Monday, March 20, 2006

Fluid Meanings

We as humans have created a complex relationship between objects and concepts. Michael Foucault was a French philosopher who wrote a number of works addressing this relationship. In his "The Archaeology of Knowledge," Foucault points out that meaning is not inherent, but that it is projected onto things through experience and becomes somewhat fixed over time. When put into the context of body modification, this object/meaning concept seems to be the basis of discrimination against modified persons. Tattoos and piercings have acquired a negative association by the experience of people who, in the past, observed modifications only on bikers and members of various other marginal subcultures. Regardless of the ever-increasing diversity of the western modified crowd and a distinct shift in the use of body modification by this crowd, such associations remain unchanged.
So, if we as modified persons are still receiving negative attitudes toward our mods when we have personally done nothing to justify such reactions, what are we to do? How can we change the meaning of modification? How can we modify modification?
This subject has been of considerable interest to me since I started getting seriously involved in body modification. In fact, it has changed the way I think about my life and interactions with others. When speaking with unmodified folk, I often wonder what they think of my various adornments. Are they shocked? Intrigued? (perhaps my next project will be to find out what they really are thinking...) With these uncertainties came a desire to project a positive image onto modification. In other words, I want to soften unmodified persons' experiences of modification in an effort to change the meaning behind modification itself. I realize that the national impact of my efforts will be nearly non-existent (for now), but if I act as the young, intelligent, psychologically stable poster-child for body modification, maybe I can alter a few unjustly negative impressions of modification along the way.
Now, I know that in past posts I've stated that we as a modification community shouldn't have to legitimize our practices. That's why I want to stress that the reasons behind my efforts to soften modification are more intellectually based than modification-based. It intrigues me that we make what seem to be natural connections every day, and yet many of those assumed associations aren't truly inherent. Meaning is fluid. We develop meaning based on experience, and over time meaning continues to exist, even without justifying experiences. This is the concept I've been trying to explain to my parents to make them realize that their detestation of my mods is unjust. And this is the concept that is behind much of the discrimination that goes on in our society.


carmine said...

did you see that first x-men movie? where mutants will never be accepted, so magneto decides to turn everyone into mutants. just a thought.

Inza said...

I originally left a comment on Modblog, but i paste it here in case you don't read comments there.
"I haven't read through all of Tanya's posts, but i was quite strikened by some of her statements , like in "Fluid Meanings":
"but if I act as the young, intelligent, psychologically stable poster-child for body modification, maybe I can alter a few unjustly negative impressions of modification along the way"
I totally disagree with this desire to normalize and justify body modification. First,"negative impressions" that people
have over modified people are not due to the fact that they are observed as part of "marginal subcultures" like Tanya writes. People have "negative impressions" over anything that is different, unusual and strange, that's the way the human nature works. For example, natural born freaks are viewed with disgust, hate or fear just because they are physically different, and in the same way most people don't accept body modification because it doesn't fit into "their" (or i would say created for them by society) notions of how the body should look like.
Putting so much effort to soften "unmodified persons experiences of modification " , to justify it in front of those who first of all don't have any right to judge - i see it as conformism and desire to merge body modification with the mainstream where it will loose all it's substance.
And body modification doesn't need any poster childs,models or representatives, at least i don't want to be a part of this culture if it does.
Even if a community, it's supposed to be community of individuals, who can speak for themselves.
And without any offend to Tanya, i don't think that with her "girl from a teenage magazine" look she can represent body modification.
Body modification for me is pushing the limits of human body and aesthetics, and if we talk about representations here, i would rather have somebody like Stalking Cat in mind, who has really taken himself to the "over human" level by his modifications, but then again,
i don't think there should be any representatives.
Another Tanya's statement that i couldn't ignore is "Modified people have families, friends, and feelings just like everyone else. The only difference is that our hobbies involve needles and blood rather than balls and cleats"
Well, again she should speak for herself only. First "blood and needles" is not a hobby for me and i guess for some others(and she should use "her" rather than "our"),
and hopefully it's not the only difference from "everyone else", at least for some..Tanya should get the fact that not all are or want to fit into the notion "i'm modified but i'm normal like everyone else". Some are as freaky inside as outside, and that's beautiful.

Tanya/Tikay/Tati said...

I felt the need to respond to the last comment, as it was also left on Modblog. The first quote that Inza mentions has been quite misinterpreted. If you read on in that particular post, in the very next sentence, I note that my attempts to "soften" modification are for intellectual rather than body modification-related purposes. I specifically mention that "we as a modification community shouldn't have to legitimize our practices."
Secondly, I agree that many people's negative reactions to modification do stem from a socially constructed aversion to uncommon appearances, but Inza is being a bit closed minded in assuming that association of modification with marginal subcultures isn't ever a reason for negative attitudes toward mods. Behind every discriminatory thought, comment, or action, there can be countless subconscious (or sometimes conscious) reasons.
Also, I don't mean to be rude, but someone who puts such an emphasis on not judging based on appearances might be considered a hypocrite in describing me as a "girl from a teenage magazine." I am much more than my pictures might suggest. There's substance here, I promise. Also, I was never looking to "merge body modification with the mainstream" - for goodness sakes, the subtitle of my site is "Mainstream is boring. Modification is fascinating. Read. Learn. Enjoy."
As Inza says, "Body modification FOR ME is..." This brings me to one of the most phenomenal things about body modification: there are probably no two people who have had the very same experience of body modding. Right now, I'm exploring the reasons behind body modification, namely my own. I know that I love modding, but I'm picking apart my life story to try and find out why.
Oh yea, and the "needles and blood" reference was a simple generalization. I could have just as easily said "hooks and saline." All I was trying to say there is that I often encounter people who think that all heavily modified persons are "freaks" or "psychos" to be avoided, and that these assumptions are completely unjustified when based solely on appearance. Extreme mods may reflect the "freak" within, but that doesn't mean that they also imply a violent or otherwise unpleasant personality. And just an FYI: I may write all nicey nice, and look all cutsie wootsie, but I am way more of a freak than most people know. I agree completely with Inza in that freakiness inside and out is beautiful.
My main point here is that I started my blog for an independent study class that's based in my school's psychology department, so it has to be taken for what it is. I love writing, I love modding, and I'm addicted to the internet, so my blog is a product of that. When someone responds to my writing in saying that they "don't want to be a part of this culture" any longer if it needs representation like mine, it makes me want to scream. I LOVE body modification with a passion. I really do. And it's that passion that we all, as a modification community, share. THAT's beautiful.