Addition to the post on “Why people undergo cosmetic/plastic surgery”

November 30, 2011

I want to comment on the blog post about “Why people undergo cosmetic/plastic surgery. Since this is what we talked about in class today, I think this is an interesting topic to discuss. Today, we talked about the many people that undergo plastic / cosmetic surgery and what their reasons for that might be. We also discussed the question of when and at what point it is reasonable to undergo cosmetic surgery. Is it only justified when someone was in an accident – is it even justified when someone is simply not content with his or her body? Or is it justified in any case – is it a personal choice? Whether cosmetic surgery is considered because of an aesthetic aspect (boost of self-esteem, etc.) or because someone is severely injured due to an accident… Either way – I find one question particularly interesting: What are the consequences of an unsuccessful cosmetic surgery? There are more than enough illegal surgeons and the mortality rate is tremendously high. Too many people die of cosmetic surgeries – which is also due to unreliable and illegal doctors. Way too many surgeries are performed outside the hospital in a doctor’s office. Of course, they are a welcome “second income generator” for the surgeons and the effort for the doctors is very small. Often,  little more physician training is required than a weekend hands-on seminar. Many doctors are not only insufficiently qualified but also discharge many patients too hastily. Not long after the patients have completed extensive surgical procedures and prolonged anesthesia or awake sedation, they are released and left on their own without any supervision. It doesn’t happen too often but it still happens that – in the worst case – this early discharge after an operation can lead to death. Many patients also have the need to not only undergo one cosmetic surgery but to combine one surgery with another surgical / cosmetical procedure. But: Most of the times, the additional (increased) risk of major complications is not being considered – neither by patients nor by the doctors. There is (of course) also the pressure to be beautiful – as the author of the blog post on “Why people undergo cosmetic / plastic surgery” mentioned. The main problem is that plastic surgery is often confused with cosmetic salon treatments (like beuaty treatments or wrinkle-reducing injections). Many people forget about the risks of more “serious” procedures and only focus on living up to the standard of “beauty”. There is no personal definition of beauty anymore. TV, media and the other perople around us give us the idea of what “beatiful” and “beauty” should mean – and we believe it. The pressure to be beautiful confuses people and makes them believe almost everything. There is the risk of being trapped in cross-sellings (as already mentioned) where serious medical procedures are sold to unwitting customers when they just go to have a non-invasive beauty treatment.

As I already mentioned, I think that this question of “What might the consequences of an unsuccessful surgical procedures be?” is one of the most interesting. To me, it doesn’t matter whether people want to undergo cosmetic surgery or whether it is justified in some cases or not or if it is only a matter of personal decision. I think that it is most important to know about the facts and risks of cosmetic surgery and that everyone can make the decision of whether to undergo cosmetic surgery or not informed and based on the facts. Personally, I think that it is everyone’s personal choice to decide whether he or she needs to / should undergo surgery or not.

How should we deal with “freaks”?

November 30, 2011

Watching David Lynch’s “Elephant Man” made me think about the way I and most people interact with so called freaks (I will use the word “freak” in the absence of a better general term to describe persons with any disorder, disability or unusual appearance, despite of its offending connotation. In addition to that, I intentionally use “freak” to create a judicial connection between the exposure of “freaks” in freak shows and in modern TV-shows).

During a discussion in class, my impression, that this question cannot be answered easily, was affirmed. I think, the main problem is our own uncertainty and our lack of experience in this field of interaction. We do not know if the freak is fine or offended if we look or even stare. We don’t know if it is okay to joke around or if the freak feels ridiculed and humiliated by it. Do we better ignore the disorder or make it the main topic? Of course, we need to be as compassionate as possible and pity the freak…or don’t we?

Yavannie already wrote about Modern Freak Shows and how they are still present in today’s media.

The usual concept of modern TV-(freak)-shows is to present a freak, explain the medical background and to show extensively how the freak’s life looks like. This concept made me remember an early episode of South Park.

In South Park’s second season episode “Conjoined Fetus Lady“, Nurse Gollum is introduced.

The episode starts very casual with the children playing Dodgeball in PE-class. When Kyle is hit by a ball and is sent to the school nurse because of his bleeding nose, the mood changes. Background music that we usually hear in horror music underline the other childrens’ conversation.

