The Tripolarization of the Electric Body

As our bodies are outered by electric technologies, we are coming to a reconsideration of what it means to be human, or at least what it means to have a human body. For some, this has forced an exaggeration of some element of the human body, in a process that might be termed highlighting the grotesque.

Basically speaking, we are composed in varying proportions of muscle, fat and bone. Any one of these elements may be exaggerated, by those in sport and in broader society; taken to grotesque proportions, we have hypermuscularization, obesity and anorexia, respectively. At the centre of this tripolar schema is the individual's perception of self, since most often one sees one's own actions as "normal". It is elsewhere in the schema that the other lies, which is the way that one believes he or she is perceived by other individuals. The closer these two points are to overlapping at the origin, the increased sense of self-adequacy an individual will possess.

This tripolarization effect is partly due to the Iron Curtain of Baudrillardian hyperreality. The star mechanism used by the sportocracy and the rest of the entertainment complex to sell products offers a very narrow range of body types from the spectrum that actually exists, presenting a cloning effect in the electric mediaspace. It is no coincidence that the latest instalments of both the Star Wars and Matrix epics feature battles against clones — they are meant partially as critiques of how the body is represented in postmodern society.

The grotesque exaggeration of bodily components can be seen as a response to these replicating clones: on the one hand, obesity is a rejection of this simulacra; on the other hand, hypermuscularization and anorexia are hyper-realizations of the simulacra, which tend toward a state of cyborgification.

McLuhan's work on postliterate society, while in my opinion underrated as a roadmap of digital culture, sells itself somewhat short by examining electric media predominantly as a social and psychological issue without a full consideration of the implications for the physical body. To his credit, however, these bodily implications are only becoming apparent decades after his passing, and require further consideration as we progress on our posthuman evolution.


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