Sunday, October 26, 2014
An Amazing Machine
The human body is an amazing machine, which, at its best, displays a beautiful combination of strength and grace. What I also find amazing is the powerful meanings we attribute to its depiction. Surely, as any organic product of nature, a human body can be depicted in a vulgar fashion. And there are legitimate taboos, such as against the passing of waste, or the signs of death and decay. Although, our apparent fascination with the symptoms of violence is disturbing and inexplicable - the mere sight of human genitalia is rarely tolerated to the extent that even real life gore is. But even depicted in its prime, as the ancient Greeks used to carve out of stone, we harbor an unnatural taboo. Why do we fear so the bodies we possess?
Partly this is a fear of sex, in spite of an academic understanding that naked bodies are not equivalent to sex acts. Public nudity is discouraged, partly out of a lack of confidence in the average citizen's grooming habits, and partly out of fear for offending one's aesthetic sensibilities, given that most persons are not Greek athletes in the prime of fitness. Yet, even depictions of perfect bodies in the media are met with public outcry, and the very possibility that the genital organs may be exposed - no matter what they look like or even what they're doing - to the public eye is met with horror.
So, then, we cover up, at least in part to distract ourselves from sex. But yet, the signs of sex are everywhere, and the taboo against nudity only reinforces the notion that it is a form of explicit - indeed, pornographic, or else it would be on billboards and the covers of magazines like every other sexual cue - paraphernalia. But all of that, it all exists inside the minds of individual humans. We fear the naked body because we fear the thoughts it might stir up in people's heads. How uncultured a fear that is! As if humans weren't already thinking of sex constantly! Though we forbid the showing of sex in many venues, why the body, too? And why, when we see the body, do we immediately assume that sex is involved?
Truly, the artistic discipline is accompanied by a long history of the study of anatomy. And well it should be, in spite of the prudes and the puritans and the censors. Apart even from its use in the pursuit of scientific knowledge, what subject stirs more the aesthetic sensibilities of man? On what grounds should it be restricted and restrained, and categorized along with the most vulgar fancies of the most degenerate members of the population? Why should certain bodies, also, be taboo where others are less so - considering the hysterical fear we have of understanding the process of physical maturation?
Whatever thoughts these images might stir up in the minds of men - they are the property, and responsibility, of those men. Art is a form of speech, and speech is the basis of all thought. This is the very principle behind the freedom of speech. Should we restrict certain forms of speech because we fear the thoughts that may arise in some of its listeners? Even if that means cutting off the nobler thoughts of others? Should we not allow an aesthetic appreciation of the amazing machine that is the human body, for example, because some people, while looking upon it, may be overcome by their own vulgar imaginations?
And what of the accusation that the taboo on nudity merely encourages its unhealthy conceptualization, while limiting the ability of noble people to conceptualize it appropriately, as it deserves? No, I think the deck is stacked; although reason will forever tremble before the power of emotion. Depictions of the human body in all its glory are a social good, and censorship of any kind is a social evil. Hide it away, whisper about it in hushed tones, and you are only feeding the demons that consume this population on the whole.