“I heard, the school nurse is hideously deformed.”

“I heard she has tentacles and eats children for lunch.”

“Has anyone actually seen the nurse and come back to tell about it?”

“No Cartman, nobody ever has.”

Kyle’s fear is confirmed (at least for him) as soon as the at first ordinary looking nurse turns and reveals a dead fetus attached to her head.

Nurse Gollum

 While Kyle can’t stop screaming, the surprised nurse explains in a very calm and comfortable way:

“Oh, I see you’ve noticed my disorder. I have a still-born fetus growth attached to my head.”

Later, when Kyle’s mother Sheila overhears the children talking about the nurse, the freak show found its manager. With – of course – only good and charitable reasons in mind, the highly motivated cliché charity-parent starts a crusade to “make the public aware of her” and her disorder, the “conjoined twin myslexia“.

“Her disease should be brought to light so that it can be understood rather than made fun of.”

How clearly uncertain and uncomfortable people usually are, when they are confronted with a grotesque body,is impersonated by the different dinner guests at the dinner that Sheila organized for Nurse Gollum. While Gerald can’t stop to nervously confuse words and therefore to use “dead fetus” in every sentence, Mr. Mackey tries to completely ignore that anything is unusual even when the conversation-topic is fetus-related. Nurse Gollum seems to be the only “normal” person at the table but her statement that she is “a pretty happy person” doesn’t stop Sheila and Principal Victoria to commiserate with her and to offer her different hats that she could wear (to look normal).

The two charity-ladies are so happy and enthusiastic about their movement, that they organize the “Conjoined Twin Myslexia Awareness Week”, consisting of a parade (including only Nurse Gollum), an award-show for the “Lifetime Conjoined Twin Achievement Award” (“This award goes to outstanding conjoined twins who have made a mark on society”), the obligatory video of “the brave life she has lived” (showing her grocery-shopping, in the post office or on her toilette) and another huge event where all people of the audience wear conjoined-twin-hats.

Expecting a grateful and touched speak, everyone is surprised by what Nurse Gollum actually says:

Nurse Gollum: “Thank you, Mayor. I uhhh, wa-I… I don’t know what to say; this has been quite a week.”

Sheila: [wiping away a tear] “She’s really touched.”

Nurse Gollum: “What I really wanna say is… well, -egh this may sound odd coming from a woman with a fetus sticking out of her head, but… you’re all a bunch of freaks!” [the crowd is stunned]

The Mayor: [taking the mike] “Uuhh. Freaks with big hearts! And now, le-”

Nurse Gollum: “Don’t you realize that the last thing I ever wanted was to be singled out?” [Sheila and the priest look betrayed] “I just wanted to do my job and live my life like any normal person, but instead, you’ve made everybody focus on my handicap all week long.“ [the look is spreading] Look, I don’t want to be treated different. I don’t want to be treated special orh-or treated gingerly or-I just want to be ridiculed, shouted at, and made fun of like all the rest of you do to each other.” [people are listening] “And take those stupid things off your heads!” [she turns and walks off the stage]

The Mayor: “Oh, my. What an ungrateful bitch.”

Sheila: “Yyeehh, the nerve of some people!”

Kyle: “Hey, you know. That nurse is actually pretty cool.”

Stan: “Yeah. Maybe that dead fetus makes her smarter.”

I think, it’s not necessary to comment on that last scene as it explains my point itself. Of course, this episode does not give us a guideline on how to behave when we are confronted with a “freak”. What it does, is to show us how “freakish” our behavior can be turned by our insecurity and discomfort. There is nor right or wrong or perfect pattern of behavior towards “freaks”, because everyone (“freak” or “normal”) is an individual that needs to be treated individually.

In my opinion, the important message is, that we need to question our own behavior and to calm down and let things flow naturally instead of “freaking out”.



Sources and additional reading:

Child makeover – seriously?!

November 30, 2011

In today’s session we heard and discussed a lot about cosmetic/plastic surgery, but we only talked about adults. Why did we totally ignore plastic surgery for kids? Because it doesn’t exist, as it is completely crazy, unacceptable, and no parents would let their kid undergo cosmetic surgery?  – Well, that is what one could think. Still, it does exist. Of course. Such as so many other things that are actually too extreme to be true.

