Scientific Voyeurism

I’m on a train from here to there and thinking about stuff and junk. Well, grading. And, since I underslept, a complex bricolage of images, scenes, thoughts are making it distracting to grade. Perhaps if I get them out…

In what circumstances do we let others examine our bodies? We can imagine being with a lover and this might seem like a tender moment. Or perhaps, one tinged with uncomfortableness, anxiety, pride, etc. We can bring up the spectre of the male gaze. But, I want to explore a different kind of scene.

Imagine the inherent meaning of bodies. The cultural meaning of bodies involves a whole complex of signification. Raced bodies are seen in particular ways. The power inherent in a non-raced body (in some contexts) is an ephemeral, yet important factor. Gender. Class signifiers. Sexual signifiers. Ability and disability. In culture (and here I think it important to recognize the fluidity of culture–percieved boundaries between cultures limit understanding how the flow of semiological meaning is exchanged) different particular contexts shape, facilitate, and imbue bodies with various, sometimes contradictory, meaning. Indeed, it might be safe to say that every instance of imbodiment is a unique play of meaning about the body. But, this understanding makes it difficult to understand and analyse the structure or play of how cultural meaning manifests in situations. We need some sort of generalizations or analytic framework. All that being said, i return to imagining the inherent meaning of bodies. Bodies are a message that are iterable by cultural de-encryption.

Imagine yourself naked. Standing, hands on your side. Imagine someone or someones looking at you. In what contexts does this happen? What cultural, institutional, structural forces construct moments wherein this is a possible scene? Indeed, might it be the case that some individuals throughout history have never experienced this? So, aside from thinking cross-culturally about this, aside from the impact that has on understanding what I want to focus on, I’d like to imagine that the someone(s) watching us are scientists. Medical professionals. Doctors. Experts. Knowers.

We submit ourselves to their gaze. Institutionally we must do this in order to be healed, to be understood, to be helped, to be saved.

Scientists with clipboards surrounding you, as you stand naked. Now, instead of feeling uncomfortable, as most would in this scene, let us change our angle. Let us keep in mind that this is our NAKED body they are looking at. Bodies are inherently sexualized. Here, I think there is a point to a geneology of the repressive hypothesis. It seems like a radical move to de-sexualize some bodies–just as it is radical to re-sexualize others. Regardless, the scientific gaze has a part to play.

I think to get at what I want to say, I need to add one more element to our scene. Here I stand, here you stand, naked. In front of us in labcoats, with clipboards or however you might imagine it, are scientists. Peering, taking notes, whisper so the subject won’t be spooked by an almost necessarily creepy setting, the scientists are constructing knowledge. Now, imagine a tall wooden fence with a couple of small holes in it. Imagine the scientists needing to crouch and share the holes to peer at you.

This is one way I think, structurally, the institution of science plays out. Scientific voyeurism.

The science of bodies is inherently perverted. Science itself is a perversion. Science wants to see the naked body of Nature through the fence that hides it. Why do they (and by extension us) want to look through this hole? In fact, by connection, the fact that we allow scientists to be our valorized voyeurs, means we are essentially paying others to be voyeurs and get back to us. Furthermore, since we are all subjects of this voyeurism, we WANT to be the person being peered at through the fence. The whole situation is perverse from all sides.

Why do we subject ourselves to this? For each person, undoubtedly, there are different intersectional answers. Collectively, however, we somehow want this to be the case.

Scientific voyeurism is enabled by our exhibitionism.

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