27 October, 2010

“I Am What I Am,” Said Gloria Gaynor

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those only of the author and may only coincidentally reflect those of Mystic Metals, its employees, or associates. All responses should be posted as comments here, or mailed directly to the author, A. Robert Basile, at ihatebasile@gmail.com. Mail sent directly to Mystic Metals will not be read.

“I Am What I Am,” Said Gloria Gaynor


Social activity with strangers is something that is a little queer to me. Queer in the real definition, you hate mongering children. I am at the bookstore, as I always am, and there is a group demonstration night thing happening for the Barnes & Noble Nook device. It’s kind of like an Amazon Kindle, or the Apple iPad, but it’s different in some way. (Feel free to pay me Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and Apple.) I don’t know how it’s different, and I don’t really care, but there are people gathered in folding chairs as if they are attending class, reading pamphlets, and awkwardly socializing. It’s an interesting social experiment I suppose. I’m just not sure it’s the kind of thing I’d like to participate in. I’ll just read the manual.

I have a friend who is close to my heart. His name is Angus, and I’ve not seen him in quite a while because I am a shitty friend and/or douchebag. (I just added ‘douchebag’ to my computer’s dictionary because I use it so much.) I miss him very much and hope he’s doing well. He posted a video on my Facebook wall that I’m going to talk about. That’s why mentioning Angus was important, in case you were wondering. Thanks, A.

The Pension Fund has an ad campaign. Who doesn’t have an ad campaign. Shit, the other day while watching gymnastics on Universal Sports Network (don’t judge me), I saw a PSA whose thesis was ‘take time to be a dad.’ But the Pension Fund has advertisements. They basically say you ought to save money and think ahead and all of that grown up nonsense. (What they don’t tell you is that we’re all going to be speaking Chinese if we keep spending like we are in this country.) But this new ad by the Pension Fund is actually relevant to what I write about.

Set to Gloria Gaynor’s “I Am What I Am,” which is a wonderful song until the fake sounding orchestration comes in, the fifty second spot plays like an audition tape. People stand in a nondescript space and turn their bodies from side to side. Beautiful people, young people, all types of people show themselves with a certain pride in their aesthetic. The only thing that these people share with one another is that each is modified. Stretched lobes, full sleeves, chest pieces, even a dame who isn’t modified in the body art sense, but rather she clearly has breast implants and facial modifications. A dozen or so people, men and women, share their bodies for the camera. Beautiful people all. Then text interrupts the image. White block letters on a black background read, “It’s a good idea when you’re young” before showing an old, shirtless man with blue bled lettering on his chest that reads, “young free & single.” After a hearty smile from the charming old man, the white block letters return with, “to remember that one day you’ll be older.” The ad concludes with “Start saving your pension. Now.”

I suppose the expected reaction is a laugh at the old man and his age ironic tattoo, or to look at some of these heavily modified people and arrive quickly at the wonderfully knee jerk ‘what will they think when they’re older.’ Obviously the thesis here is that one ought to have forethought when planning one’s future, and saving for a pension is an important thing to do when one is young. I assume. My first reaction was this: Did these people know they were going to be the punch line of a joke? My second reaction was this: More cheap exploitation of modified people to sell an idea of generalization that we in the community already deal with regularly. And then I talked to a modified goddess who took the commercial completely differently. She saw it more as, ‘protect your investment,’ the investment being the modifications and the art of the people who created them.

I was going to line these ad people in my sights and pull the trigger. The gun being the blog, and the bullet being the words. Ugh, that’s awful. But then I considered the positive suggestion. Is the modified goddess’s point of view toward the ad seeing life through rose colored glasses, or is it naivety to the intent of the ad? Let me preface by saying I’m not a positive person on the whole. I also don’t get offended easily, especially if the set up to the joke is something that has a ring of truth to it. Comedy is meant to be funny, not accurate to real life. We live in a society that is so bereft of give in our sensitivities that it is remarkable comedy still exists. Ask Juan Williams and NPR if political correctness has gone too far, and I’m sure you’ll get two different answers. Laughter was never intended to cause guilt.

