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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Hydra Versus Cyborg

I have a strong fascination with body art. I have always been captivated by tattoos and to a lesser extent non traditional piercings. In part my interest stemmed from the stigma attached to both the disabled body and people who knowingly modified their body via tattoos. In the last twenty years society has experienced a veritable revolution in disability and body art. Today we people with a disability are protected by law, civil rights legislation known as the ADA. Indeed, we have had 40 years of progressive legislation all designed to empower people with disabilities. In body art, tattooing is now acknowledged to be a fine art. Tattoo artists and their customers are no longer restricted to bikers, sailors and other social outlaws. Today anyone and everyone seems to have at least one tattoo. I love this change and hate it at the same time. It is great people are more open to body art and always look forward to seeing art literally walk by me. However, I mourn the way tattooing has been commodified by television shows and mundane things like housewares and clothing . Likewise, some time I miss the old days when I fought an up hill and pitch battle for access and disability rights. Don't get me wrong, equal rights is still a battle for people with disabilities but an ever so polite one. How does tattooing and disability relate beyond the concept of stigma? How we perceive the body, the tattooed body, disabled body and modified body in the broadest sense of the term has undergone a radical transformation. We take for granted the incorporation of the body and technology. But how we define, value and perceive that technology is what captivates me. I think my wheelchair is the essence of cool. Others see it as the ultimate symbol of disability. I think my mother's prosthesis is also cool. Others look at the loss of a limb and not the technology that replaced it. This too adds a layer of complexity. The mixing of technology and the body, much of it from the health industrial complex is dependent upon how we value a given device. Cochlear implaints for instance are valued and an entire industry now exists around their usage. Do we value interpreters for the deaf? Not so much. How about hearing aides for the elderly. No this is not valued or covered by health insurance. Who cares if the elderly can communicate.

The thoughts above were prompted by a post by Wheelchair Dancer on February 27 entitled Crip Anatomies. She wrotte:

"I am beginning to be disturbed by the almost universal insistence that my body, my flesh body that is, disappears when I gain an assistive technology body part. I would rather begin to investigate myself and my movement potential as a kind of hydra. And I do mean hydra instead of cyborg. In cyborgs, the mechanical and the fleshly are distinct but fused into one humanoid and recognizably humanoid organism. There's no excess; technology replaces the flesh bits. Hydras seem to allow for the possibility of the technical and the flesh to continue to exist together, even if they organism they jointly create is now akin to that which traditionally has been relegated to the category of freak or monster."

I love the idea of hydras. Something about cyborgs have always bothered me. Perhaps it is my horror of Star Trek Borg like organisms or cyborgs from the Terminator movies or if you want to go farther back to Frankenstein. The essence of these cyborgs was the destruction of the creatures humanity. In some ways my wheelchair does the exact same thing--it destroys my humanity because all people seem to notice is the wheelchair and not the human using it. Hydras seem to incorporate both the human and technological component. Rather than seeing a freak or monster I see a unique human being, one that has done what we human beings have always done--adapt. I am paralyzed and I have adapted via my wheelchair. Blind people adapt via use of a guide dog. These sort of observations could go on and on. The point is we as a people have melded technology and the human body in ways never dreamed possible 20 years ago--roughly when the ADA was passed into law. What we are slow to change is not technology but how we perceive those advances and inventions. It is here where the problems lies. We value cell phones, computers, the internet, televisions and gaming platforms. One can access these technologies with ease. Why our choices are diverse and as varied as the colors of a rainbow. How important is this technology? Our economy would crumble without it. Now try and access the usage of a wound vacuum such as the one I used or purchase a wheelchair. All of sudden our choices are severely limited. Wound vacuums are not covered by insurance. Wheelchairs are covered but you get a stripped down model that will last a year or two. And we are talking about high priced items. Wheelchair can easily top $8,000 to $10,000 and more. Try and service a wheelchair in less than 24 hours and you are out luck. What happens if yoru cell phone or computer breaks? It can be serviced or replaced at a host of places. Just today I saw that happen when I bought a fancy new cell phone. This to me is an obvious social issue. One that requires a social revolution comparable to the technological revolution that has already taken place. I for one hope to see more hydras working on the problem.


Anonymous said...

