FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Commodification of Breasts

by BINOY KAMPMARK

Melbourne.

Popular culture, and celebrity, have come to this. A well-endowed personality, a figure of celluloid appeal, has to justify to the other-worldliness of an action personal and specific to the person in question.  That a woman has to have a mastectomy brings with it pains within and without – not merely the challenges to her body but her family and friendship circle.  In the case of celebrity, that procedure assumes the form of confession – after all, the circle in that case is the vaguely defined public.

For Angelina Jolie, a conflict between medical necessity and career comes into play.  A personal decision, and one that is costly in various ways, becomes a public platform, a soapbox of encouragement for individuals who, in all truth, do not have the power, let alone the means, to make those decisions.  One has to laud Jolie’s decision to have a mastectomy as one would any woman who has to make choices that affect not merely her own life but the lives of others.

The superficial nature of acting, being itself mimetic, demands superficial responses.  So, while Jolie cuts her changes of having cancer from 87 percent to under 5 percent, she, goes the speculation, might also be cutting her chances of being perceived as beautiful and appealing. “RIP Angelina’s boobs” is a crass but typical statement of the spectatorship of celebrity.  The implication here is how her marketability has been affected.

Often celebrity is seen as a set of variables and pieces of the popular imagination.  It comes with its full set of equipment – Marilyn Monroe’s vacuum-styled lips, Greta Garbo’s glacially beautiful face.  Tamper with these and one tampers with appeal.  Think Jolie, think Lara Croft with weapons holster and, yes, breasts.  The sense that she might actually be flesh and blood is simply beside the point – her career choice, as it were, was to mimic life rather than live it.

Actors and actresses pay that ultimate price – they are the sounding boards of life, though some scholars looking at the celebrity phenomenon find celebrity as a space of realisation, the vicarious playground for others.  Celebrity is “us”, claims Anne Helen Petersen, who attempts to make celebrity gazing scholarly.  “What we talk about when we talk about celebrities is, as ever, ourselves.”  One would certainly hope not.

Commentators have rounded up on that cost, not in monetary terms, but aesthetic ones.  “Some suggested that her medical emergency was just a tabloid ruse to cover up elective breast implants,” observed Amanda Hess in Slate (May 14). The snark factory had started to churn – she had received a “boob job”; she would never be watched again sans breasts.  Among the trolls, Jolie was merely consumable.  But the sad reality is that the moment one stands in front of screen and script, one becomes consumable. This is an unpalatable phenomenon, but hard to dispel.  Celebrity is its own worst distortion.

Perceiving that to be the case, Jolie’s New York Times confession piece, with the title “My Medical Choice,” asserts that, “On a personal note, I do not feel any less of a woman.  I feel empowered that I made a strong choice that in no way diminishes my femininity.”  She does also admit that breast reconstruction can take place, “and the results can be beautiful.”  The point of deprivation, it would seem, is reversible with a full and capacious wallet.

Let us speed to the crunch then, something far more fundamental than the actress as commodity.  “For any woman reading this, I hope it helps you know you have options.”  We know immediately that the pitch is to a very different audience, one able to “shop” for options, search for the finest procedures, and find the best solutions to prolong life.  If you have medical insurance, you will be saved.  “I want to encourage every woman, especially if you have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, to seek out the information and medical experts who can help you through this aspect of your life, and to make your own informed choices.”

Jolie is not ignorant about cost, even if cost for her was not an object.  “The cost of testing for BRCA1 and BRCA2, at more than $3000 in the United States, remains an obstacle for many women.”  What she fails to mention, as Jillian Berman points out in The Huffington Post (May 14) is that a Salt Lake City based biotech company by the name of Myriad Genetics holds patents on BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.  Little surprise that the same company produces a product – BRACAnalysis – that tests for mutation in those genes that increase the risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

Certainly, everyone wants a piece of Jolie (no pun intended).  Maureen O’Connor, writing in New York Magazine (May 14), see this as an act of responsibility.  Her New York TImes article had to be celebrated.  “When the world’s most famous actress advocates for preventive women’s medicine, the message goes too far.”  She has also transformed herself “from enfant terrible to responsible mommy.” (She can reassure her children that she will not be lost to breast cancer) Then, the clinching rationale for O’Connor – “former Lara Croft, Tomb Raider refuses to equate breasts with femininity.”  The very mention of busty Lara Croft, that the figure should hold sway with O’Connor as a remotely meaningful motif, is itself revealing.  Being feminine and being a celebrity are hardly the same thing, even if there is an artificial convergence.

