Thursday, March 18, 2010

Othering Difference: The Problem of a Heterogenic Society Obsessed with Homogeneity

 This video deplores the current popularity of plastic surgery among South Korean women.  Identifying the media and American influence as the roots of the problem, the video illustrates how these entities have created a culture of women obsessed with beauty and perfection.  The irony is that the video implies that this obsession with beauty as a source of power for women is a current phenomenon, a modern condition.  But haven't society always been obsessed with beauty?  Hasn't beauty as a source of power for women been condemned by feminism all along?
I argue that the problem is not just the obsession with beauty or beauty as a means for women to advance in society.  Rather, one of the problems with the popularity and accessibility of plastic surgery is the manipulation of society's heterogeneity into homogeneity.  With the current advancements in science, it has become easier to make bodily and physical transformations that use to be a dream.  Indeed, nowadays it is such an easy task to change one's appearance: becoming blonde one day, brunette the next; having blue eyes and then having brown.  In the case of Asian women, to become Westernized, with folds in their eyes, reshaped cheekbones and noses, and plumped lip,s is as easy as making a doctor's appointment.
Perhaps, the desire to look like a certain somebody is rooted in society's belief that "heterogeneous existence can be represented as something other" (Bataille 276).  In his discussion on heterology, Bataille evinces how "the heterogeneous world includes everything resulting from unproductive expenditure (sacred thing themselves form part of this whole).  This consists of everything rejected by homogeneous society as waste or as superior transcendent value" (276).  Essentially, Bataille illustrates how society functions within notions of homogeneity and those that transgress homogenic definitions are considered others, rejected and excreted.  Hence, homogeneous society desires to transform and manipulate the other into something closer to the rest, to assimilate the heterogeneous into the homogeneous.
However, in reality, the world is diverse and everyone is heterogeneous.  Bataille states that "[a]bove all, heterology is opposed to any homogeneous representation of the world, in other words, to any philosophical system" because "[t]he goal of such representation is always the deprivation of our universe's sources of excitation and the development of a servile human species, fit only for the fabrication, rational consumption, and conservation of products" (Bataille 274-275).  In this sense, what Bataille describes is the postmodern condition and that condition's "incredulity toward metanarratives" (Lyotard 356).  That is, there is no one way to view the world nor is there one way that the world should function.  The postmodern condition is one that celebrates difference embracing Bakhtin's philosophy that difference represents potentiality.  In his work on the theory of the carnivalesque, Bakhtin illuminates that the carnivalesque body in all its protusions and excess represents human potential, the potential of the self to always become; that the self like the carnivalesque is a site of becoming, of influx.  Like Bakhtin, Bataille emphasizes human-ness and the human condition as always of difference.
How ironic that current ideology is often thought of as postmodern, and yet society seems trapped in homogeneous philosophy.  At least, that is what the popularity of plastic surgery and the desire to be "Westernized" imply; that society desires to look the same, be the same, and think the same.  That is, the popularity of the desire to transform the body through plastic surgery shows society's compulsion to reject difference.

As something to think about, here is a glimpse of the nightmare society might soon fulfill.

Bataille, Georges. "Heterology." Literary Theory: An Anthology. Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan.
    2nd ed. Malden:  Blackwell, 2004. 273-277. Print.
Lyotard, Jean-Francois. "The Postmodern Condition." Literary Theory:An Anthology. Eds. Julie Rivkin
    and Michael Ryan. 2nd ed. Malden: Blackwell, 2004. 355-364. Print.