Imaginary Beauty

Musician, dancer, and British TV personality Alesha Dixon has recently spoken out against the practice of creating unrealistic and homogenized images of women in the media. Alesha experiences these practices personally as someone who frequently appears on magazine covers. Her BBC3 documentary on the subject, Look But Don’t Touch, goes behind the scenes on this issue, following Alesha in her quest to get a magazine to put her on the cover without photoshopping.

[this video contains auditory language and no subtitles, sign interpretation, or other captioning]

Catching My Breath (catch it tonight!)

Catching My Breath is a documentary that traces the story of Ken Thomas, and Edmonton-based wheelchair athlete, while looking more broadly at the situation for people with cerebral palsy in the 60’s and 70’s when the World Master’s Games were held here. It is showing TONIGHT at the Metro Cinema at the Citadel in downtown Edmonton, and will be followed by a documentary that creatively combines live footage and digital editing techniques to tell the story of an artist living with A.D.D.. For all the details, check behind the cut.

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The Law and Intellectual Disability

At yesterday’s CURA meeting Nick Supina mentioned the over-representation of people in Canadian prisons with developmental and intellectual disabilities, and this reminded me that I should post on a recent podcast by Australia’s Radio National, The Law Report. In Australia, too, the legal system is letting people down who have particular needs, whether because of autism or other circumstances that might engender unpredictable or ‘anti-social’ behaviour. This program provides an interesting and relatively comprehensive account of this oversight.

A BBC look at plastic surgery

image by LiveU4

I should preface this post by noting that plastic surgery isn’t within the purview of my research. But it most definitely is relevant to the what sorts project — our expert being Cressida Heyes.

So, here is a review of Louis Theroux’s “documentary” on plastic surgery, as practiced in that shrine to superficiality: Los Angeles. The diacritical marks around documentary should alert the reader to the program’s various weaknesses. Anyone familiar with Theroux’s work will likely be aware of his tendency to go ‘native’ in the pursuit of a sensational ‘angle.’ Theroux maintains an ironic air throughout his exposé, but then (somewhat disappointingly) subjects himself to liposuction … presumably to lend a more authentic gloss to his treatment of plastic surgery. (He then continues to exhibit an ironic attitude towards his thorough implication in the object of his inquiry, perhaps to mask his total lack of objectivity).

Nevertheless, what Theroux does succeed in demonstrating is the normative function of the imperative for “perfection”, avowed by each of the surgery addicts whom he interviews. Of course, “perfection” here refers to an extremely bland notion of what counts as beautiful; and many of his interviewees are evidently wounded individuals: from having been called ugly by their step-father, to attempting to recover from a failed relationship. What is striking is the enthusiastic, complete, and totally un-ironic faith that each of these people has in the power of plastic surgery to heal their damaged self-esteem. Continue reading

Hear and Now

Hear and Now is a 2007 film by Taylor Brodsky that focuses on her deaf parents’ decision, late in their lives, to undergo cochlear implant surgery, in order to gain a significant level of hearing. It won an audience award at the Sundance Film Festival last year, and debuted in the US on the HBO network last Thursday. It is playing now on the Movie Channel network in Western Canada; I watched it last night. Catch it if you can; you can check out a review of it by Shelley Gabert at FilmStew.

Why might the film matter to What Sorters? Cochlear implant surgery is controversial in the Deaf/deaf communities for a number of reasons: here are two, one more theoretical, the other more practical. First, it is often seen as a way to make deaf people normal, a technological or surgical fix to a defect. This views deafness as a problem to be solved, rather than a human variant with its own pros and cons, and privileges hearing as normal over deafness as abnormal. Second, on the practical side, it disrupts functioning Deaf communities, which communicate linguistically through sign languages, and the lives of individuals in those communities, not least of all because the surgery is often less successful than it is projected as being in terms of the hearing capacity it generates, and the ways in which the downsides are downplayed by the hearing community, including doctors and medical staff.

Two recent books of related interest to check out on some of the issues in play here are Michael Chorost’s Rebuilt: How Becoming Part Computer Made Me More Human (2005), which details Chorost’s own experiences with cochlear implants and the decision to get them; and a collection of recent essays, Continue reading