Saturday, October 20, 2007
body worship, body horror
chad white, model
in several of my writing classes this past week, we discussed the issues of body image, body horror, + body worship, as they reveal themselves in, say, advertising, movies, popular attitudes, + fads.
body image has to do with what we learn to perceive as a 'normal' human body. it's said that however skinny people with bulemia become, the images they see of themselves in the mirror still look flabby + out of shape.
body image is also a cultural phenomenon of the last fifty years (not to say that body consciousness is altogether a new thing, but body obsession arguably is).
plastic surgery, once reserved for rich older women in show business, has become more universal, affecting the middle classes now + drawing no distinctions in age or gender.
what other era of human existence could have produced a michael jackson, for instance?
body horror is simply the other, darker side of this obsession. horror films once dealt with the spiritual (ghosts, evil spirits), then they turned towards the psychological (psychos, serial killers), + now the focus is almost entirely on the bodily (eviscerations, decapitations, decay).
the saw + hostel franchises are the most obvious examples, but consider, also, the evolution of zombie movies, once based on voodoo religious practices, now the horror is portrayed as a viral epidemic causing disfiguration (planet terror, 28 days later).
but horror movies are too obvious examples of body horror. we also find it in commericals ('raise you hand, if you're sure' + 'ring around the collar') which aggravate, if not instill, shame over perspiration, body odor, + skin ageing.
comedies like borat, south park, + jackass also capitalize on audiences' queasiness over body mass + body functions, not to mention the brutalization of bodies, making commonplace the kinds of shocking images satirists like rabelais + swift once used periodically for shock value.
the fascination of extreme sports, ufc, + the fear factor is that they often explore exactly how much abuse the human body can withstand.
+ you would have to go to the middle ages to find religious art comparable to mel gibson's the passion of the christ.
i detect body horror also in the typical comments americans make about nudism--"the 'wrong people' get naked"--which suggests not just the ancient admiration for beautiful + athletic bodies, but pronounced disgust at normal + everyday bodies.
opposite to horror is body worship, which we witness in beauty pageants + bodybuilding competitions, but also in the ritualized display of bodies in pro wrestling, abercrombie + fitch catalogs, or, in recent olympics telecasts, male gymnasts' orchestrated removal of shirts for the audience following an event.
the fetishization of body parts (thighs, abs, pecs, navels, glutes, feet), too, is a form of worship.
i think much of the fixation on children in our culture is a form of body worship, too--'ten little fingers + ten little toes,' 'soft perfect skin,' the relative absence of distinctive body odor--+ now beauty pageants for kids, + false teeth to conceal the (shameful?) loss of baby teeth.
the classes also considered the proliferation of tattooing, piercing, + body painting, as perhaps a sign that, for the creative + nonconformist, the body is more + more a canvas, or a medium for expressing one's individuality + eccentricity, instead of actions, behavior, speech, or 'life style'--the out-of-fashion, now rather quaint tools of existentialists, beats, + hippies.
time permitting, we might have gone further into gender reassignment, which embraces + transcends all four categories of image, horror, worship, + art.
as a class, we tried to avoid judgment + mainly look at the roles media, religion, + economics have played in this surge of body-consciousness.
it isn't that we are the first generation to concern ourselves with appearances, revile the body for its unruliness, admire the strong + the beautiful, or decorate our skin, but i can't think of any previous generation that has been quite as abjectly mesmerized by the human form as ours has been.
Posted by Joe at 11:42 AM