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Prof. Veronica Hapgood
Paper Six Final Draft
In the last few years I have been observing an incessant change in the events of my life. In a steady stream of consistency this change was at first very unwelcomed. Following the divorce of my wife I suffered a deep depression that led me to alcoholism and consequently the most complete separation from the world as I have ever known. At that time in my life I was very blessed to have one last connection to the world that bound me to a central state of mind. My son was very young at the time, and may or may not have known of his role in this period, but he ultimately gave me breadcrumbs. Yes, that’s right I said breadcrumbs, what I mean is that he left me a trail by which I could find my way back into a world I had expelled.
The deep depression I suffered was not only due to divorce. It was alienation that ultimately did me in. I grew up as a young adult caring for four young siblings of mine. My brothers and sisters came into my life early on and I cared for each one of them as if they were my children. Three of them, a set of triplets, were the same age. I was blessed with an ability to teach them the many things that were important in life. With parental figures being all but out of the picture due to issues I will not discuss here I became the father figure of these wonderful children.
There came a time when I had to make a life of my own, and leave my children to do the same for themselves, and so one can see how the divorce left me utterly alone. Because of poverty I had little contact with my brothers and sisters after the divorce. We all lived far away from each other, I could not afford a telephone bill and in my depression I failed to realize saving money could help with that. What little extra money I did get went to forty ounce bottles of malt liquor, and cases of beer, and thankfully I was at least clear minded enough to remember to use the rest to help provide my son with a better life than I had ever known.
I soon found that my son would never have everything he needed in life without a decent father. I may have been there for him in a material sense, but mentally I was far away. By some means that still eludes me I found the motivation to give up drinking entirely. Ironically this only made my depression grow deeper, but I was much more aware of what I needed to do to be a good father, and depression or no, I was damb well going to do it. I began to evaluate the world around me. I started on a path to figure out what I was doing wrong, and how I could teach my son to avoid the same trap I had fallen into. Eventually I went back to school in search of answers. It was the first time in years that my loneliness began to recede, and I started finding the answers I was seeking. Not that they had ever really eluded me. To this day I have not discovered anything new, rather I have discovered how to better understand that which I am already aware of. So the work that follows is not merely an assignment, it is an attempt, perhaps my first, to build a strong foundation for teaching my son and others how to find a center of being that they can always find their way back to in times of need. A center of being that transcends arbitrary belief systems, popular culture, and religions divided faith.
The following work is the first in a series of five papers. I wrote it in response to John Berger’s “The Ways of Seeing” in search of my individuality; a thing which I have always treasured. What I soon came to realize, especially looking back on it, is that there is no such thing as individuality for a person who has grown up conforming to every cultural expectation that has ever been asked of them. Discipline, fear, and uncertainty have made me into a product of everything my culture has forced on me. However, I am at least in part an individual so I include this paper here as a basis for critical evaluation. As you read try to consider just how much of me is a product of social expectation, and how infinitely small are the tiny observations that truly speak to individuality.
Morals and Modesty
I go to the old Paris building. There are good paintings there, one I really like in particular. I take several pictures, but none of these paintings really speak to me, so I move on. I go all over old town visiting Pasta & Vino, the coffee shop across from the bread store and Simplot Square. Nothing speaks. Finally I hit the Gate City Fine Arts Gallery. I look all over the place, and almost leave, but I see a small painting in the far corner on the very back wall.
It is a portrait of a woman. The painting appears to be a contradiction in that it is simple and complex. The woman is simple, with milky white skin, and red hair. She appears to be looking down at her lap almost shamefully. She has prominent bone structure, pale pink lips, and she is wearing a black wide neck shirt. The wide neck shirt has slid down over her right shoulder ever so slightly. Otherwise the painting is complex. There is depth created by the use of three mediums; oil on top, watercolor and ink beneath. The fiery background of orange and red oil over black ink gives her the look of someone who is in hell, yet she appears content.
