HAVE YOU EVER WONDERED?
Have you ever wondered while watching TV, films, ads, music videos, Netflix, YouTube, or strolling through an art gallery if there are any universal ethical or aesthetic guidelines for how to view the human body? Is there a way our "ethos" (our own interior "landscape") can be formed to train ourselves to "see" the body a certain way?
--How can I view the body in the most authentic and integral way possible?
--How do I let the "language of the body" speak to me?
-- Is there a way to discern whether depictions of the human body are in keeping with human dignity or not?
--What's the difference between porn and fine art nudes?
--Why is the naked human body beautiful but porn is not?
--Can images of the body in art and media help us to accept our own bodiliness?
--Can images of the body in art and media speak to us about the best way to understand and treat our own bodies?
We can't all be artists, but if in the artistic world the human body is considered to be both the most difficult and the most worthy subject to master ("you're not an artist till you've mastered the human body")...there must be something important there for the rest of us, too.
THE REDUNDANCY DEPARTMENT OF REDUNDANCY
It may seem redundant or obvious to focus on the body in film and other media. After all, isn’t that what we are always looking at on the big screen? Larger-than-life images of human bodies? Perhaps. But perhaps we also take the body for granted and generally concentrate more on action, entertainment, dialogue, emotions, vicarious experiences, and lessons to be learned in film-stories. Perhaps we need to take a second look. A longer look. A deeper look.
The lens of John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body” can be incredibly helpful. Theology of the Body is a philosophical, Biblical (the "Theology of the Body" is also a Bible study from Genesis to Revelation), anthropological, poetical and theological take on the human body—blending and harmonizing these disciplines. However, John Paul II's text, "Man and Woman He Created Them—A Theology of the Body" is only part of Karol Wojtyla's lifetime labor to manifest the dignity of the whole human person: body and soul. To get an even fuller picture, the entire corpus (pun intended) of his writings must be taken into consideration as well.
CLINICAL OR PERSONAL?
Are we separating the body out from the person as a detached thing to be almost clinically observed on the screen? Quite the opposite. Instead we are pondering the whole body-person. The body as person, the person as body. Inseparable, but giving emphasis to the embodied corporeality of human beings. Why? Precisely to keep body and spirit together, to consider the body as a unified, relevant and revelatory part of a person (or media character)—something far from inconsequential, or simply “window dressing.” Theology of the Body does not subscribe to “mind over matter,” but rather “mind and matter.” Theology of the Body seeks a “both/and” approach instead of an “either/or.”
Even when science separates an organism from its environment or a part from its whole in order to study it, this very act is now acknowledged to be an unnatural but often necessary exercise. The subject would best be studied (if at all possible) in its natural environment, as part of its organic ecosystem--otherwise we risk unnatural behaviors/actions/reactions and false conclusions. With regard to a Media Literacy/humanitarian/anthropological study of the human body, the body is best studied in its holistic natural context: the soul of the human person. But more importantly today (due to gross neglect and misconceptions), the soul of the human person is best studied in its holistic natural context: the body. And think about this: Although the immortal human soul can live on without the body, only the body can express the whole person!
So let's take a fresh look at media from the point of view of the physicality of the human body, rather than simply the point of view of non-material feelings, words, ideas, desires, relationships.
Here are some ready-made questions to ask of any and all media:
The three main problems/questions:
--How is the human body presented?
--How is it treated (what happens to it, what is its story)?
--What is its meaning?
--Does this film seem to be coming from a male or female perspective or both (collaborative)?
--Are the director(s), writer(s), cinematographer(s), etc., male or female?
--What seems to be the difference (if any) between male/female bodies in this film?
--What journey does the body make (if any)—from what to what?
--What are this film’s standards of truth, beauty and goodness regarding the body?
--What invisible/spiritual qualities are manifested through the physicality of the body? How are they manifested?
--Is there a union of body and spirit within the characters (or fragmentation)? How?
--Is the body in harmony with other bodies and with its environment (or not)? How?
--How is the body in relationship with other bodies?
--How is love expressed through the body?
--When does the body seem to express true love? When doesn't it?