The commercialization of modern biotechnology has granted common people access to life altering treatments and surgical processes to obtain the “human” bodies of their dreams. The definition of a normal, perfect human body has changed with the passing of time and shift of cultural trends. During the age of industrialization, bodily deformities detracting from an individual’s ability to perform manual labor were seen as more severe. Since moving towards a more service dominant economy, contemporary society places greater emphasis on physical appearance and aesthetics. Beauty is often attributed to having Western physical feature of lighter coloring and Caucasian features (Fiedler 41). The monstrosity lies in the product and process of plastic surgery, which invades the natural and organic sequester domains of human life. Modern medicine treats the human body as a machine and services transform this body into an increasingly artificial and perfect object. The seeking of perfection and modification of the natural state is thus unnatural and monstrous. Sometimes the process of plastic surgery is exhibited as entertainment, adding the extra dimension of freakery to the monstrosity. The modern day freak show can be found in television shows such as The Swan, in which “extremely ugly” women were given plastic surgery to achieve a beautiful appearance. The show’s premise establishes a brutally honest fact about society; physical beauty is an important social capital used to obtain love and success in life (Morgan 40). The show’s contestants are all freaks. Previously, their physical appearances were freakish because their lack of beauty caused them stray too far from the societal standard. However, even after the plastic surgery process renders them more “human” looking, the contestants are still freaks because their new physical appearance is too perfect and thus more “plastic”, “unnatural” and ultimately monstrous. In plastic surgery, a greater transformation leads to a greater transgression from the natural state, and thus more monstrosities.
Fiedler, Leslie A. “The Tyranny of the Normal.” The Hastings Center Report 14.2 (1984): 40-42.
The article is an interesting analysis of how society and modern science perceive those who are malformed, and inevitably “not normal”. Fiedler focuses on how the advancement of medicine has allowed “deformed” and “disfigured” fetuses to be eradicated even before their births. He, then, explores the ethics of biomedicine on this issue amongst others. He concludes that these trends are a greater symbolism of how society treats those who do not fall into the realm of normalcy. Throughout history, in real life regimes such as Nazi Germany or fiction based settings such as Hugo’s Notre Dame, people have always held an unexplained fear toward those who are unlike them. They feel threatened by “these monsters” and seek to ostracize or in some cases rid them entirely. Fielder unmasked society’s strong attitude towards the deformed which he found to be a perverse fascination with the “Other,” as well as the fear that the “Other”, which actually mirrors the “Secret Self” embedded in the human psyche.
Jones, Meredith. Skintight: An Anatomy of Cosmetic Surgery. Oxford: Berg, 2008.
This book presents a multi-perspective view of cosmetic surgery through famous contemporary cases as found in magazines, television, internet, and other social media channels. Skintight focuses on examining the phenomenon in the context of contemporary culture and the implications they hold for the future. Presenting a multidisciplinary approach, and examining a wide range of popular culture case studies from women’s magazines, television, architecture and the Internet among others, Skintight dissects the realities of cosmetic surgery and culture. The history of cosmetic surgery is evaluated in regards to commercialization, which has made the process affordable and available to the general consumer. This, coupled, with a more image-focused media, has pushed surgery into the realm of normalcy, and, in some cases, necessity.
Morgan, Kathryn P. “Women and the Knife: Cosmetic Surgery and the Colonization of Women’s Bodies.” Feminism and the Body 6.3 (1991): 25-53.
The paper provides an overview of the rise of contemporary biotechnology and how certain cosmetic surgery are aimed at attracting women into modifying their bodies to fit with the cultural ideal. Morgan focuses more on the psychology of the women who choose to “sculpt” their bodies through painful processes; throughout the process, they are encouraged and even pressured to feel gratitude for having the opportunity to reshape their physical appearance. She exemplifies the cultural trend of seeking perfection through advertisements especially in their taglines of “restored youth” and “permanent beauty”, is moving from the domain of the sleazy and deviant to becoming the norm. Then, Morgan explores the the broader influence of Western culture, which is extremely image-conscious and supportive of the technologizing of women bodies.
Weber, Brenda W. “Masculinity, American Modernity, and Body Modification: A Feminist Reading of American Eunuchs.” Signs 38.3 (2013): 671-94.
The influence of the reading stems from American Eunuchs, a 2003 documentary about men who embody masculinity without the dominant symbol of the male genitalia. Weber’s main focus is taking a look at men who chose to be castrated in order to reinvent their own personal identities so as to not be defined within the limits of sexuality. However, there are broader commentaries on the concept of Americanization, and all its connotations of wealth, progress, freedom, and modernity.
I am glad to have achieved all my goals for the Monsters in Literature and Film Class. Coming in, I was seeking to broaden the variety and scope of literature to read since going to Wharton does not offer too many opportunities for reading fiction. Surprisingly, I have liked the film component of the course much better. Getting exposure to analyzing and dissecting film through mise-en-scene, shots, music, etc. allowed me to appreciate this media than I had ever thought of before.