This painting speaks to me. As I stand before it I have a singularly indescribable vision through the medium. I will make a brief attempt to describe this experience, though description will certainly fall short of actual experience.
She is very modest, being put on the spot like this makes her cheeks turn red, but after a while posing for the artist, her blush fades. She looks down at her hands because she is embarrassed, and alienated. She is no model, she is just a woman. She doesn’t even understand why he asked her, there are beautiful women out there he could have painted instead of her. She tries but can’t look up. The artist insists but she just can’t do it. He tells her it’s alright, tells her that if that’s the way it is then that’s the way it’s meant to be. She doesn’t know what he means, but she gets comfortable, and picks threads out of her skirt while he works.
It takes a lot longer than she suspected, she never thought much of painting until now. Her shirt slips down over her arm, she moves to tug it back up, but he waves an impatient hand to stop her. Her modest nature screams in protest, but she is suddenly aware of the moment of creation. For a moment she understands everything. She looks up briefly, just for a split second, and looks down again afraid. She is not afraid she might make the artist impatient, she is afraid because she saw me, me and everyone else who stands before this painting, merged together into a single moment. Now she knows why the artist chose her.
The question I feel compelled to ask as I stand before this oracle is, who am I? The first thought that comes to mind when I think this is that I am a student. This crosses my mind though mainly because this project has been assigned to me. This painting will reflect what I want to see if I let it. So I go further down; invert my mind in search of what this painting will reveal to me.
“Who am I?” I ask of the painting.
“You are but a humble man, the divorced single father of one red headed child. You grew up in poverty, and it’s all that you know of social status. You never once knowingly set your morals aside for anything. Your life has been defined by slow development, loneliness, mistaken love, drug addiction, and varying levels of passive awareness. These things are reflected in the way you see me.”
“Then why do I see beauty, morals, and loneliness in you figure?”
“You know why. You grew up slowly; the combination of your father’s leaving while you were very young and your mother’s long term drug addiction is partly responsible. But you do not hold anything against them for their actions. You maintain a good relationship with both of them because you look beyond negative assumptions to see the beauty in them. Seeing their mistakes has made you aware of a need to be different. You have a greater moral awareness than they do. So when you look at me you see the same qualities which you see in yourself.”
“Then what of awareness?” I ask.
“Despite slow development you eventually woke up and realized what the world was, and how it worked. You started getting the tools to get it into your own hands. You started reading, and getting interested in stories and writing. Your new found independence was lonely, you wanted to share it and in doing so to quickly made a vital mistake in going after what you knew. You met a girl and felt sorry for her because she was a heroin addict. You insisted that you could help her, and reluctantly she listened. It must have been a nasty start to a relationship, but she quit heroin. The experience brought you together. You fell in love and shared it for some time. Then one day that was all gone too.
“You woke up that day in a new way and became conscious of who you were. You realized you had made a mistake in just going with what you know all the time, because up until then all you had known was poverty, drug addiction, welfare, and sound sleep; the deep sleep of the unaware. You started to challenge yourself. You tried to find hope in the ability to help others that had lived lives similar to your own. It soon became inevitable that you couldn’t do anymore without more tools. You became a student and because of this process of awareness that has grown in you, you see awareness in me.”
I turned away from the painting. I had been there for some time before that painting. I looked into it, and it looked into me. It will certainly look into you as well if you give it a chance. A painting, especially a portrait, is no more than a mirror. It will reflect what you see in yourself if you are daring enough to look.
I believe my experience with this piece compliments Berger’s essay, “The Ways of Seeing.” At first read I misunderstood Berger’s intentions a bit. I became aware reading it over again that he sees the way I do. He stands on the side of an individual’s right to interact with a painting. He wants the individual to be aware that no one person has the right or the authority to install into you the meaning of a piece. My life amongst the lower social classes does not take away from my ability to be human and decide authority for myself. In fact it only strengthens my awareness.
