Losing communication Channels

From: Steve Drew (srdrew_1@hotmail.com)
Date: Thu Apr 18 2002 - 21:53:54 BST

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    Subject: Losing communication Channels
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    April 18, 2002

    Farewell, Furrowed Brow

    By WILLIAM SAFIRE

    ASHINGTON I look closely in the mirror and here's what I see: eyes with
    crinkles at the corners, a nose slightly bulbous, hairline long ago receded,
    familiar bags under the eyes and relaxed wattles under the chin. A furrowed
    brow gives the impression of a brain thinking deep thoughts.

    I know this visage. It's been my lifelong friend. It's not broke and I'm not
    about to fix it, other than getting the haircut I really need.

    This uncharacteristic self-examination in the presence of my readers is
    occasioned by this week's news that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration
    has approved the use of diluted botulism toxin, originally developed to
    paralyze muscles in spasm, for cosmetic purposes.

    The Wall Street Journal describes as "a Tupperware party with needles" the
    growing practice by hard-selling plastic surgeons of lining up patients in
    swinging champagne-and-brie party settings. The doctors then inject Botox
    into the facial skin of their slightly sloshed customers at $500 a pop. (The
    Journal, in tune with The Times, has Botoxed its front page with color and
    graphic pizazz to reverse its own aging process.)

    Nor is medical science's War on Wrinkles limited to women lusting after lost
    youth. Male trial lawyers whose snarling looks offend jurors have eagerly
    taken up the Ponce de Leon pinpricking, which smoothes out their aggressive
    appearance and helps the most savage browbeaters appeal to the better angels
    of a jury's nature.

    The reaction of many commentators is to wax sociological. They hoot at the
    shallowness of a society that worships youthfulness. They deplore the
    culture that drives the heavily love-handled to liposuct their hips and
    those with pout-deprived mouths to collagen their lips. Anti-libertarian
    editorialists tut-tut at the wasteful expenditure of billions for cosmetics
    and fragrances as if the ancients since Cleopatra had not perfumed their
    barks and asped their bosoms.

    I reject such highbrow claptrap. Are we to listen to television diatribes
    against the skillful modification of appearance from talking heads who have
    just spent a half-hour getting brownish-red creams and powders rubbed on
    their faces? (If Nixon had had a decent makeup man, Watergate would have
    been over eight years earlier.)

    In this space we set aside that crow's-feet fetish and deal with practical
    politics: In an age of image manipulation, what will be the political impact
    of the erasure of expression from the American face?

    Specifically, how will a politician be able to measure a voter's reaction to
    the stump speech when the entire audience is taking in the exhortation
    with unfurrowable brows and frozen smiles? The speaker will reach out for a
    reaction and be confronted only with waves of coiffed heads, hard bodies
    and the paralyzed cheek muscles of smoothed-out physiognomies.

    Now switch around to the audience's view of the Botoxification of the
    speaker. How can the viewer, at a rally or watching television, know if the
    politician is truly concerned about the public's grave anxieties if the
    demagogue bites off his words in a tight-jawed rictus, physically unable to
    appear infuriated, worried or empathetic? An orator of irenic countenance
    cannot summon a people to greatness.

    And what about the burning issue of access to this expensive, temporary
    facelift? In the coming Congressional campaign, we already anticipate
    pressure to turn Viagra and even herbal aphrodisiacs into entitlements. The
    step beyond that politics of populist potency will be to sweep away the
    unfairness that would enable the rich to stay young, slim, supple and
    mysteriously expressionless while the elderly poor are forced to look old
    and fat and honestly ornery. (Yes, they'll be the ones able to smile but
    at what?)

    The peril of poisonfacedness can be summarized in a chestnut at once sexist,
    ethnicist and age-ist. Rose, a woman recently widowed, begins to spend her
    inheritance on a complete makeover new face, new hairdo, new figure, new
    clothes. Killed by a speeding bicycle courier as she steps out of a beauty
    parlor, Rose stands before God's great judgment seat and says: "For 50 years
    I scrimped and saved, and the minute I'm on my own it's all over. You call
    that justice?"

    The booming voice from on high replies in amazement: "Rose is that you?"

    Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company | Privacy Information

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