stereotypes

Imaged Bodies

It was great watching the Paralympics, so many sets of wheels and carbon fibre in various shapes it was feast of material multiplicities. If there was ever a time to watch a rich, complex version of the diversity of human physical performance, this was it. But I am bothered by the fact that the only time functionally diverse bodies become noticed and appreciated is every 4 years through sport. Which begs a question about body image. Is it more what images of bodies we see that helps certain bodies be seen as acceptable, or more ‘normal’? Our usual programming of common functioning sport with the narrow choices normally offered is disrupted momentarily – for the novelty of both the Olympics and Paralympics. Which is why I view the Paralympics with mixed feelings. Body image is more like body stories, it’s the words and meanings that describe and give value to who we are – how our body matter ‘matters’ or doesn’t.

I can appreciate the achievement and skill of Sophie Pascoe and Liam Malone, but I also notice how their bodies function at a level that is almost identical to common functioning. Their athletic achievements are phenomenal and the camera loves them both – they are both (in my opinion) extremely photogenic people, with muscular, athletic physiques that few people can ever achieve. So they are perfect representatives with the perfection of lean mean body machines.

The irony then is these bodies break stereotypes and maintain stereotypes. Their stories of success and triumph in sport offer alternative ideas about what people can or cannot do. But not everyone with a disability wants to participate in sport or even likes sport! It sets up the ‘they are so inspirational’ theme, that while on the surface seems harmless, it confines disability as a lens through which people can maintain their sense of privilege. If that sounds a bit weird, this is a good explanation. But where are their images of success of disabled/functionally unique people doing other stuff? Because it’s not just the image it’s the stories we need to hear and share with each other about our own bodies that matter as well.

I’m also interested in the aesthetic of movement, and I love seeing the ways the physical can merge with the technological in new combinations. A future Olympics that genuinely celebrated human performance of the body might include a range of ages and function, I can imagine the games broken up into elements like ‘wheels’ ‘water’ and the 5 continents each hosting an element simultaneously. I’d like to see arts, music and creative festivals follow to break down the separation of mind and body, the arts and sciences. Unfortunately that might mean pruning back the number of sports, but I think I’d rather see more diversity of people than sport. But if I had the choose, if it involves wheels – it should be in there. Well, maybe wheelbarrow racing might be be pushing it.

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Same sport, different game

Two teams opposing sides playing the same sport, same rules but not the same game. It’s a beautiful game football, a simple game with speed strength power and agility utilising Newtons laws. Bodies in motion with the crowds devotion. But this is not a level playing field. It’s the perfect game to demonstrate gender equality on the world stage with a world cup where the winner takes all. But players in this cup are the fairer sex. Here in lies the flaw and cloaked misogyny, the winners earned less than their male conterparts who were knocked out of the first round it simply does not add up.

They got a parade, yes they were shown off, objectified and used like tokens of national pride and patriotism. There you go girls wave and smile and enjoy the blatant sexism. Be grateful for the opportunity to play and suck up the unfairness with grace and humility, stay silent when the media suggest you’d earn more if you wore less. Your femininity contested and questioned incessantly. It will take a lot to kick the habit of patriarchal hegemony. The athletic woman challenges the gender rule book so penalties are given. You’ve crossed the line, offside with your expectations of equality. Success and victory mean your body is still someones property.

The beautiful game is indeed an ugly reminder that sexism is alive and kicking balls.

 

Funny bone of contention

I love a good laugh but few women are taken seriously when it comes to comedy and I’m ‘bovvered’ by it. If anything shows up how stuck we are with gendered assumptions, then the near extinction of female representation on the comedy front should be noted. There are a few older birds left but looking through the line-up for the NZ Comedy festival, they were as rare as hens teeth, it was a sea of…male chickens.

They are an endangered species female comedians, and short of a captive breeding programme I think we should be asking what is happening to the native habitat and how to protect it. What kinds of pest eradication need to take place.

Funnily enough NZ media is in a bit of a conundrum about taking women seriously. OK sure, but maybe the place to start is actually at the other end of the spectrum by challenging the prevailing idea that guys are ‘jokers’ and women are well – just not that funny. Getting more women visibly performing comedy could be a way to lighten the way.

Humour is transformative especially the kind that provokes thinking. For me it is the reflective irony that captures my imagination and pushes back the veil of norms and dislodges or jolts me from the mundane revealing a new perspective and helping to open space for questioning things.

All this happens in a few seconds underneath raucous laughter, usually accompanied by snorts and possibly slight loss of bladder control. Laughter is the best medicine unless you are incontinent.

Pools apart

Inside a building two pools side by side separated by glass. But looking is not the same as seeing. There is a sense of separation and a dissolution of barriers. It is a beautiful contradiction hidden to most but the curving corners of my mouth betray the fluid intensity before me and the surge of joy and appreciation at witnessing so many bodies in various states of motion and becoming.

