Friday, June 1, 2012

Beauty... a problem?

Why is beauty so problematic these days, here in America, no less, something that, even while working its spell, ends up making us somewhat uncomfortable, dispirited, insecure, resentful? Should it really be such a problem? Weren't we put on this planet in part to take notice of the pulchritude of natural forms - to be inspired by the excellence of shape and line and symmetry? Is it now suddenly tacky to have a genuine response to someone or something that has power to arrest one's senses?  I know what you're thinking. It's not that simple. Certain pesky instincts keep getting in the way. Beauty too easily becomes a commodity, something to be quantified, amassed, consumed.  It's one thing to admire birds or rocks or ocean vistas, and start a collection or whatever, but human beings are not so easily reified and besides that, they induce ambivalent reactions in their fellow creatures - especially those who take them to be their "superiors" in bodily appearance. Thus, beauty has become a ball and chain of sorts; everybody seeks it, but it sure is a difficult mountain to climb and quite a bear to hold onto (if you'll excuse the not-so-beautiful mixed metaphors here). And to make matters worse, everyone is feeling the pressure. So I ask: should the burdens that women have carried for millennia now be placed upon men's shoulders as well - not to mention the new scrutinies being visited upon the young and old alike? I refer here to the manner in which "beautiful people" are, by turns, fretted over, sought after, hooted at, exalted, celebrated or otherwise mocked, ridiculed, dismissed, disparaged or obsessed over in the media or falsely appreciated by plebeian onlookers. Is it the celebration of beauty as such (over ugliness, say, or mediocrity) that in the midst of generating so much attention from all quarters - simultaneously and surreptitiously makes the multitude respond with scorn, even vitriol? Or is it rather the codification of a certain type of beauty, celebrated only as a lure for advertisers or a snare for consumers, to the exclusion of other possibilities, more exotic, more natural, more idiosyncratic, more casual, but no less striking in their appropriate context, beauty that is not stratified or discriminatory in terms of size, age or color? Sure, there's a problem here, but I just hope we don't give into that urge to think of it as an either/or proposition; it's both/ other words there's room for a wider panorama. More is more in this case. No need to pretend that we don't notice beauty; that part of human nature isn't going away any time soon...

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