Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Blog 6

           Before break, I took Dr. Ellis up on her suggestion to knock out multiple events in a single week. I ended up attending two of the events offered that week, and chose randomly which one I would cover that first week in my event blog. Oddly enough, the event which I had yet to address relates incredibly well to this week’s readings because it has to do with the idea of the body. A few weeks ago, I attended a lecture/discussion about body image as it is portrayed by the television show Glee. The event was fairly well attended by, like everything else at Loyola, a mostly female audience, but the discussion really surprised me. Glee is possibly one of my guiltiest of all guilty pleasure television shows, so I had preconceived notions about what the content of the lecture would entail. I assumed the moderator would discuss the character of Mercedes who is played by a full-figured actress, and how that sets a societal example by breaking the norms of stick-thin actresses. Even more specifically, I thought they would reference an episode in which Mercedes is pressured to lose weight.
Apparently, however, I got too far ahead of myself. I was very surprised when the episode referenced was the cast’s homage to the Rocky Horror Picture Show in which male body image is addressed. Perhaps it is because on television or in the news, nine times out of ten the words “body image” are being discussed by and about women which led me to my premature supposition. Still, I liked that the lecture did not flow according to what I had expected. A few boys in the audience took the episode as a justification of how men have to be more self-conscious or how there is more pressure on men now than their used to be, but to be honest it is difficult for me to take that too seriously. Women are objectified and scrutinized based on their looks every second of every day, while overweight actors like Paul Giamatti, Alec Baldwin, Philip Seymor Hoffman and James Gandolfini suffer no loss in popularity nor film and television role opportunities. The double-standard has and always will be present both in Hollywood and in the society of common people. I don’t believe that the solution is having more plus-sized actresses on television, but rather encouraging healthy behaviour and eating habits as well as a sound state of mind. Health should be the number one goal for one’s body, not a certain number on a scale or size in a department store.
In Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, Doctor Frankenstein is almost obsessed with pushing the conceptual limits of what exactly a body is and the idea of animation. He is all but consumed by the idea of creating a companion, and can see almost nothing else while he is creating the monster. However, once he sees the creature he has created, he is horrified by the sight of it. The monster has feelings and when he begins to narrate the story, it is clear how abandoned he feels. To me, this speaks to the theme that beauty is entirely wrapped up in perception. A beautiful person can become less attractive to someone if their personality is deficient they can become less attractive to the beholder. The reverse is also true: we all know people who seem a little more attractive because of their great dispositions. In Frankenstein, the body is a source of power, curiosity, enigma and attraction.
I was very excited both to be studying the poems of Walt Whitman and to share them with the class this week. He is my favourite American poet and I love the complexity and multifaceted nature of his work. "One's-Self I Sing" and "I Sing the Body Electric" both praise the human form, but in strikingly different contexts. "I Sing the Body Electric" seems to be a celebration of every part of the body, as he lists dozens of bones and muscles. Often, we complain about the general aches, pains and other minimal discomforts that accompany living in a human body, which is why I think Whitman went into such great lengths to describe exactly how extensive and complex our bodies are. The diction evokes a very clear ethos of the exquisiteness of simply being alive.
Conversely, "One's-Self I Sing" has a much different tone. The latter poem was written twelve years after the former, and in the context of the American socio-political structure a great deal had changed. The Civil War had began and ended, leaving the country in a state of terrible disarray. However, this period was also one of great change and promise, both of which can be seen in the themes of the poem. He praises "The Modern Man", which I took to mean as the man who will not rely on looks or gimmicks, but talent and "passion, pulse and power" to be the face of the new generation in the new America. Perhaps the new "body" or the new "Modern Man" is really just the new America? Whitman's poems, even those of very few words like "One's-Self I Sing" can be analyzed at great length and from many different angles. 

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