In retrospect I see how I was mistaken. I felt very much like an individual when I wrote this piece, but even within the paper its self I write about the unity I share with everyone. If you examine the second italicized paragraph you can see that I express a deep connection with the woman in the painting where I write about how she sees me, but she sees everyone else too. Everyone who has ever stood before that painting merged into one. Even at a subconscious level I reject my own feelings of individuality within a work meant to accentuate what makes me singular.
I have come to find a deep fondness in ideas concerning unity. Our culture in America is being divided by an ill-conceived individualism and it is causing the general public to become materialistic consumers. When we reject others and strive to better only ourselves we have only a limited amount of options to pursue happiness. This is why we turn to consumerism. When we can’t show our superiority and individuality through our personality we do it through our stuff. So we purchase flashy clothes, and new superior gadgets, and sports cars, and fine foods etc. The problem is that these things don’t give us happiness, and they in fact only make the divide between individuals grow ever larger. In a world where we can no longer be happy with each other we start turning to more and more meaningless forms of expression in search of individuality. Because of this commodity driven industry we live in, and because of mass media, a person in search of meaning in their life is often likely to find what they are looking for in the most unlikely places. Once community meant that you could turn to others when you needed to find something. Now in this world of media and popular culture you are more likely to find hope and retain your sense of individuality in a world of mindboggling images.
The Post-Modern human being is a fallen soul lost in a constant stream of images and circus style wonder. Every commodity is introduced by the ring leader in a loud amplified voice. The promise they give is wonder, the ability to defy gravity, wit, and grace. What they are really doing is what every good ring leader does. They make you look left when you should be looking right. Every commercial you see promises results, healthy skin, or a perfect body. While you’re concerned with this expectation they skate right by without you seeing the real substance. First, the results are only temporary at the least, and second, you are going to be left broke, struggling for an expectation you can never attain, and without hope.
Moving to the second of five papers we come to a paper I wrote in response to a piece by Susan Bordo called “Beauty (Re)discovers the Male Body.” The piece speaks mainly about images and how images affect us in a world where nearly every person’s moral stability is fractured. There is a small part in the paper where I refer to Tilda Swinton as follows. ‘This man is a tall, fashion conscious, high heel wearing, leaner. Could there really be a better show of putting all your (gender) bonnets in one basket.’ When I wrote this piece I did not know who Tilda Swinton was but in retrospect knowing that she is a female does not change anything from my point of view. My goal in this piece was to show how meaningless gender really is and how today’s idea of what gender should be just gives people a role they feel obligated to play. I wanted to reach into Bordo’s work and extract the important material. It took a long winding path to do so but I felt that by the time I came to the concluding paragraphs I had come close.
Susan Bordo (b. 1947) is a philosopher who has brought her background knowledge of traditional philosophy into modern day popular culture. This work is an attempt to summarize and evaluate Bordo’s piece “Beauty (Re)discovers the Male Body.” The topic of the piece concerns the Male figure and its changing role in advertising as compared to the Female figure. What I want to accomplish in this work is to critically evaluate the text, and ultimately undress the purpose behind it, so that we can see what it is and how it could be important to any popular subject of any particular time.
THE BORDO CONJECTURE
The selection “Beauty (Re)discovers the Male Body” by Susan Bordo is broken down into six parts. Each part has its own specific theme and leads to the ultimate conclusion where Bordo uses the parts collectively to evaluate true beauty and the way it is mystified by popular culture and advertising. I will begin my evaluation by looking at each part individually.
Men On Display. This part in Bordo’s selection takes a highly personalized look at her first time seeing the male body as a sensuous art form. She explains that she never felt this way looking at an ad before and tells us how she felt she had an insight now on how men must see women in advertising, as a form of art rather that a person. She points out in this part how studies relating to sexual responses in males and females are said to be different, but explains how this could be tainted data because culturally men have been voyeurs for some time while women have only recently become voyeurs.
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