Young bodies expand and explore the depths of movement with eagerness and energy while larger bodies next door also move with purpose and focus. Technique and a desire to improve and become a better swimmer the shared experience. Feedback from coaches refining the co-ordination of limbs in various combinations, careful additions, subtractions correcting strokes of a body with spokes. Goggles on, prosthetics off and time running the same for everyone. Standing in the shallow water those beginning to appreciate and assemble the skills to move through this alien medium peer through to the other side with a mix of awe and respect. No, it is ‘not over their heads’, they know intuitively the work and effort that is perhaps the only thing that might represent a distinction between them. Perhaps from the others side, there is an awareness, a sense of the mirror and recognising the journey taken. The simple act of a smile, a wave crossing time and space to reach through illusions of separation rendering a fluidity of now and exacting a perfect moment of immanence.

Like superheroes without capes casting aside previous limits and rescuing role model images from the clutches of neurotic gendered stereotypes that prevail through more traditional sports. Not a body hair in sight yet no masculinity was in question or of concern to these guys in tight fitting body wear. Women as broad and powerful with their physicality and proudly sporting body art displaying achievements. But none were immune to goggle eyes and cap hair. These finely tuned biological machines and machines within machines, metallic eyes and cybernetic limbs assembled together as aquatic mammals.

A place where butterflies exist without a chrysalis. Although there might just be a hint of caterpillar at times.

[Written after watching the New Zealand Open Swimming Champs from the confines of the learn to swim pool next door – best free sports viewing ever, although it is rather steamy and hot…the air temperature!]

Shapeshifting – its morphi-fying

I remember dressing up as a kid, I was convinced my red skellerup gumboots were magic but feeling incredibly disappointed that I couldn’t fly and didn’t have super strength no matter what towel I tied around my neck. That was the 70’s and curiously enough superman has had more reboots than my old 486. The interesting thing is the embodiment of superman from Christopher Reeves slightly androgynous but not so muscular to the mesomorphic Henry Cavill who might easily have passed for the Hulk in the 1970’s. Everyone at some point has a fantasy about superpowers – not necessarily involving masks and capes or other stuff.

My favourite game is choosing an X-Men character. So many options and cool amazing abilities but there is one I overlooked for ages – Mystique. She is a shapeshifter and has the ability to alter her physique to be either gender. But she was always either or – never both/and. So although every other character seems to push the limits of physicality, the one person who could ultimately explore and represent alternative gendered embodiments gets stuck in polarity! The irony is in her ‘natural state’ aside from the deep indigo skin, scales and yellow eyes she has a ‘perfect body’.

So while X-Men push the idea of fear of difference, needing to control, eliminate or assimilate expressions of otherness there are some subtle messages that reinforce usual gendered stereotypes and mystique is a very good example. She is also told people should ‘love her in her natural state’ that she should not alter herself. On one level I agree however why on earth would you stick with one experience of your body if you have the ability to be anyone! Containing her fluidity to me is the ultimate act of disempowerment.

There are probably some other as yet unimagined benefits of shapeshifting. Just imagine how easy it would make shopping for jeans! You could choose any style and morph on into them. Then there is travelling! Gosh you could navigate all sorts of tricky culturally bound gendered norms, or other stereotypes that are currently a barrier to suspicion free international travel. Caught in a fight and someone goes to kick you between the legs – it’s probably going to hurt either way but maybe less in one body.

The only other downer about super heroes is they all so self-absorbed, tragic, angsty and tortured. No amount of shapeshifting is going to make that attractive.

Talk that needs to change frequency

It’s a bit of a conundrum turning the radio on in the morning with a young pair of ears in the car. There is the option of popping in a CD but sometimes it’s nice to let someone else do the music selection with a bit of banter, but some like to talk, ….and talk, and rant, and make sexual references. While this is happening I am desperately reaching for the off button and juggling hot coffee. Bracing for the questions and planning a response at that hour of the morning is mental gymnastics and my brain is barely warmed up and feels like it’s about to do the splits.

Some might say ‘well just don’t listen’ and I could agree to some extent that choosing to switch or change channel might be a good option. But it was also evident at the Weetbix Tryathlon where radio DJ’s host the pre and post event hyping there was a general disregard for the age of the audience that was largely children. What I’m not so sure about is why DJ’s feel so compelled these days to entertain via the use of humiliation and degradation? It’s a bit like what’s happened to MTV – yes Music Television… I don’t see a lot of music on there anymore, time for a rebrand I think. The strange thing about radio is you often don’t see it coming like with TV and the content can swing so suddenly as to catch you off guard – a psychic side swipe. But I also don’t want sanitised radio with no humour (gosh I’m sounding hard to please).