Researching about cosmetic surgery for kids I came across this documentary about a 7-year-old girl getting bullied because of her big ears. Her parents claim that surgery was the only option and that they only wanted the best for their child. Of course. All parents do. Naturally, as a parent, you do everything possible to keep your kid with a big nose or protruding ears from being teased by other people. Is going to a surgeon to fix everything that is “not right” a good way, though? One could argue that, dealing with the situation that way, you’re automatically confronting your child with this standardized ideal of beauty. In Samantha’s case, by having her undergo cosmetic surgery her mother encourages her to believe that her ears are too big and that there is, in fact, something that is abnormal or not beautiful about her face. Her mom even supports the “arguments” of the kids in school or other people who bully her, since she actually agrees with them and, therefore, takes her girl to a surgeon. (– How the hell, if not at her parents’ suggestion, does this little girl even know of plastic surgery? She probably doesn’t even know yet how to spell it! –) At the end of the video Samantha’s mum says “Kids are mean. They just are”, so she actually gives in to the kids’ bullying (even though she also stated that it was the parents that were mean to her girl) by having her child undergo plastic surgery. Jared, the Subway spokesman, in Super Size me says something that fits to that: “The worls is not going to change, so you have to.” It seems like changing your looks is the only option and changing the way others treat you or/and raising your child to believe in itself is considered impossible. Personally, I think this is the exact opposite of what one should do. Isn’t it more important to raise your child to be a confident person by valuing it in any kind of way, no matter what it looks like? And I’m not saying that Samantha’s parents don’t do that, nevertheless, to me it seems like they opted for the simplest way. Of course, a huge amount of love and appreciation from the parents’ side does not automatically make a girl with big ears be above all the bullying. A way to prevent this problem could be to build up an awareness that there are all kinds of people and that this is one thing that makes mankind diverse and beautiful.  Moreover, you should explain to your child that you do not stare at people or judge them by their looks, as there is no “right” or “wrong” in the way we look.

Or are we, in fact, being selfish or careless by comforting our child with these “empty phrases” and what we should really do is actively try to change something if our child gets bullied?

Is plastic surgery the most effective and, therefore, right answer to bullying? What do you guys think?

A Comparison Between Men

November 30, 2011

On my search for an interesting topic regarding our subject, I remembered stumbling upon a quite absorbing case a while back. Although I had forgotten about the exact details it did not take long to get the information I needed on what I would call the world’s biggest freak show, also known as YouTube. With an astonishing 25.7 million views, I found what I was looking for: the story of the “Tree Man”.

It is the case of the 38-year-old Indonesian man Dede Koswara. He suffers from an illness called epidermodysplasia verruciformis, which is an extremely rare skin disorder that results in a lifelong eruption of wood-like warts’ on various parts of the body. These warts look like bark from a tree and grow infinitely, eventually covering the whole body and resulting in being completely disabled.

While I was re-watching the video I was amazed by the similarities between Joseph Merrick’s and Dede Koswara’s life. When Dede Koswara’s illness arose, he struggled to stay with his wife, who eventually left him. This can be applied to Joseph Merrick as well, whose father forced him to move out after Merricks mother had died and his father remarried. They both had to face rejection caused by their illness. They also both lost their job due to a lack of dexterity that resulted from the deformations of their extremities. Jobless, they had to look for other possibilities to earn a living. Whereas Joseph Merrick asked for a spot in a freak show, Dede Koswara on the other hand was part of an Indonesian circus. By displaying their deformed bodies as attractions to the sensation seeking lower class they earned their living. Another remarkable similarity is the important role of a doctor in their lifes. Dede Koswara became famous when a picture of him appeared on the internet, resulting in veritable media frenzy and inevitable attracted the attention of a group of documentary makers who introduced him to an American dermatologist. Koswara was then diagnosed a rare combination of conditions and was offered a treatment against his illness by the same doctor. Through surgery a lot of the mass on his legs and arms was removed and he was again able to write, walk and use his extremities without pain. Joseph Merrick also attracted the attention of a doctor who started examining his body in order to diagnose his illness and later offered a place in the hospital where the staff cared for him. A last, tragic, similarity is the missing cure for both illnesses. Whereas for Joseph Merrick there was no cure known whatsoever, there is no real treatment for Koswaras illness as well. Although surgery is possible it would take about two surgeries a year to remove the infinitely growing warts and alternative treatment has not been successful as of now.

