The body politic | General Discussion | Forum
January 7, 2011
In my reading i found a statement which caught me, and thought it might be an interesting basis for discussion….
"Display is not a politically neutral activity"
If anyone fancies sharing their thoughts I'd be interested to hear them.
I'm not sure if this is really what you're looking for or not, but I'll put in my comment anyway. It is quite an interesting statement that you've come across.
I would have to agree with the above statement. The face we choose to present to the world says alot about a person. Not even getting into body modification specifically, what we wear and how we present ourselves says a great deal about who we are as people. Consider seeing a conservative businessman in his expensive tailored suit and think about the different things tat come to mind when considering such a person. Then think about the punk with his studded vest covered in band and political patches and his spiked hair. Not only are the looks very different, but they also say a great deal about what those two people stand for and, to an extent, the sorts of ideals they possess.
Body modifiction certainly falls under a similar umbrella. Those of us who modify our bodies are doing so with the full understanding that there is a certain message that the world will take from doing so. The exact message might differ from person to person, but it could encompass such things as expressing individuality, being "cool" and fitting in with certain crowds, being trendy, being unique, being rebellious, or a handful of other different things. Whether or not we modify ourselves with the express intent of giving off these messages, these messages are nevertheless given off and most of us are aware of that fact.
I think especially in cases where people modify their bodies in more widespread or extreme ways, there is an instant message of non-conformity there and that very non-comformist act sends off messages to everyone who looks upon that individual. Certainly in my own case, as someone who is slowly starting to transition into modifications that might be considered a bit more "extreme" I am well aware of the message that I am conveying. The moment another person glances at me they can see some of my strongest held ideals written clearly upon my skin. It is immediatly apparent that I dislike conformity and embrace individualism and freedom of expression, for example. While I don't modify myself specifically for the message that my skin conveys to the world, it is an unmistakable reality that there is a message there. If I didn't want the world to know about the ideals I hold as important, I would never have gone out and made myself so visible for the world to see. No, I am not doing any of this for the attention, but I am doing this with the full awareness that a certain kind of attention will be garned whether I want it or not. If I wasn't accepting of that attention and if I didn't embrace it, at least a little bit, then I don't think I would have ever gone out and started to modify myself so visibly.
Thanks for your thoughts, that's exactly what i wanted. Having done a lot of reading recently on the subject, i have really enjoyed reflecting on these issues, and wondered if others may like to discuss them.
I hope my original post wasn't too obtuse!
I agree with your statements, but wonder to what extent people are aware or not regards this when modifying their body? I have spoken to so many people who claim that the reasons for their journey are nothing to do with perceptions of others or and attempt to influence them, but simply personal.
I myself would not go to those extremes, as i acknowledge i am influenced by others to an extent, but as a conscious motivator it's pretty far down the list of reasons.
I would however place 'reclaiming my body' pretty high on reasons i modify myself, which i suppose is intergrally related to my relationship with the society i live.
The implied message of more extreme (culturally relative) modification is inherently one that suggests a strong rejection of social and cultural norms. Whether consciously or not the modified accept this (or at least become aware of this) as part of the 'package' of being visibly different.
But is there a responsibility which comes with that?
I would like to hope that at least the more visibly modified individuals would have some knowledge on the kind of message they are giving out to the world. There is a difference, I think, in being aware of the message one's modifications are giving out to the world and having that message being the reason for one to modify oneself. I don't think the message needs necessarily be the reason, but I think its important to be aware of the message that is, inadvertantly or not, being given off. This is not only for the sake of the individual whose life will undoubtly be impacted because of that message and for the sake of the community as a whole.
I think the reason for being aware of the message on a personal level should be obvious. Whether we like it or not, people are going to react to the visibly modified in acertain way. They are going to inevitably jump to certain conclusions based upon those first impressions. I'm not in any way saying this is a good thing or justifying discrimination, but those assumptions and that disdrimination exists whether we want it to or not and that is most certainly going to effect a person's life if they decide to become visibly modified.
