Postmodernism, Indie Media, and Popular Culture: The Updated, Expanded Digital Edition

Chapter 6

In the 1980s, pop singer Michael Jackson underwent various serious surgeries and treatments to change the way his face and skin looked. Michael Jackson’s transformation was uncanny. He truly transformed everything about himself and his body. In the picture it is clear that Michael Jackson truly wanted to reinvent himself and create a completely different identity. In a recent episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Kris Jenner couldn’t stop complaining about how much she hated her long earlobes. She thought they hung way too low and just hated the way they looked, so she made an appointment with her plastic surgeon and literally had half of her earlobes cut off. In the picture it is clear that Kris felt her earlobes were way too long and the purple marks on her ears are the portion of her ear lobe that the surgeon literally cut off. Another example of someone who was not happy with their original body, and changed it in order to feel better about themselves. Today, countless people all over the world risk serious life-threatening complications to get things they don’t like about themselves fixed by plastic surgeons. These examples of undergoing serious physical change in celebrities and icons across the country and even the world, point to broader issues of identity and the postmodern body (Sturken & Cartwright 326).

In the textbook, Practices of Looking, Marita Sturken and Lisa Cartwright write the following about the postmodern body:

In postmodernism, the body is imagined to be easily transformed: one can change one’s gender through cross-dressing or surgery, one can change one’s race through changing skin tone and using colored lenses, and one can change one’s appearance and shape through gym workouts, liposuction, plastic surgery, prosthetics, or changing one’s hormonal makeup. (326)

This quote makes it quite clear that concepts of the postmodern body are fully submerged in contemporary concepts. The postmodern body can constantly be transformed according to one’s preference. According to French performance artist, Orlan, the postmodern body is potentially one of shape-shifting, a body that can be re-sculpted into new shapes and forms. Orlan explored this in relation to the iconic images of art (Sturken & Cartwright 326). Sturken and Cartwright describe Orlan’s experiment:

Orlan underwent a series of cosmetic surgeries performed with plastic surgeons in art galleries with an audience present. In these works, aspects of her face were combined with facial features taken from paintings, such as those of the fifth-century painting Zeuxis, to create not simply a new model but a kind of hybrid antimodel that short-circuits ideals and norms such as beauty and the natural. (326)

Orlan’s work suggests that there exists no “real,” original body in which we may return to in our quest to change ourselves into what we want to or hope to become. In the photograph of Orlan, the far left picture is her before the surgery, the middle picture is her during the surgery, and the picture on the right is her after the surgery, looking like a work of art.

Nicholas Zurburgg, an academic, critic, poet and a tireless promoter of postmodern creativity and thought, wrote in one of his pieces:

The body of metamorphosis, the one of a pure chain of appearances, of a timeless and sexless fluidity of forms, the ceremonial body brought to life by mythology, or the Peking Opera and Oriental theatre, as well as by dance: a non-individual body without desire, yet capable of all metamorphoses – a body freed from the mirror of itself, yet given over to all seduction. (Zurburgg 99-100)

Basically, what Zurburgg is saying is that the body is something that changes and transforms based on whatever is the hottest trend or the “in thing” at that point in time. In today’s society, body transformations and modifications seem to be widely accepted, even normal. But according to work written by Sheila Jeffreys, body art and body modification of any kind is a harmful cultural practice that is legitimized through discourses of self-help, liberation and/or beauty (410). Jeffreys also argues that body art/modification, which includes ear piercings or small tattoos, are a product of male dominance over “despised social groups” such as women, lesbians and gay men, and disabled individuals (410). In an article response to Jeffreys written by Sarah Riley, an interdisciplinary researcher who focuses on psychology, sociology cultural and media studies, she argues that “critical and feminist research can gain from an analytical framework that draws from postmodernism to conceptualize body art as having multiple meanings that are situated within a complex set of power relationships” (Riley 540). While it is easy for one to make an accusation of male dominance as the core of the obsession with body modification, Riley believes that is not the case, whereas Jeffreys firmly believes that this sudden fixation on body art and modifying one’s body according to what is attractive to people in that particular year, is rooted in patriarchal ways. The photograph of Justin Bieber on the left shows him before he got completely covered in tattoos, and the picture on the right is him after getting his chest covered in tattoos. He is claimed to have said that he is a big fan of art and feels that the tattoos help him express his love of art and also express who he is as a person as well. Overall, body art is certainly controversial, but it is something that almost every human being encounters, or considers encountering at some point in their life in order to feel better about themselves. 

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