When looking at different examples of humans with these sorts of deformations the similarities are striking. Many of these people have been on display for the public in one way or another, if in a freak show or in the media. While the sensation these disabled people create may be cruel, there are cases where the attention they get is helpful and leads to an actual improvement of their quality of life. There are also cases that prove that although one has a deformed body, one can still live a rather private life, as the video I attached shows, provided there is enough support from the surroundings. Whatever the case, people with illnesses like the aforementioned have an extraordinary hard life and I truly admire the strength they have to cope with their situation.

Why people undergo cosmetic/plastic surgery

November 30, 2011

Over the last ten years, cosmetic surgery has extremely increased in popularity. There are a lot of people who definitely want to undergo cosmetic surgery for several reasons. They already know that such a surgery is unsafe, but according to them it is only unsafe when the surgeon is not qualified. There are some important reasons why they get a cosmetic surgery.
Firstly, some people may have gone through difficult times like a long period of sickness or a serious loss of weight so they want to correct the damages or disfigurements which are caused by any illness. To solve these problems, which could cause health issues, they get cosmetic surgery. For instance, if someone has problems with the bones (or an illness) and has to be operated to be healthy again. Sometimes such a surgery is the only way to survive. So this is one essential reason why people run the risk of surgery.
Furthermore, accidents also lead people sometimes to get a cosmetic surgery. People may have serious injuries caused by accidents like car crashes, sports, work accidents or anything one can think of. And the only option to fix such a problem may be a cosmetic or plastic surgery. When people get a cosmetic surgery because of these two reasons that I mentioned above, it is more or less justified to do so (in order to be healthy again).
But there are also other reasons which are just a personal decision. For example, people tend to a cosmetic surgery to boost their self-esteem. When someone changes something to her/his body that he/she have always wanted, this person want to present the change to others, so he/she appears much more self confident. So, the reason of boosting the self-esteem plays also a decisive role, although it does not change one’s life.
Moreover, to correct their deformities on their faces or bodies, people also take reconstructive surgeries. That means for example they want to correct physical birth defects like for example cleft lips and palates and ear deformities, traumatic injuries like those from dog bites or burns, or the aftermath of operations like rebuilding a female’s breast after they have undergone surgery for breast cancer.
Another factor that leads people to undergo plastic surgery is vanity. One can see botox, face lifts, augmenting of breast as vanity procedures. Especially women want to show other people how perfect they are, perhaps to attract attention. Whatever the reason might be, there are statistics that give some huge numbers about cosmetic surgery. Just in the United States, about eleven million cosmetic surgeries were performed in 2006. Also patients who do not have the money try to find any possibility to have the cosmetic surgery they want to. For instance, they contact a person who illegally performs surgeries. Of course this endangers the health of patients who risk such an operation, but if they really are committed to have a certain change of their faces or bodies they accept the risks.
Aside from successful procedures, there are also disastrous ones not only caused by illegal “surgeons” but also by qualified surgeons. In my opinion, surgeries are acceptable if one undergoes it for example after an accidental damage in the face. But if you take serious risks just for vanity, you exceed the limits of cosmetic surgery. The probability of a unsuccessful end also exists so is this not putting the body on the line? I am sure there are different opinions about the moral correctness of this issue. However, the pros and cons are apparently shown by the media, so the last decision has to be chosen by patients themselves.

The ownership of the body and surgery in “Repo! – the Genetic Opera”

November 30, 2011

Always when I hear the word ‘surgery’, be it plastic or reconstructional, my thoughts drift away to the rock opera “Repo!” (2009) (there is also a film called “Repo Man” with a similar plot, but without the singing). I especially like it because of its uniqueness of combining the main topic surgery with a mean humour and the concept of an opera.

