and Heather Laine Talley
As another year comes to a close, lists chronicling everything from the year’s best films to 2015’s worst fashion proliferate. This year, the Body and Embodiment Council reflected on a year of news coverage. Here are some of our favorite stories...
- Black Death as Reality TV: Is Watching the Videos Too Much? In a year where Black Lives Matter activism continued—in response to the April 4th shooting of Walter Scott, the July 19th shooting of Samuel DuBose, the deaths of Freddie Gray and Sandra Bland while in police custody, and even the shooting of Black Lives Matter protesters in Minnesota—many commentators have drawn connections between dominant social values and the devaluation of black bodies. In many cases, these deaths (particularly those of DuBose, Scott, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner) have been captured on camera. In this essay, author Kirsten West Savali asks about the ethics of watching these videos. Does the act of watching these videos fulfill a duty to witness the violence that targets black bodies? Or does the widespread viewing of these deaths contribute to their dehumanization (and justification)? – Kate
- Paid Family Sick Leave Policy Proposed This year saw cities like NYC, Jersey City, NJ, and Portland, Oregon make up for the gap in federal policy by extending paid sick leave protections to workers. The U.S. stands apart as a nation that offers no universal paid sick leave. This gap in protection and compensation disproportionately impacts low wage workers, women, and Latinos. The upswing in conversations about paid leave reflects a shift in labor policy wherein we take the body into account. Workers are embodied. Bodies get sick. Rather than labor laws that treat workers as disembodied actors, the push toward paid leave represents a new body consciousness. – Heather
- Patrick Stewart Didn’t Know He Wasn’t Circumcised It sounds ridiculous. How could a grown man not know whether or not his foreskin is intact? Yet, British actor Patrick Stewart—you might remember him as Captain Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation or Professor Xavier in the X-Men movies—recently confessed that, for much of his life, he mistakenly believed he was circumcised. (Most UK males are intact, by the way.) Such misapprehensions are surprisingly common. In fact, studies find that roughly one-third of males (and many of their sexual partners) incorrectly report their circumcision status. How can this be? The likely culprits no doubt include Anglo-American discomfort with nudity, body shame, and adults’ reluctance to discuss genitalia and sexuality openly with children (and other adults, for that matter). – Laura
- Uterus Transplant Surgery Could Help Trans Women to Become Pregnant In mid November, various media outlets began reporting on the Cleveland Clinic’s impending venture into uterine transplantation. In the small and “highly experimental” study, ten cis (non-transsexual) women diagnosed with Uterine Factor Infertility (UFI) will be selected for uterine transplantation from ten deceased cis women donors. This study will mark the first time that uterine transplantation has been undertaken in the United States. While remarkable all on its own, days later the media began to speculate on possibilities even broader than those outlined in original coverage of the study. By late November, media outlets described the study as a potential first step toward trans women giving birth through uterine transplantation. In these stories, the potential social, ethical, and medical implications of trans women as gestational and birth mothers are explored. Such coverage marks a potential shift toward greater media consideration and inclusion of trans women and possibilities for trans women’s lives. What was notably absent in these stories, however, is that despite the spate of coverage on the possibility of trans women using medical technologies to gestate and give birth, the media was relatively silent on the possibility of cis men also using these same medical technologies. In this way, childbirth was constructed by the media as something mediated by (and predicated upon) gender identity as a woman, regardless of one’s sexual anatomy. In other words, gestation and childbirth remain understood by and through the media as “women’s work,” despite medical technologies that may one day generate much broader possibilities. – Carla
- Why are so many disabled roles played by non-disabled actors? This thinkpiece from the BBC News "Ouch" (a blog and podcast from the BBC dedicated to telling the stories of disabled people) revisits an enduring question about disability representation in cinema. Reflecting on Eddie Redmayne's 2015 Oscar-winning performance as the physicist Stephen Hawking -- who has lived with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) for more than 50 years -- the article asks us to consider what it means for able-bodied actors to continually receive critical acclaim for (and maintain a monopoly over) portraying disabled bodies. The issue raises important questions about opportunity structures in the production of culture, symbolic boundaries between interpretation and appropriation, the performance of embodied racial and disabled identities, and the commercialization of embodiment. – Gemma
- Firefighter Receives Full Face Transplant in Surgery Called Historic This isn't the first face transplant, but this story reflects some dramatic changes since the first transplant took place in 2010. Patrick Hardison’s transplant is by far the most extensive to date, but the stories about this procedure reflect a shift in science coverage, too. No longer do fantastical images of the John Travolta thriller Face/Off appear when describing the technology. Nor is there the kind of panic about the psychological and ethical crises that the procedure might invite. Yet, there persists a real gap between how these stories are covered in the US and in the UK, where facial difference has become politicized and situated within a disability rights framework. The story of this new and historic transplant reminds us about the need to continually unpack the social context that inspires the need and desire for biomedical interventions. – Heather