When I say that its important to be aware on the larger communityt level, I think that requires a little more explanation. The visibly modified are, by their very nature, noticable in the larger world. I am just starting to get into more extreme and heavy modifications and even I can see the difference in how people react to me. People I don't even know will tell me they've seen me around on the skytrain or in the city. I am noticable for the very fact that I have modifications that most people do not have and the more visibly modified a person is, the more noticiable they become to the average person on teh street. The potential problem with this is that people are likely to make assumptions of the community as a whole based upon their experiences with one or a couple visibly modified individuals. I think the visibly modified, at least on the heavier end of things, are rare enough that many people might not directly encounter more than a couple and have personal interactions with them. These interactions will colour thier views towards the entire community. Thus, I think it becomes important for the visibly modified to try and put out a good impression because just as a negative first impression can negatively effect the community as a whole, so can a posative first impression posatively impact the community as a whole. One who is aware of this fact might be more inclined towards putting out that posative impression.
I know that my personal reasons for modifying my body have very little to do with any political message. I modify for personal reasons, so that my outer self can better reflect what I feel on the inside. I modify because my body is the one thing that is truly mine and I feel empowered to take control of my own body. However, with that said I am also aware of the message that my very visible choices give off to the people around me. While I do not consider that message to be the reason for my mofidifications, I would be lying if I were to say that I don't still embrace that message. I don't think its possible for me to entirely seperate my modifications from those ideals that I consider to be important.
I too would hope that the visibly modded are aware of the messages they convey, but perhaps i am a bit more cynical about whether they do.
If we take the punk aesthetic, this clearly challenged society's norms. Whilst it became politicised in many respects, through the vehicle of visibility and difference, i think for many it was a fashion and any political statement was unintentional. How many people with stretched lobes now, have given full thought to the fact that they are making a political statement?
I personally agree that as a visiblly modified person i am to an extent a representitive to 'society' of a group which may share some of my core values (but equally may not). I therefore choose to live my life as a positive model, and am conscious of my presentation regards my beliefs. Interestingly i suppose this means that by modding myself i have inadvertantly committed to politiscising my morals and ethics, which otherwise may be more private.
But does this suggest any further duty? Should we be expected to educate others, modded or not? Should this shape other areas of our lives?
It seems a high cost for wanting to wear piercings or tattoos!
Does it matter if our actions cause people to judge others with piercings who may not share our beliefs or sense of responsibility?
First, I would say that there is a difference between someone who decides to stretch their lobes and get a handful of tattoos and piercings as compared to someone with 100+ hours of tattoo work and other very visible mods. This has nothing to do with any sort of body modification elitism, but rather the level of societal acceptance. At least in my city, which is admittedly a large and fairly liberal city in Canada, moderately stretched lobes, piercings and tattoos are all fairly common. Thus, I don't think the average person is going to identify someone with that amount of work with the body modification community as a whole and perhaps not even as the visibly modified. Where exactly that level is may have a lot to do with where the given individual is located. A few facial piercings might have a lot more impact in the American bible belt then they would in liberal Vancouver, British Columbia.
To those who are visibly modified to a degree that socieity would percieve them as such, I'm not sure if I would say that they have a duty to the modification community. I would like to think that they would feel some responsibility to that community, but I can't truly say that I feel they have a duty. After all, while some core values might be shared between visibly modified inviduals, that isn't always the case and even if it is, they may be relatively few. Furthermore, body modification I feel is a highly individualistic thing. There may be a myriad of reasons for an individual to do so, some of which might have to do with connection to a community and some of which might not.
I'm not sure that I even believe in duty to a community at all, at least in a context of forced duty, so I certainly couldn't condemn someone who chooses not to be a representative of the body modification community. I think each of us can only live by our own personal moral code and while I like to think that most visibly modified individuals might hold some sense of community with other visibly modified individuals, I know this is often not true and it certainly isn't going to be true that all would want to have any sort of a duty to the community. Just becuase one is visible does not mean that that individual can necessarily be expected to change they way they act and interact with others and I honestly wouldn't expect them too. It is wonderful to see those who try to educate and put a posative face upon the body modification community, but I certainly wouldn't lay that duty upon anyone who didn't desire to have that duty.