With that said, is the advertisement celebratory of our behaviors and interests within the culture, or is it using it to exemplify a point that is birthed from an ignorance to our modifications and desires within the modifications themselves? I read it as the latter, and as much as I’d like to agree with the opinion of the modified goddess, I think that the marketing people who designed this advertisement is using a mocking tone toward a culture that is not allowed to be offended. In order for the commercial to work, the viewer needs to accept the mistruth that those who modify at a young age will inevitably regret their modifications at a later age. If the viewer doesn’t read that, then the commercial doesn’t make any sense. In order to accept that mistruth, one has to indulge a preconceived notion about our beautiful culture; one has to believe to be true an assumption made of our society of modification made by those outside the culture. Those outside of the culture perpetuate many stereotypes of those of us within, and one is that we don’t think about or will regret our modifications. Regardless of the group it targets, a stereotype is a stereotype, right? What if the commercial showed a series of black people and then finally a white guy in a suit with the words, “Sorry you were born black and don’t have the opportunities that whites have. Save your pension now.” The point is the same, isn’t it? It’s based on a preconceived notion that blacks are less successful than whites, and if the viewer accepts that, then the commercial works. Is that a fair assumption, or is it a glaring stereotype that we as a society don’t address for fear of upsetting the people the stereotype targets? If it’s a stereotype used in the Pension fund advertisement and we as a society are so sensitive to the feelings of people so much that we avoid stereotypes like the three crusty and disgusting pieces of General Tso’s chicken left in the mall Chinese food display, then why is the premiss of the Pension Fund ad about modified people not out of bounds? Shouldn’t someone step up and say that the ad is based on insensitivity and falsities? Where’s the ACLU? Probably being a terrorist on behalf of another besmirched group. Probably one they can make money of off.

What’s the point. There are ideas about our culture that are held by those who do not participate in the practices of our culture. Just like any group of like-minded people, there are going to be ideas based on misinformation or inaccurate assumption. We are not immune. That is why I talk ad nauseam about our social responsibility when we are confronted by unmodded people with views that may be contrary to our own. I don’t like answering the same question about my lobes or my septum at the four different Wawas I went to today. Maybe I shouldn’t go to Wawa so much, but we have to be fair and open and engaging and interesting, otherwise people with those same preconceived notions who created the Pension Fund advertisement will walk around thinking we’re all godless sadists who get off on pain, don’t consider once our futures, and are otherwise insane for indulging in things unconventional. If these people who assume things about us took a moment to consider the beauty that we are celebrating, then those assumptions would evaporate. Stay beautiful, kids.


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  1. Great read. I often become irked when people askme about my tattoos.
    "What does it mean?"
    Trying to not to offend someone and finding a polite way to say, "It really is none of your business" is often difficult for me. I'm a very quiet and respectful person. I use my manners and hope that other people will be the same but you know everyone is different and not going to feel the same way I do. Maybe they were just trying to start a conversation, but most of the time I feel like I am an exhibit at a zoo and the person who is asking the questions really doesn't care about the personal reasons why I inked my skin.
    I often wonder why people think they have the right to pry into people's personal life without even knowing them. What if I asked them why they wore that green shirt or hat? I think some people think that because we do such 'crazy' things to our bodies that we are an open book to them.

  2. Whew! That was a wonderful read, you have such a way with words. I wonder the same thing, did those people know what the commercial was going to be for and how they'd be portrayed?!
    I also want to thank you for reminding me that when someone asks about my ears or my tattoos that I shouldn't be so quick to be defensive. I have to realize that I do look different and that people will notice that and some will ask. If I'm just a dick to them, that'll only giving modified people a bad wrap which is certainly not the case.
    I love reading your blog!