Thursday, August 9, 2012

500 Words: The Authority of the Expert

 This is the first in what I hope will be a series of approximately 500 word pieces that I am developing for my thesis.

Throughout the makeover narrative the lead role switches between the participant (the leading lady) and a supporting cast of experts. The surgeon-expert plays the role of advisor, supporter and critic and the makeover ‘subject/participant’ puts themselves in his hands.

The surgeon-expert, vocally supported by a team of lifestyle experts, wields authority over the body of the makeover participant in the broadest of senses. He, (the surgeon in makeover television is almost exclusively male), is both authoritative – his knowledge and skill lending him the right to make recommendations on surgical procedures to the participant whose final decision is controlled by his authority; and authoring – he is the author/(w)riter quite literally writing the changes onto the body in ink, he authors the new ‘after body’ (Jones, 2008) with the tools of his trade: marker, scalpel and anaesthesia. His authority is generated through his position as a medical professional and reinforced through the support he receives from the other experts, the recommendations of the participant’s family that she needs help, his history of successful surgeries and happy customers, his marketing materials (websites, glossy brochures, TV appearances) and, significantly, through his own aesthetic presentation and demeanour.

She, (the makeover participant is predominantly female), surrenders her body; the ‘old body’, first conscious and then unconscious, which is restrained in its ability to resist such convincing authority. This ‘surrender’ is in direct contrast to the importance given in the narration to the active role of the participant. However, once the participant has seen the possibility of the ‘new body’, as proposed by the surgeon-expert, and demonstrated through visualisation technologies, she cannot unsee it. Her authority, that is her right to write her own body future, is overwritten by that of the surgeon-expert. From the moment that she walks through his door she is expected to bow completely to his will. She is bullied/cajoled as necessary to get her to do so. If she refuses to go through with the surgery her relationship with her body is always already influenced by the memory of an ideal could-be/should-be possibility that she will now be unable to achieve.

Many of us never meet the surgeon-expert face-to-face but his authoritative vision/visualisation of the participant’s could-be/should-be body, and by extension all of our could-be/should-be bodies, as presented to us through the media frenzy of makeover culture, leaves an invisible but indelible mark. The surgeon is not only writing the participant’s body future, surgical or otherwise, but also contributing to our own, whether we accept or reject his claim to authority.

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