I think for as many people as you ask the question of how much responsibility the visibly modified have to the modified community will be as many answers as you are going to get and I think its a difficult question to answer. The only true duty I would put on people is to become educated about the likely impact of what they do to themselves upon others. Once knowledge is acquired, its up to each individual to decide what they are going to do with that knowledge and that includes any potential consequences. After all, if an individual decides to do something that greatly disparages the body modification community, there are certain social consequences of that action just as there are consequences if they choose to do the opposite. No action exists within its own bubble, everything has connections and consequences.
I've just finished a night shift so forgive me if this makes limited sense!
I'm not sure that the level of modification is a good indicator of awareness of the politicisation of the self. I agree that relative cultural difference is more likely to highlight that though.
When i go to the tattoo studio i've begun to meet some very visibly modded people, but i think i'm still considered outside the norm or extreme. I think i get some kind of kudos or status for this, but likewise am not in the 'gang'. This seems to me more about aesthetics and subcultural identity (one which makes little statement other than 'otherness' and has it's own sense of conformity rather than individualism). Maybe i'm being a bit harsh or judgemental here though!
I appreciate that it is naive to suggest that all those who adopt an appereance which makes them 'political' (whether intentional or not) should develop and stand by this in other ways, but i also find it something of a contradiction that you feel they have a duty to themselves to be aware of this. I agree that it would be in their best interest, but think that making such a choice, whether advisable or not it about personal accountability and consequence.
A tattooist in Belgium i used to chat with called Rouslan has become somewhat infamous doing walk-in facial tattoos. His view is if they are an adult it's their choice and nothing to do with him! You want a penis tattooed on your forehead, fine and dandy if you're paying!
I think what I was trying to say about the level of modifications a person has might not have been entirely clear. I wasn't trying to say that it increased the level of understanding of the political message that it was conveying, but rather that the understanding of said message became more important. There are both enlightened and ignorant people in all walks of life and I don't think a few tattoos or implants are going to have a huge impact upon that. However, the more visible modifications an individual gets, the more visible they become, the stronger the message (intended or not) and the more important I think it becomes to have at least some basic understanding of that message.
To be honest, I'm mainly on the outside of the body modification "gang" myself. Outside of my tattooists and my primary body modification artist, I don't really know anyone that's visibly modified beyond more mainstream stuff like tattoos and piercings. The subculture I most strongly and most often affiliate with, the metal head community, does encourage some modifications such as tattoos and piercings primarily, but I am certainly the most heavily modified among my circle. I think, however, that the body modification subculture is a little bit different than many other subcultures in that it has the potential to bring people together from many different and sometimes disparate backgrounds. It is the modification of oneself that is the common thread, that and the sense of "otherness" that you mentioned.
If you look into different alternative subcultures, particularly those that encourage a sense of otherness or differentness, I think you'll find that body modification is fairly prevalent among many of them to greater or lesser degrees. I all ready mentioned the metal head subculture, but you could add punks, goths, S&M and I'm sure many others to the list as well. I think conformaty vs. individualism has more to do with motivation than whether or not you have the same mod of mods as someone else does. If its done for the "points" so to speak, then that's obviously a form of conformism, but if its done for personal reasons it shouldn't matter whether or not someone else has done something similar because, lets face it, virtually everything has been done before.
When I say they have a "duty" to understand their political message, I think perhaps my own morality is getting in the way a little bit there. Ignorance, especially intentional ignorance, irritates me to no end. I think there should be a resonsibility to at least try to understand potential consequences, but I suppose there really is no way to enforce that nor to force someone who is happy in their ignorance to change.
The tattooist in Belgium that you mentioned makes me think of the scratchers that exist in probably every major city. Assuming they at least have basic sterilization and safety down, is it moral of them to work on people who come in and see their art for themselves including their lack of talent? Where does the resonsibility of the artist end and the responsibility of the consumer begin? That's a difficult question for me to answer.
Part of me agrees with the fact that a consumer should be making an informed choice regards quality etc, but i suppose it is also reasonable that they would not be expected to have such detailed information on practices such as sterilization, and thus there is an argument for legislation. I do think they have the right to make a bad decision, but am a bit unsure how much responsibility the tattooist has to point that out. I think it's less about the role maybe, and more about personal ethics. The tattooist i mentioned would seem to place the right to choose and decide for yourself higher than the potential cost of a poor choice.
So back on politics…. If all display is political, what about those with common of mainstream mods? Small tunnels in a cosmopolitan city for example?
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