Thursday, December 18, 2008

voyeur with a cause

Body modification is a term that can be used to describe countless bodily alterations, both mainstream and alternative. The range of procedures it encompasses seems to grow every year as dedicated bod mod practitioners, plastic surgeons, and other mod specialists utilize their knowledge of the human body as well as the ever-expanding range of technologies available to them to advance the science of body modification. Some mods, like amputation and facial reconstructive surgery, are undergone to treat a pre-existing problem. Others are done purely for their aesthetic appeal, or for the very experience of pain and healing itself. Still others are done not for the modder's health or pleasure, but to have some effect on those who will be viewing the mod. That is, outward-directed mods. Some choose to tattoo swastikas on their body to educate others about the symbol's benevolent roots. Gang tattoos can also fall under this category, as obtaining one is typically a non-negotiable requirement for initiation into the gang, and because these marks are often used to distinguish friend from foe. These mods send a message. They are not a simple nostril piercing or flower tattoo that can mean something different to every viewer. They are in-your-face, and guaranteed to have an impact on the outside world. It is with this very intention that Canadian filmmaker Rob Spence will soon be getting one of the most inventive and technologically sophisticated mods I've ever encountered. After an initial eye injury and subsequent complications, Spence recently had his eye surgically removed and replaced with a prosthetic. He is now involved in a project to turn that prosthetic into a working videocamera that will record the world as he sees it, literally from his point of view. Just like any other outward-directed mod, the new eye will make Spence's private world public, in more ways than one. First off, the feed from the camera will be broadcast live on a webpage so viewers can see what Spence is seeing at all times (unless of course he has temporarily turned it off). In addition to having access to what's in front of Spence's face, viewers will also get a taste of what's going on in that buzzing mind of his. He hopes his new eye will help to disseminate his personal views on what he calls our "culture of surveillance." People have already started to tell Spence that they will not want to be filmed when he finally completes the new eye - which is exactly the reaction he's going for. "People are more scared of a center-left documentary maker with an eye than the 400 ways they are filmed every day at the school, the subway, the mall," he says. His aim is to make people more aware of the invasion of privacy that has become disturbingly commonplace in the lives of Americans, an invasion to which we have become comfortably numb.
Although he calls himself the "eyeborg guy," Spence is a bit different from typical cyborgs. Cyberpunk novels depict cyborgian characters who have melded their bodies with various technological devices in order to compete with the Man, and simply stay afloat in an ever-evolving world of corporate takeover and oppression of the common man. Rather than wanting to compete with the Man, Spence wants to reveal His subtle infringements on the rights of citizens, himself included. With his new eye Spence hopes to get people thinking about privacy, and presumably how, in recent years, more and more citizens have been willing to give up their rights and freedoms in exchange for what are hailed as "safety measures," but are in some cases nothing more than unabashed snooping sprees by Big Brother. It's easy to live in blissful denial of the fact that your private phone calls may be secretly monitored, but when your every word is being recorded by a human eye, the uncomfortable truth is inescapable. Spence's message is in your face, literally.
Hearing about Spence's project has gotten me thinking about a lot of elements of body modification that I don't think I've addressed before. For example, the idea of a mod being totally in-your-face got me thinking about people with really heavy facial modifications. Why do they do it? I love mods, but I get enough comments about my two tiny facial piercings and 3/4" lobes as it is. I couldn't imagine looking like this dude.
He probably gets stares wherever he goes, and likely gets shunned by many older folks who simply can't get past the prejudices ingrained in them decade after decade. I've been wondering if perhaps these individuals get such extensive mods to prove to society that looks can be deceiving, or at the very least that they aren't everything. Talking to a heavy modder is likely no different than talking to any other person out there. They're not insane, they're not deviant, they're probably a generally 'normal' lot in terms of their behavior and hobbies and such. I wonder if perhaps the message they're trying to send is that we need to stop judging books by their covers, whether that cover be black, transgender, disfigured, tattooed, whatever, and realize that we're all one in the same. Fuck, maybe I'm overanalyzing here...maybe they just love the aesthetic of heavy mods!
So, yea, that was my ramble for today. Hope you enjoyed it and possibly derived some sliver of education or entertainment from it. P.S. I'm totally open to any ideas for blog posts, so let me know what interests you and I'll do my best to scribble something up on it! Oh yea, in case I don't see you, happy motherfuggin holidays.

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