesting theme.

Naturally, spoilers are ahead.

The character Earl Brooks, portrayed by Kevin Costner, has an addiction. He is addicted to killing people. A destructive habit that is clearly parallel with alcoholism. In fact, Brooks attends AA meetings and confesses to being an "addict" rather than saying "Alcoholic." The habit itself is a man named Marshall, played with glee by William Hurt as a hallucinatory manifestation of Brooks impulses and more or less his dialogue with himself.

Brooks clearly derives a great of pleasure, perhaps even beyond sexual, from killing and Marshall only encourages him and reminds him of the rules that have prevented Brooks from being caught for years.

This dynamic fascinates most during a key scene where, in a truly interesting twist, Brooks finds his daughter is suspected of a murder.

Brooks is visibly shaking after the police leave. Marshall asserts that the girl was sloppy and stupid and deserves to be caught. Perhaps jail will be good for her. Brooks doesn't agree and in fact is so stoic throughout the movie that seeing him in the state is rather wrenching. He crumbles to the floor in agony, asking "What if she has what I have?!"

There is a moment where Marshall actually hugs Brooks, consoles him and tries to help.

The whole scene is amazing because it embodies so many things. The most obvious is parental anxiety over children making their parents same mistakes.

Recalling a scene in the Sopranos where Edith asks Tony "How will we save these children?!" knowing full well that their lives are built from the brick and mortar of corruption and violence.

Brooks' anxiety is on par with that, but so much sadder. A man concerned for his daughter's well being not because it's a dangerous world or because she has made mistake, but terrified to a breaking point that his daughter has the insidious disease that scrapes at the back of his mind. He knows that what he does ruins lives and spreads misery. He knows how isolating it can be. No one truly knows who he is and he can't really tell anyone. Those who find out are doomed, because despite his existence he will still seek to preserve his well being.

How will she cope? Can she cope? Isn't murder a man's game? How will she be able to do the only thing that makes men masculine in this modern world? It's a "hard heart that kills," and the very idea of that hardness, that coldness in his own daughter literally brings Brooks to his knees.

What is truly great about this is Marshall, the monster consoling him. In this way, the coldness and the capacity for violence become Brooks' only solace and in the end the only way he can think of to save his daughter.

It's truly a terrifying concept, and not altogether alien, the idea of men using violence to save their families. In Brooks' case, it's in many ways even worse because it represents him turning to his addiction to violence to save the next generation who may also be addicted. Is she even worth saving? She'll have the same life as Brooks. It will be lonely and if she is half as careful as her old man, it will damage society. But how can a parent turn their back on a child?

There is the real horror; when a parent must choose between what is morally right, what is clearly better for the world and the life of their child. It is a terrible decision and either choice will surely cause Brooks, or any parent for that matter, to loose sleep.


Body Horror and The Bionic Woman

I found a preview for the new Bionic Woman.

The first few minutes are a "New Drama About Personal Issues," but then there's a really bad car accident and our main character wakes with bionic parts.

And she screams.

Now, I will admit this is a remake. Almost everything is a remake anyway, if you think about it for more than two minutes. However, if the preview clips are even remotely approaching the mood of how the show will actually play I look forward to it.

First, we have a strong female character in a sci-fi style show. Two great tastes.

Science fiction has always been a sort of breeding ground for telling stories differently, probably because things are fantastical to start with, so people can be more accepting of wild ideas like women "kickin' ass and takin' names."

"Well, I'm already talking about giant insect aliens that bleed acid. . . might as well make the protagonist a female."

This is not to say women being strong isn't a reality, but it's one of those realities that has only been recently been re-accepted.

In fact, many sci-fi writers tend to use females to represent humanity as a whole on a galactic level. Men, you know, shoot things and die.

That being said: if women represent humanity on all levels, then true horror and anxiety can be invoked in biological and technological alteration of the female body, often times against the will of the women themselves by the government, an extra-terrestrial race, another caste in society and so on.

This forced alteration is the essential doctrine of the Body Horror genre of science fiction. While the personal journey of self-discovery and the strengthening that it entails is universal, the unwanted alterations that are now part of the protagonist must be dealt with and in some ways used to overcome obstacles.

One of my favorite films some what in this genre is Robocop. Murphy, an officer of the law is gunned down in the line of duty, declared dead and brought back through the mad science of cybernetics.

The whole film is this grand metaphor for how violence can drastically alter a person. Murphy can no longer be a husband to his wife or a father to his son, but he can bring criminals to justice. He operates 24 hours, says very little about how he feels, and deals violence to violent people. Can you be tough, unrelenting and cold and still be a good father and husband? The movie says, no, it's not even a possibility, when you give yourself over to violence as your sole purpose you will lose what you think you are fighting for.

Another layer to this is Murphy is altered against his will. This the equivalent to torture, even rape. A permanent alteration in the way Murphy must live occurs as a result of the actions of the people who turned him their idea of what violence should be against his will. This is also a sort of post-traumatic stress disorder made manifest in a hard shell of metal.

With the new Bionic Woman, those idea of post traumatic stress disorder as solid parts of a new body go even further.

As Summers screams in the preview the doctor who apparently did the alterations insists that everything will be okay and attempts to console her. Summers throws him across the room. In that moment, a new and greater capacity for physical violence is realized as a direct result of the alteration, even against those attempting (perhaps badly in the case of the doctor) to help.

The doctor who altered her is the stand-in for a man who understands violence and who insists, perhaps correctly, that he is acting with the best interests of the woman. She needed to be saved, could even be "She was asking for it," by being vulnerable and female and this man, being a man in modern society has probably seen terrible things done to women over and over, and is tired of it. This woman, whom he knows personally, will be different. He won't let this woman be destroyed by this damage inflicted on her. So he tried to save her; but the way his mind works is in a masculine way and masculinity is violence in this context. Sommers, like many victims of any sort of trauma, will be angry. The doctor attempts to give her the tools to make her anger into so damaging a force that no one will be capable of harming her again.

The new Jaime Sommers would easily survive being hit by a truck. The truck that hits Sommers initially represents a masculine violence and what it does when directed, seemingly randomly, without provocation at a woman. She is forever changed and now has become something else not just from the violent act, but also from the doctors' treatment. That treatment will make her capable of dealing with worse than a truck but as we see in the preview there is something that may be a match for Sommers: another bionic woman. Another victim who has been rebuilt with the tools of violence now grafted onto her soul and body.

Indeed women must be sexy, must be womanly but only just. Often in cases of rape there question is asked "Did she protect herself adequately?" Sometimes in years past, a case could be found in favor of the rapist if it could be proven that the victim had some how made themselves vulnerable.

In the context of the new Bionic Woman, the main character is near fatally injured in a car accident, once again the metaphor for life altering violence. I guarantee at some point some one will ask, in some way "Was there a stop sign?" or even "Why weren't you paying attention?" when the reality is that it was a random incident that Summers couldn't have prevented. Wrong place. Wrong time.

Exploring themes like that, even metaphorically, especially in an network television show, is fairly bold. The fact that it may not be as heavy handed as a closing speech on Jerry Springer is also going to be a breath of fresh air. That coupled with the involvement of David Eick, I can certainly imagine another show worth watching.

(NOTE: The new Bionic Woman did not live up to any of these expectations, which is a real shame)