But here is the thing, if I like a particular style of music then there is an assumption made about my character or personality and perhaps DJ’s make generalisations and think up clever ways to embarrass people or shame them in the name of attracting more listeners and maybe that is the point. Radio has become a vehicle for adults to legitimately bully others with music thrown in for good measure from time to time. Commuters scrunched up in rush hour traffic want to vent, so DJ’s are encouraged in some ways go to lowest levels to distract listeners from the mundane and target the frustration elsewhere. Some stations and DJ combinations are worse than others and I have never had any issue with the concert programme funnily enough – just not a lot of nine inch nails or foo fighters, not even as covers (although you never know).

Just spin records guys and stop spinning s*&^
Ahhh just realised radio is all digital…
Only real DJ’s spin vinyl

Waking up to being asleep

I remember when The Matrix hit the big screen in 1999. The ‘splinter in my mind’ embedded deeper infecting my consciousness and grew to a full blown pustule that needed to be squeezed. So I read and read as much as I could on everything that seemed to take me toward alternative ideas about reality. But it was frustrating talking with others who just ‘thought it was cool’ and quickly went out and bought large black boots and coats (guilty as well) with that being the most significant influence on their lives.

That was 15 years ago but The Matrix has grown as an idea to explore systems of social control much like George Orwell did with 1984 and many others – but these are the two that stand out for me. I haven’t tried to remove the splinter – it’s important to stay in a state of irritation and inflammation because without that I think I would potentially fall into accepting the program and falling asleep again.

It’s a bit of a fine line talking about control without someone instantly putting you into the ‘conspiracy theorist’ box and shutting the lid. Perhaps this reflects an awareness at a deeper level that ‘ignorance is bliss.’ I’m not sure but another possibility is the belief that once you start down the rabbit hole it could drive you crazy and would suck the fun out of life. Living outside the Matrix in the movie was far from comfortable, they ate ‘snot’ and lived underground – not the best or most aesthetically enticing representation of freedom. I’d like to suggest it is possible to delve into these areas and still maintain a sense of humour and enjoying life – yes it is possible to live in a contradiction without being a hypocrite, expecting consistency is a brilliant way of keeping people in check. Embracing contradiction is one version of the red pill.

The meaning of ‘control’ and ‘the program’ probably represents the essence of what I am talking about. Others have done this work and you can certainly scan the world wide web for allusions to The Matrix. I’ve referenced David Icke before and he would most likely be one of the more deeper rabbit hole divers – he didn’t just take the red pill I’m sure of it. I’d rather not put my own definition up because the splinter is the key – it is the catalyst that invites questions and a personal journey. It’s not as simple as ‘red or blue’ pill or even ‘awake and asleep.’ The best I could do is to offer some observations and invite anyone who stumbles upon this to keep wondering – I certainly don’t have a sense that I ‘know exactly’ what the Matrix is and would never claim to.

1. Language to me, is a key splinter. Any time something falls into a binary/dualistic paradigm it inevitably closes down the idea it might be neither or both or something else. My favourite example that is popular is ‘nature’ versus ‘nurture.’

2. Perhaps because of our general reliance on putting things in a binary/dualistic relationship there tends to be an over simplification of ideas into facts/opinions or myths. If certain knowledges throw their weight behind an idea it can be moved onto either side. Science does this with great efficiency.

3. Maintaining social division through stereotyping, notions of harm, danger, superiority and self-righteousness is supported by one of the most powerful dualisms ‘right and wrong.’ I think fear is a powerful controller and the use of extreme images and emotive language shuts down processing beyond reactions. This can be done on an individual level, communities, nations, cultures and no doubt if we meet another version of life in the universe, the same would apply – thanks Hollywood for your fine work in this department.

4. Reducing nature the environment and all other living things to either a resource to be used or an obstacle to progress that must be overcome, owned and controlled is shameful yet completely necessary for enabling a constant source of total paralysation and puppet mastery through the use of fear tactics and the manipulation of ‘scarcity and abundance.’

5. Mapped onto this we have a devoted programme based on creating a certainty that without a monetary system civilization would collapse – and ‘go backwards’ or ‘become uncivilized.’ Economics has become ‘naturalised’ and more questions are asked about ‘why mother nature is doing this to us’ than there are to artificial systems of ‘us doing this to ourselves.’

6. Finally we have media saturation of information and images. Why is this important? Because the illusion is more believable when based on an ingrained ‘truth’ that ‘seeing is believing’ and anyone who can control the strings of what is seen with the naked eye has the ability to manipulate at a very deep level.

Not sure if your head is hurting, it could be a splinter or you have been in front of the screen too long. How do you know if you are awake or still dreaming?

…knock knock The Matrix has you.

Press the escape key.