Yet another great thought-provoking point! As a person with a good amount of body art in the form of tattoos, I can say that even though I love all of them and am delighted that they will be on my body for the next 60 years or so, I have only ever worked in one place where my boss did not require me to cover all of my tattoos during working hours. That was at a leather store, and my boss had as many tattoos as I do.
I don't even want to get into my parents' reactions to my choices in body art. It suffices to say that I didn't do it to piss them off; that was just a delightful side effect. I realized that the only thing preventing me from getting a cool tattoo was a massive fear of needles, & I was letting that fear rule my life. I decided that as an adult, my fears shouldn't rule my life, I should. That being the case, I made an apointment to get my first tattoo, which would involve 50 needle pricks a minute. I thought getting a tattoo would conquer my fear of needles, which it did. I now have no fear of needles at all. I also discovered that tattoos are like potato chips- it's extremely difficult to have just one. That's why I have 8 or 9 different tattoos, depending on how you count them. I'll have pictures of all of my tattoos up on my flickr site by friday. Just look for Cait The Wild Guitar.
William, I think you should get a tattoo, to remind yourself of how strong you are in conquering your recent medical problems. Just remember to take your Vitamin D- it's essential to good skin health, and many people, especially lily-white Irish folk like us who shouldn't get a lot of sun exposure, are at a significant risk for deficiency, which can cause severe skin problems. I also agree that Prof. Kuusisto should get a tattoo- maybe one of Corky.

Wheelchair Dancer said...

Well, thank you!

Let's see what we can come up with.


Eric Fischer said...

Many of the issues you seem to deal with are culture specific. You would be hardset to find such problems in affluent western european societies such as Holland. Germany, Sweden or France may not be Utopias but the social recognition of physical (and mental)compromise and the need to equalize people's needs continues for the most part to be met, and without so much struggle as you seem to have in the US. Why is that?

william Peace said...

WD, You really made me think long and hard. We need a movement of hydras. I wonder though if you average person int he USA is just too dumb to get it. Yikes what a cranky remark. Thanks for your blog. It is always a great read.
Eric, all my posts are culture specific. Well, maybe not all but the vast majority. The social response to disability, body art, technology etc. is quite different in Europe and elsewhere. I weigh in on some cross cultural comparisons but have not traveled abroad in a while.
Cait, Thanks for the nice comments. I never understood why parents of women seem to have such a visceral reaction when their daughters get tattooed. I have had many conversations with women in their 20s and it is a serious issue for some. Of course I get the female body is subject to intense scrutiny but the reaction to tattooed women can be extreme.As for your work place situation, employers have the legal right to ask employees to cover their art work.When I see a tattooed employee I make a point to compliment the person and the boss for the visible ink. As for me getting a tattoo to mark what I have been through has occupied my mind for months. I am just afraid of my mother! Seriously I may indeed get another tattoo. And yes I have a tattoo. Do not tell my Mom! As for Prof Kuusisto, I tried and failed to get him tattooed. I suggested a braille tattoo. If you look way back one of my earliest posts was on braille tattoos.I look forward to seeing your flickr account and photos. Send me an email so I know when they are up. My email is on my profile.

Feisty Kitten said...

I have a huge problem with canes. I need one occasionally, so I want a folding cane that I can stow away easily when not in use, and yet the ones I can find under 50 bucks are plaid, flower print, puppies, bunnies, pink, etcetera... to find a cane I LIKE would cost me hundreds of dollars, and I think thats total crap. Just because I'm disabled doesn't mean I want to gimp around with some ugly cane. I'm young, and I want to be fashionable. It just doesn't feel like so much to ask!

william Peace said...

Feisty, Sadly the world of what is called durable medical equipment is ugly and expensive. Any product that is aesthetically pleasing and functional, if available, will be expensive. For women I suspect this is more of an issue as the female form is highly scrutinized. I once saw a woman with a hot pink or electric pink wheelchair. It was BRIGHT! I thought it was way cool.

Anonymous said...

Hey Feisty- I love your name! Why don't you find a cane that works the way you like, and then just paint it yourself? If it's metal, wood, or plastic, a nitrocellulose lacquer would work really well & be very durable. It's also fairly easy to fix if it does get chipped. Nitrocellulose lacquer is what they use in nail polish. Pick your favorite colors and have at it! Just put 2-3 coats of clear on it when you're done. I like Wet & Wild clear lacquer the best- it's the most durable and chip-resistant. Also, it's only $1 a bottle. Yes, I have painted anything that will stand still long enough. Remember to scuff up the surface with some fine sandpaper or an emery board or nail file first, so the lacquer will stick- it doesn't bond well on really smooth surfaces, thus the sandpaper. Good luck and have at it!

Feisty Kitten said...

... You'd think I would have thought of that, considering I'm an artist.


Thank you, thats a wonderful idea. I guess theres just a lot going on in my head lately. Its nice to have an outside perspective to help me out. I appreciate it very much!

william Peace said...

feisty, If Caits idea does not work you could also try a painting technique called powder coating. It is costly but extremely durable. My wheelchair paint job lasts about a decade or more. It is pricey but well worth it. Any motor cycle place knows local powder coaters.