H+: Michael Jackson seems to reflect various trans-mutant themes.
DEWDNEY: For me, Michael Jackson represents a sort of pioneer of self-transformation. Aside from whatever questionable personal motives are impelling him, he is using cosmetic surgery to achieve a look that is definitely transhuman. He has taken us by proxy to the frontier of what is currently possible with cosmetic surgery and he has even escaped the constraints of race by lightening his skin color. This last aspect is perhaps the most controversial and disconcerting, but the freedom to choose all your “inherited” features, both familial and racial, will probably become an intrinsic part of the transhuman era.
H+: He reflects, although perhaps not fully consciously, a pursuit of otherness, alienation, and mutation that runs through many contrasting subcultures from psychedelicists to goths to UFO nuts, to early transhumanists, SF fanatics, ad infinitum. And now middle-aged, middle-class ladies have parties to shoot up Botox. Does the mainstream culture show signs of understanding itself as evolving into a mutant breed and do those who need to be different or avant garde have any new avenues opening up to keep them ahead of the hoi polloi?
DEWDNEY: The corollary to the Botox craze is the predicament of disillusionment, nay, misanthropism, that I have found myself immersed in the last couple of years. Perhaps the real ground of my disillusionment is my hard-lost benevolence. I’m an optimist; I like people. Yet when I asked a lot of “average” people — people who weren’t part of my circle — what they would do with the kind of self-transformative power that may perhaps be ours to wield, I was increasingly appalled. The jocks I talked to wanted to be bigger and stronger so they could beat the shit out of everybody else; the women wanted to morph into their ideal role models. I began to realize that what most people wanted was conformity; their “ideals” would turn us into a world of underachieving Nicole Kidmans and eight-foot Brad Pitts, identical cut-outs with no individualism.
My previous rather naive notion that biotechnology would free us from the tyranny of “normalcy,” that we could become anything we wanted, morph ourselves into elongated, blue-skinned, orange-haired, sixteen-fingered geniuses or perhaps flying ribbons of sensual bliss that performed acrobatic choreographies above the sunset, was a very utopian and, as it turns out, unpopular dream. Individuality or creative improvisation is the last thing most people want. So Botox is really a dreadful symptom of a new, radical mundanity enabled by biotechnology. And that’s disillusioning.
Originally published in Fall 2008 Edition of h+