The story is set in the not too distant future, where an epidemic of organ failures reduces mankind rapidly and panic erupts. There is no immunisation and no help, until the multi-billion dollar biotech company GeneCo emerges as saviour and presents the solution: artificially cultivated organs. The problem is that they are expensive, and not everyone is able to afford the treatment GeneCo offers, but without the transplantation they would have to die. Even for this dilemma the biotech company has a solution, which is easy organ financing. The organs have to be paid in instalments. Because GeneCo has a monopoly, and is the only hope of mankind, it is able to make some new laws, of which one is repossession. Those who cannot keep up their payments, get a friendly visit by the Repo Man, who collects the organs and takes them back to GeneCo. And the tragic thing is: the organs get ripped out of the living organism, which usually results in their permanent end. So, many humans are in debt to this big company and live in mortal fear to miss their payments, but kind of everybody is saved from the epidemic, hooray. Now, because GeneCo is a financial, political and a cultural power to be reckoned with, the whole future society develops around this company and the omnipresence of surgery and organ transplantation. Bodily modifications become fashion statements and some organs really get kind of fancy (yay, get the coolest liver of them all!). Some people even get addicted to this new, fashionable surgery (and to the painkillers as well). And because nearly no one is rich enough to just buy them, this means more organ financing contracts for GeneCo and even more work for the Repo Men. So many people live their daily lives with organs in them which they do not own. Because they only have to be a bit late with the payment, their life can be forfeit, which means that the ownership of their body and life lies in GeneCo’s hand.

Well, I personally find that concept quite interesting. It means bodily transgression at the cost of freedom. Somehow, there always is a price to pay for modifications, even in reality. Well, in reality, it could be said, there is less at stake than in “Repo!” but at least health, money and position within society. If a surgical accident happens and a simple cosmetic surgery turns the human into an ugly abomination, does this person not pay with their social life? What if it it is not only a cosmetic surgery but one, on which the life of the person depends? What I think ist a quite intresting in “Repo!” is that the organs, which are provided, are not from a donator, but are expensive nontheless and are even considered to be of more worth than the human they save. I always asked myself, if they could practically reuse a repossessed organ. Would something like this be possible in a few years?

The delusion of steroid-abuse and bulimia

November 30, 2011

Bigger, faster, stronger! This is a line we all have heard a thousand times. Be it in Kanye West’s song “stronger” or on various commercial ads. We are all expected to look like Brad Pitt. When we fail to look like Tommy Hilfiger’s modles, we have somehow failed. We are inferior. Society gives us the ideal image of what we are supposed to look like.

When looking at the fitness-food-supplement-industry, we only have to look at some of the product’s names and we get an idea of what is expected from us:

“Createston”, “Anabolic  Stack”, “Testo-Stack” – these names suggests that we, as men, ought to be muscular, manly testosteron-studs.

So if we fail to be lean and muscular, and if we don’t have at least a decent amount of muscle on our body, we are shameful creatures, but you certainly are not a man. “So please…don’t take that shirt off!”

This may sound funny, but it is in many cases deadly! Namely, when it leads to the abuse of anabolic steroids or to bulimia.

Some young men are convinced that they are worthless feminine whimps. Their inferiority complexes, which have been fueled by society, make them forget the numerous potentialy deadly side-effects of abusing anabolic steroids.

For men, the short term side effects of abusing anabolic steroids are roid-rage, depression water retention, atrophy of the testicles, gynecomastia or growing of female breasts on men, acne, high cholesterol which may result in heart attacks or strokes, growth problems in young men, cardio vascular problems, prostate cancer, liver problems and so forth.

Only very few women abuse steroids but the side effects of steroid abuse are also severe in females. The most famous side effect came to the world’s attention back at around 1970, when the female olympic swimmers of the DDR had grown manly beards. For women, other side effects of abusing steroids are coarse skin, deepening of the voice, shrinking of the breasts, growth of the clitoris, disruptions of the menstrual cycle, weakening of the immune system, high cholesterol levels, cardiovascular damage and the increased risk of heart attacks and the list of the side-effects for men and women goes on and on and on if you choose to research it.

And above it all, abusing steroids is a criminal act and you may even have to spend time behind bars if you take part in it.

Many women struggle with bulimia. Bulimia is an eating disorder. The people suffering from it binge eat big amounts of food and then vomit it out a couple of minutes later. 90% of the people suffering from this disease are women and only 10% are men.

