I keep meaning to write about the WisCon panel I was on called "Flesh Colored bandadges and Skin Jobs in real life and SF." What do class, gender, age, race, and ethnicity have to do with our social perceptions of prostheses? Do class, age, race, gender, or ethnicity matter when it comes to cyborg enhancements of the body? Or is the body of a cyborg a smooth, ideology–free zone?
Luckily, a couple of others have written about it, which means I don't have to remember everything:The Hathor Legacy"Dr. Ben Mack: Prominent User of the Internet" (epi-lj)
I talked a lot during this panel and felt that the panel itself was very thought-provoking. My mind goes in five hundred directions on this topic and it's hard to rein myself in.
I mentioned Aimee Mullins
who is an athlete, model, and speaker. She has many different prosthetic legs that she wears. Some of them are works of art.
"Flesh-colored bandages" refers to the beige tone of band-aids and ACE wraps, which of course is racist, and the whole reason they are colored this way is for white people to try and "pass" as non-disabled. It's not like people don't notice and comment on such things anyway. Once in a while you might be able to pass. Do you want to pass? Would you rather have a flashy, stylish piece of assistive tech? I talked about wearing a wrist brace, and how I would rather wear one that looks like a gauntlet, or is gray with circuits, or is argyle. In short, something stylish. If people are going to notice, let them notice! Make it cool! Someone said that kids' band-aids often have cartoon characters for this reason, the coolness factor.
We all struggled with the "ideology-free zone" concept. I don't think anyone knows what this means. I said that ideology is not just how others see us, it is how we see ourselves. My disability status is part of my self-identity. I ranted about James Cameron's Avatar a bit and how I don't believe in the dream of turning in one's disabled body for a fresh, new alien one. First of all, doesn't the alien body have a brain (and therefore mind) of it's own? Secondly, Jake Sully's body is him. I reject your Cartesian mind-body disconnect! This gets complex, of course, and I could go on and on for hours, back and forth over this point. The feminist discourse in particular values "our bodies, ourselves" and for that reason thinking about how one sees oneself and one's body is very important. It is very important to me personally and my identity. Someone (I think Laurel) talked about the internet and how it allows "escape" and how it is assistive tech for many people, including disabled people, and this is where part of the avatar myth may come from, which is a good point.
Something I enjoy thinking about and struggle with is something that I've been calling the spectrum of "body acceptance" vs. "body modification". Someone who is extremely into body acceptance would modify her body very little, and only out of practical necessity; someone very into body modification might download her brain into a robot avatar. I'm more towards the acceptance end: I don't even have pierced ears! And there is probably a natural tendency to fall on different places along this spectrum.
Then there is a division between people who modify their bodies by choice, and people who modify their bodies not by choice, and all the things that might affect choice: money, cultural influences (including race, class, etc), employment and immigration status, enrollment in the military, etc.
Is body modification an "improvement"? I am very careful to say-- to whom? Hopefully it is to the person who gets it. No one else should be the judge. I myself struggle with this point.
I find lately that I do not draw a line between the concept of "cyborg" and "android" (sentient android). What is the difference really? Some biologic material? For that matter, where is the line between cyborg and non-human cyborg, I mean non-cyborg human? Is there one?
We didn't talk about SF as much as I would have liked to. We did not discuss The Cyborg Manifesto
(which I have not yet read), or Blade Runner
, for that matter. Some other titles did come up.
When I talked about hacking a wheelchair, I got that idea entirely from Liz Henry, who is all over the internet, including at Composite: Poetics and Tech
, Hackability, Geek Feminism, and DW. Why is a wheelchair a medical device and a bike can be bought anywhere? Why is assistive tech proprietary and obscure? It should be open source. What does it mean if part of your body is owned by a corporation? What if the part breaks down and the corporation no longer exists?
Idea for next year: Do-it-yourself Assistive Tech panel.
ETA: Here is the slide show I was thinking of:Liz Henry's Your Flying JetPack
ETA2: Video of the OSCON flying jetpack talk
(autoplays)Liz's report of the talk (near the bottom of the post