Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A Blank Slate: Time, Narrative, and the Body

Just so we're clear, the genesis of my thoughts here was this article regarding Renee Zellweger's "new face." I really didn't want to post anything about this, because, on the one hand, I don't think anyone's face or body should be up for our judgment. But I realized, as I was typing a response to a friend's link (on Facebook) on the subject, that I had an awful lot on my mind about the subject, so I thought I'd bring this here. First, some thoughts from the article by Frances McDormand: "Something happened culturally," the proudly wrinkled actress, 57, recently raged to the New York Times. "No one is supposed to age past 45 — sartorially, cosmetically, attitudinally. Everybody dresses like a teenager. Everybody dyes their hair. Everybody is concerned about a smooth face. . . [My husband] literally has to stop me physically from saying something to people — to friends who've had work. I'm so full of fear and rage about what they've done." So I bristle a little when anyone carps about people dressing like teenagers, since I'm still fundamentally mistrustful of people who tuck their shirts in as a matter of course, or who shave every day; being willing to age doesn't mean you have to give up advertising what sets you on fire. But her point, by and large, is spot on. We don't want our bodies to tell our stories anymore. Look ... the only appropriate response to what appears to be (though I grant it may not be) conspicuous cosmetic surgery is to ignore it, because to acknowledge the event is to feed the machine that makes the event possible, probable, all but necessary--the machine that says we are our appearances, and that the appearance of people in the public eye, and most especially women in the public eye, is our business. Even the frightened assertions that it looks "nothing" like her (and I do, it must be said, have a hard time recognizing the Zellweger I have seen in the relatively few of her movies I've viewed [because I really only ever kinda sorta liked her acting]) seem to imply, perhaps without meaning to, that she has an obligation to remain recognizable. Surely her agent prefers that, but I'm not sure that it's our business. And yet ... well, let me re-gather, re-phrase. What I mourn is not a face, and certainly not anyone's youth. And as someone who is adamantly for body modifications like tattoos and piercings (I'd be covered in all of the above if I had the money and no casting concerns), I have to be a little careful about how I look at modifications. I do feel, though, a twinge of regret that we, as a culture, no longer let these flawed and inevitably degenerating bodies tell our stories, that the miles don't get to settle into our skin and bones. Modifications that augment the story or add "supertext" strike me--perhaps arbitrarily; might make for an interesting discussion of its own--as different from those that actually seem designed to cover the narrative, to cover the tracks that time and life have left across the body. Realizing that I speak from a place of white, male privilege, I'm not sure I could abide a body that didn't carry some history on it, that didn't wear, somewhere on its surfaces (though maybe not on surfaces that everyone will get to see) the history of my martial arts and performance and exercise and stage combat; my adolescent self-mutilation or my post-adolescent suicide attempts; my postpunk/post-punk, late-Romantic, [G/g]nostic, Celtic, pantheistic obsessions as expressed in my ink; and so on. I wish we could give ourselves the gift of a paradigm of public life wherein crones and shamans and lunatics could flaunt their mileage.


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