Binge eating, constant vomiting and the undercaloric intake of nutrition result in an array of symptomes: dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, inflammation of the esophagus, rupture of the esophagus, oral traumas, caused by the frequent insertion of the fingers into the mouth, constipation, infertility, severe dental erosion, swollen salivary glands and so on.

These women have been manipulated and made believe by society that they are worthless and ugly if they have an inch to pinch.

Some people suffer from such horrendous inferiority and shame complexes, that they are willing to take all the above risks in order to look allegedly perfect, to belong to the allegedly big, the allegedly strong, the allegedly fast, the allegedly beautiful.


Sources for the side-effects:

Who is responsible for the popularity of cosmetic surgery?

November 30, 2011

Everybody agrees that humans act due to the norms of society. If certains things seem approved by the society more people tend to act like that. That is why many criticise cosmetic surgery and say that people who do it set bad examples. Also advertising is supposed to set bad role models if they make print ads or big posters with photoshopped girls with well-formed breasts. Nowadays you see more naked people in the media than you see real naked people. That of course changes the ideal people have in mind of how a perfect body should look. But can you really say that the TV industry is responsible for all this development, as it is often said? It definitely doesn´t help to advertise with perfect bodies or to have shows that search for the next skinny top model, where women who do not have the right measurements are sent away. But the TV producers only produce what people watch. There are enough TV programmes that don´t show ads or shows like that, but they have lower audience ratings and are not as popular as those who do. So what does this say about society? And is only bad TV responsible for all of that?

The ideal we nowadays have is a naturally very rare body. A slim, not too skinny body with round butt and big breasts. Maybe this could to some extent be explained by reproduction intelligence, because in all times women with wide hips and round breasts were considered fertile. This, combined with the modern ideal to be slim, however creats a paradox. Normally women are formed either way, not both. They are either curvy or slim and sporty. Or they are very lucky or had surgery.

The possibility plastic surgery gives also changes the way people, who do not fit the norm, are seen in society. If you have very small breasts or a big hook nose society almost expects you to do surgery. These people are often asked why they don´t do anything about their looks. But actually if they feel comfortable in their skin and act like that to the outside, people get used to it or don´t see the otherness at all. You don´t necessarily need a perfect body to be confident with yourself. I have a friend about whom you could say she is really quite fat. But she is an outgoing person and is dressed nicely and does her hair well, she adapts perfectly in society and has many friends. Of course she is not free from jealousy sometimes, when her skinny friends eat whatever they want because of good genes or whatever reason. She could lose weight if she wanted and she could also have plastic surgery or a stomach reduction to lose weight easier but she doesn´t want to because she is comfortable enough with her body. That shows that it is maybe harder to be confident in your body if you are different to the norm, but not impossible.

People who do plastic surgery are often called shallow or superficial, but I would rather say that they just have a weak personality that they have to strengthen with a perfect body. In the media you often hear about women whose breasts sag after they breastfed their children and they are therefore even ashamed to show themselves to their own husbands. I really pity those women, not because of their looks, but because of their low self-esteem. They have the feeling their husbands wouldn´t like them anymore with hanging breasts as if they couldn´t find anything else that is worth being liked in their bodies or their personality. That is very sad if you think about it. Also they have no trust in other people, or their husbands, to think so badly about them. Maybe there should be more documentaries about these women or others where they don´t have the operation in the end but find something else to help them be confident about themselves again. It is not always easy but there has to be another way than to have a dangerous operation if you are not totally self-confident.

I want to be Barbie… that bitch has everything!

November 30, 2011

99% of American  3 to 10 year-olds  have at least one Barbie doll.

Barbie is considered one of the 101 influential people who never lived.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Grotesque in the “Alien” movies – Violation of Boundaries

November 29, 2011

When watching the “Alien” movies (“Alien” 1979, “Aliens” 1986, and “Alien³” 1992) for the first time, their grotesque potential did not occur to me at once – which might also be due to the genre (In the Sci-Fi mode, the audience is probably more tolerant towards the invention of new worlds and thus new creatures). However, going over the main themes again a few days later, certain elements revealed themselves to be fairly grotesque: The permanent threat to the boundary of one’s own body, and the issue of control over it.