The sum of these parts is simple. No one should decry Jolie her choices.  She made them with family and life in mind.  You might even say that she did what she had to do.  They were “informed” in so far as she had the medical means to obtain that information.  But most importantly, she did have those choices.  The challenges that should not scare us, claims Jolie, “are the ones we can take on and take control of.”  Many simply do not have those means, and any audience receiving her wisdom should realise that it comes with a heavy bank balance, medical insurance and Brad Pitt by your side.

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

 

More articles by:

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

January 18, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
The Destabilizer: Trump’s Escalating Threats Against Iran
John W. Whitehead
Silence Is Betrayal: Get Up, Stand Up, Speak Up for Your Rights
Andrew Day
Of “Shitholes” and Liberals
Dave Lindorff
Rep. Gabbard Speaks Truth to Power About the Real Reason Korea Has Nukes
Barbara G. Ellis
The Workplace War: Hatpins Might Be in Style Again for Women
Binoy Kampmark
Corporate Sickness in May’s Britain
Ralph Nader
Twitter Rock Star Obama’s Silence Must Delight Trump
John G. Russell
#Loose Lips (Should) Sink … Presidencies … But Even If They Could, What Comes Next?
David Macaray
The “Mongrelization” of the White Race
Ramzy Baroud
In Words and Deeds: The Genesis of Israeli Violence
January 17, 2018
Seiji Yamada
Prevention is the Only Solution: a Hiroshima Native’s View of Nuclear Weapons
Chris Welzenbach
Force of Evil: Abraham Polonsky and Anti-Capitalist Noir
Thomas Klikauer
The Business of Bullshit
Howard Lisnoff
The Atomized and Siloed U.S. Left
Martha Rosenberg
How Big Pharma Infiltrated the Boston Museum of Science
George Wuerthner
The Collaboration Trap
David Swanson
Removing Trump Will Require New Activists
Michael McKinley
Australia and the Wars of the Alliance: United States Strategy
Binoy Kampmark
Macron in China
Cesar Chelala
The Distractor-in-Chief
Ted Rall
Why Trump is Right About Newspaper Libel Laws
Mary Serumaga
Corruption in Uganda: Minister Sam Kutesa and Company May Yet Survive Their Latest Scandal
January 16, 2018
Mark Schuller
What is a “Shithole Country” and Why is Trump So Obsessed With Haiti?
Paul Street
Notes From a “Shithole” Superpower
Louisa Willcox
Keeper of the Flame for Wilderness: Stewart “Brandy” Brandborg
Mike Whitney
Trump’s Sinister Plan to Kill the Iranian “Nukes” Deal
Franklin Lamb
Kafkaesque Impediments to Challenging Iran’s Theocracy
Norman Solomon
Why Senator Cardin is a Fitting Opponent for Chelsea Manning
Fred Gardner
GI Coffeehouses Recalled: a Compliment From General Westmoreland
Brian Terrell
Solidarity from Central Cellblock to Guantanamo
Don Fitz
Bondage Scandal: Looking Beneath the Surface
Rob Seimetz
#Resist Co-opting “Shithole”
Ted Rall
Trump Isn’t Unique
January 15, 2018
Rob Urie
Democrats and the End(s) of Politics
Paul Tritschler
Killing Floor: the Business of Animal Slaughter
Mike Garrity
In Targeting the Lynx, the Trump Administration Defies Facts, Law, and Science Once Again
Thomas Hon Wing Polin
Hong Kong Politics: a Never-Ending Farce
Uri Avnery
Bibi’s Son (Or Three Men in a Car)
Dave Lindorff
Yesterday’s ‘Shithole Countries’ Can Become Classy Places Donald, and Vice Versa
Jeff Mackler
Lesser Evil Politics in Alabama
Jonah Raskin
Typewriters Still Smoking? An Interview with Underground Press Maven John McMillan
Jose-Antonio Orosco
Trump’s Comments Recall a Racist Past in Immigration Policy
David Macaray
Everything Seems to Be Going South
Kathy Kelly
41 Hearts Beating in Guantanamo
Weekend Edition
January 12, 2018
Friday - Sunday
George Burchett
Wormwood and a Shocking Secret of War: How Errol Morris Vindicated My Father, Wilfred Burchett
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail