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Missing Bodies: The Politics of Visibility

Monica J. Casper
Lisa Jean Moore
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Missing Bodies
    Book Description:

    We know more about the physical body - how it begins, how it responds to illness, even how it decomposes - than ever before. Yet not all bodies are created equal, some bodies clearly count more than others, and some bodies are not recognized at all. In Missing Bodies, Monica J. Casper and Lisa Jean Moore explore the surveillance, manipulations, erasures, and visibility of the body in the twenty-first century. The authors examine bodies, both actual and symbolic, in a variety of arenas: pornography, fashion, sports, medicine, photography, cinema, sex work, labor, migration, medical tourism, and war. This new politicsof visibility can lead to the overexposure of some bodies - Lance Armstrong, Jessica Lynch - and to the near invisibility of others - dead Iraqi civilians, illegal immigrants, the victims of HIV/AIDS and "natural" disasters.Missing Bodies presents a call for a new, engaged way of seeing and recovering bodies in a world that routinely, often strategically,obscures or erases them. It poses difficult, even startling questions: Why did it take so long for the United States media to begin telling stories about the "falling bodies" of 9/11? Why has the United States government refused to allow photographs or filming of flag-draped coffins carrying the bodies of soldiers who are dying in Iraq? Why are the bodies of girls and women so relentlessly sexualized? By examining the cultural politics at work in such disappearances and inclusions of the physical body the authors show how the social, medical and economic consequences of visibility can reward or undermine privilege in society.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-7298-0
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. 1 Introduction: The Bodies We See, and Some That Are Not Here
    (pp. 1-20)

    We live in an age of proliferating human bodies, both literally and figuratively. The world’s population is more than six and a halfbillion, a staggering number by any measure—and perhaps too many people for one fragile, embattled planet and current allocations of resources. Representations of these omnipresent, multiplying bodies are both enhanced and amplified via new biomedical, digital, and representational technologies, like MRIs and sonograms. Bodies are made visible and seen—or watched, to embrace the conspiratorial—via a range of globalized practices.¹ Indeed, the human body has never been morevisibleand rapidly mobile (and mobilized) than...

  5. PART I: Innocents

    • [PART I Introduction]
      (pp. 21-24)

      Western, Judeo-Christian ideologies are deeply informed by notions of youthful innocence. Propped up by cultural practices, beliefs about innocence are projected onto babies and children and, with the advent of prenatal visualization technologies, onto fetuses as well—not without contention. In Western frameworks, an innocent body is one that is unmarked, not guilty, and not tainted by stigma; it is the embodiment of purity. Always and everywhere in the West, innocents are conceived of as fragile, naive, and vulnerable; they are in need of protection. Innocents are also weak, ignorant, and tragic: innocence is something that will necessarily, eventually, be...

    • 2 Seen but Not Heard: Consequences of Innocence Lost
      (pp. 25-56)

      For the past five years, in addition to the leather-bound keepsake baby books Lisa updates for each of her daughters, she has kept another notebook that contains “Grace and Georgia’s Vagina Monologues.” The book begins with Grace at age 4 taking a piggyback ride and telling Lisa not to worry about her falling off because she was “holding on tight” with her vagina. A few months later, as Lisa and her daughters were in the bathroom chatting while Grace “went potty,” Grace told her mom that sometimes she used toilet paper to clean out her vagina. Lisa responded that one...

    • 3 Calculated Losses: Taking the Measure of Infant Mortality
      (pp. 57-78)

      In 2005, Americans were enthralled by a well-publicized, dramatic account of familial love, gender relations, extreme adventure, and child survival in a thoroughly inhospitable environment. No, this was not another prime-time episode of Mark Burnett’s reality TV series,Survivor.Rather, it was a beautiful, forceful nature documentary,March of the Penguins(Warner Bros., 2005).

      As portrayed by director Luc Jacquet, the film provoked national interest in the perils and promises of procreation. Safely tucked into the local cineplex with popcorn and soda in hand, human viewers were transported to the icy, dangerous terrain of Antarctica and the poignant travails of...

  6. PART II: Exposed

    • [PART II Introduction]
      (pp. 79-82)

      Becoming a visible body, a body that counts and is taken seriously, involves the experience of being seen by a critical mass of people with power and institutions of power. Exposure, the degree of coverage and the amount of attention the body receives, is one way to conceptualize the process of bodies coming into view. Exposure is always sensational: baring the body and its fleshy parts to the elements and rendering the unshielded body at its most vulnerable. Yet becoming exposed is paradoxical. Just as being exposed can be dangerous or damaging to bodies, it also can bring bodies into...

    • 4 Biodisaster: “The Greatest Weapon of Mass Destruction on Earth”
      (pp. 83-108)

      In February 2008, President George W. Bush visited Africa, where he announced, “My trip here is a way to remind future presidents and future Congresses that it is in the national interest and in the moral interests of the United States of America to help people.” Pronouncing the idea of democracy through Benin, Rwanda, Ghana, Liberia, and Tanzania, Bush wanted to highlight his administration’s commitment to funding for AIDS, malaria, and education efforts and also likely wanted to take the media focus off the disastrous war in Iraq. These programs in Africa, financed in part through the Millennium Challenge Corporation,...

    • 5 Fluid Matters: Human Biomonitoring as Gendered Surveillance
      (pp. 109-132)

      By any reckoning, planet Earth is in dire straits. Some might say that humans have been imperiled ever since Eve snapped the forbidden fruit off the tree, bit into it, and handed it to Adam. Original sin is certainly one popular theory for why we as a species are chronically beset by tragedy and suffering. Another version of the story, one prevalent in an ever-expanding literature on environmental toxins, points the finger at synthetics that are poisoning our habitat and causing trouble in paradise. The real problem, scholars argue, is not that Eve flirted with a serpent but that humans...

  7. PART III: Heroes

    • [PART III Introduction]
      (pp. 133-136)

      American identity and fervent patriotism are inextricably linked with masculine heroism. Our national consciousness is rife with notions of victory, triumph, valor, bravery, and winning, usually at all costs. Gary Cooper, John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Tom Cruise: these are our cinematic stars, just as Ernest Hemingway, Cormac McCarthy, and Larry McMurtry are our quintessential storytellers. The rugged, solitary man who is larger than life, questing for glory after overcoming tremendous adversity, is the archetypical American. And better yet, if this hero can be trademarked, our late-capitalist machine can accessorize and massproduce this heroism for willing consumers and spectators. Sell more...

    • 6 “They Used Me”: Manufacturing Heroes in Wartime
      (pp. 137-156)

      Strolling the aisles of any department store’s toy section is a lesson in gender segregation. Miniature plastic and plush bodies of humans and animals—particularly babies—smile from behind their veneer of packaging. There is an aisle for boys where soldiers, construction workers, and racecar drivers populate the shelves and an aisle for girls full of Barbies, princesses, fashion models, and puppies and ponies. The boys’ aisle is blue, green, red, brown, and orange; the girls’ aisle is pink, purple, white, peach, and yellow. These toy bodies are highly visible, attractive, and typically garishly displayed to capture the child’s gaze...

    • 7 It Takes Balls: Lance Armstrong and the Triumph of American Masculinity
      (pp. 157-176)

      Human bodies are fragmented, divided into specific parts for unique purposes. In allopathic medicine, for example, we rarely have our entire bodies x-rayed or examined; rather, body parts are isolated as part of the doctrine of specific etiology, considered distinct from the organism as a whole. We suffer headaches, stomachaches, and backaches, the pain displaying corporeal regionalism. When we exercise at the gym, we work particular muscles: one day our biceps and the next our quads. We know how, thanks to fitness magazines, exercise shows, and the ever-present instructors and trainers. In pornography, we see only body parts shown in...

    • 8 Conclusion: Excavations
      (pp. 177-188)

      It was an awful time, 2007, what Queen Elizabeth II might have called anannus horribilis. The Iraq War was in its fourth bloody, immoral year. In April, a deeply disturbed young man executed 32 people at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and wounded many others before killing himself. A fiery helicopter crash took four lives and burned hundreds of acres in the mountains east of Seattle. Girls and women were raped, beaten, and murdered. A bridge collapsed in Minneapolis, smashing and trapping victims underwater. Desired embryos were germinated and miscarried, and thousands of infants died. Angry fires raged...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 189-198)
  9. References
    (pp. 199-214)
  10. Index
    (pp. 215-222)
  11. About the Authors
    (pp. 223-223)