More precise information about the three movies can be found on the Internet Movie Database (, so here I will only provide a short overview of some relevant events:

In the first film (“Alien”, 1979), Warrant Officer Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) is part of the crew of the space ship Nostromo which lands on a foreign planet; this is where the unfortunate crew discovers the existence of a very dangerous species, the Alien creatures. In the course of the movie, the viewers learn that the creatures are hard to defeat because of their well-constructed lizard-like bodies and their acid blood. What makes the encounters with the aliens even more unpleasant is the fact that they need human bodies to breed: After a queen creature has laid a large number of eggs, small creatures hatch from them which remind you of spiders or crabs. These attach themselves to the face of their future “host”, injecting a small but fast-growing creature into the body of the helpless person (interrupting this process is lethal to the victim). This tactic is the reason why these crawling beasts are also called “facehuggers”. Directly after that process, the victim feels perfectly fine. However, after an astonishingly short time, he or she chokes, due to the alien creature forcing its way out of the body and destroying the host’s torso from the inside out on the way. In the course of the movie, all the crew members except for Ripley are killed; she is the only one who manages to escape and get rid of the last alien in her emergency shuttle.

As a sequel to the 1979 movie, “Aliens” (1986) describes the return of another crew to the alien planet, with Ripley on board again. A representative of the company Ripley works for turns out to be planning the production of biological weapons on the basis of alien specimen. It is not surprising that most of the new crew is killed, except for Ripley, a child they find on their endeavour, and the heavily damaged android Bishop.

“Aliens³”(1992) picks up the thread at this point, describing how the survivors land on a prison planet which is mostly inhabited by male convicts with a genetic anomaly (“double-Y”-syndrome). This time, a “facehugger” contaminates a dog, thus setting free an alien creature that starts killing instantly. When it attacks Ripley, she is completely unharmed by it. She later finds out that an alien queen embryo is growing inside her, protecting her from every further attack. Although her company wants to extract the embryo, she decidesto kill herself and the erupting queen creature in order to prevent a systematic breeding of the creatures and to make sure the aliens can’t cause any further harm.

As a genre in which horror elements are of a rather great importance, the grotesque takes over a major part in creating an uncomfortable feeling at some crucial points, thus keeping up the viewer’s interest as well as the tension throughout the movies. It is mainly the transgression of the boundaries of the human body that triggers ancient fears.

In all the encounters with the alien creatures, humans are degraded to the function of mere hosts for the reproduction of the stronger species, posing a permanent threat to the safety of their own bodies. The nasty fact that once infected victims have no chance to defend themselves against the foreign organism inside them, but appear to be perfectly healthy to their environment until their sudden and violent death, contributes greatly to the atmosphere of suspicion and tension in the movies: The audience can feel with those who face the danger of unwillingly hosting a hostile and deadly breed. It should be remarked that the person carrying the embryo is a woman, which could also be read as a grotesque and macabre degradation of human pregnancy.

It is the issue of this loss of control over the own body, its natural functions and its safe boundaries that makes the described elements of the movie frightening – and grotesque. For the aliens are grotesque, both following Bakhtin’s theory that the grotesque body extends far beyond the limits of what is perceived as a natural bodily unit, and taking into account which sort of creatures they resemble: Spiders, crabs, lizards, insects – all animals which are likely to be found in grotesque literature due to their peculiarities (large number of legs, way of movement, i.e.). Another analogy to Bakhtin is that the respective bodies are definitely in the act of becoming – in this case, via the parasitic pregnancy: Something new literally (and, unfortunately, violently) emerges from the old (whether the ‘old’ likes it or not).

If you are interested in the larger thematic complex, I can recommend Marie Hermanson’s “värddjuret” (German title: “Die Schmetterlingsfrau”), which also deals with an uncomfortable kind of “pregnancy” and the blurring of boundaries between a female body and an animal. The element of insect-like creatures already appears in Kafka’s text “Die Verwandlung”, which is not only grotesque, but also highly absurd.


The Internet Movie Database on the Alien-trilogy

Mikhail Bakhtin, “The Grotesque Image of the Body” (excerpts)