Sunday, January 25, 2015

Do Society and Culture Define Illness?

Coming into this class, I had never heard of body suspension.  At first, I thought suspending involved some sort of cable system and a harness.  Once I realized hooks were actually inserted in the body, I was very disturbed and shocked, to say the least.  Watching Fakir’s film and reading the text, I began to understand that body suspension wasn’t seen only as a rite of passage in certain cultural groups.
This form of body play, as Fakir puts it, is very perplexing and brings about an endless amount of questions that may be unanswerable.  We talked in class about where the line is drawn.  Where does self-mutilation begin?  Where does it end?  How does culture play a part in those answers?  What is the difference in self-mutilation and self-expression?

Going off of my own reaction and a few classmates who did not know what exactly body suspension entailed, I think it is safe to say that we, as a society, don’t know what to do when individuals deviate from the cultural norm.  For the most part, elders seem to be disapproving of what the younger generation considers normal in terms of how we treat our bodies.  My grandmother still gets squeamish when she sees gauges, large tattoos, or piercings anywhere other than the ears and questions why people would do that to themselves.  To me, and I’m sure many of you, these things are normal.  In a few decades, most people will not think twice about piercings or tattoos because it is what we are growing up with.  

Regarding the psychology and mental illness aspects of body suspension, I am not really sure what I think since I was just introduced to it two weeks ago.  I think I am a bit conservative in my thoughts when it comes to this because I grew up in a Catholic family in a small town in Pennsylvania.  If somebody would have done this, there is no doubt in my mind that they would have been excluded from the community.  Most would probably say it was the devil’s work.  

What I question, though, is my reaction to body suspension compared to other things.  I’m sure most of us have heard of AMC’s series “Freakshow”.  The title of the show is already extremely controversial and makes me wonder why the cast would want to be recognized like that.  When I looked up sword swallowing online, it was defined as a skill.  A few months ago, a friend from home called me in a panic saying she walked in on her 16-year-old sister trying to put a wire coat hanger down her throat after seeing the episode on Freakshow.  She boasted that she had mastered control of her gag reflex.  When I heard that, I did not think she was mentally ill.  She simply wanted to try something that she saw on TV.  I do not watch the show, but I heard and read about the “Human Pin Cushion” episode.  I saw some images the book that was passed around on Wednesday where people had what looked like needles going through their faces, jaws, and arms.

I’m not quite sure where the line should be drawn, or if a line even can be drawn.  I believe that society and culture define illness.  What was normal fifty years ago may be unheard of now.  What is unheard of now might be normal fifty years from now.  Like we talked about in class, I think the reasoning behind the acts is what is more deciding.

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