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Eugenics, Aesthetics, and Mass Culture, Essay Example

Pages: 4

Words: 1094

Essay

Martin S. Pernick provides an interesting historical perspective on the concept of eugenics in early twentieth century America. (Pernick).  Those leaders of Eugenics, in this time period, attacked mass culture perspectives for distorting their views on scientific concepts. Around 1918 it was a surgeon called Harry Haiseldon that stunned the nation by referring to the death of six young infants as “defectives”.  A term used for those he considered as unfit to live.  This initially obtained intense media coverage for the controversy surrounding such a statement. Nevertheless, the interest was not sustained and by the 1920’s it had faded away. Pernick asserted that that the concept of eugenics and its influence on the mass media created the battleground where scientists and others tried to reshape the concept of eugenics. Pernick attributed great value to the history of eugenics because it increased the transparency of cultural value judgements . As such it applied labels to human conditions considering them either a disease or defect as opposed to examining the underlying factors of causation.

The influence aesthetic judgement had on the understanding of disease in the 20th century, as well as treatment methodologies,  was a bi-product of the eugenics movement and detrimental enough for its effects to be visible on contemporary society. Despite the controversy of early twentieth century opinion, the subject matter remains equally controversial to this very day.  We still have discrimination against the disabled and those with life threatening diseases.  This can be seen in the fact that the United States has some of the highest quality medical care, but it’s virtually unaffordable for those who need it most. Pernick felt that there was a degree of futility in trying to gain objectivity into this subject matter, particularly with concepts attributed to physical disease and subjective values.  The concept of eugenics surfaced a considerable number of important questions on items like that of improvement, heredity and how heredity should be improved. It left some doubt as to who was the authority to provide definitive answers to these questions.

Aesthetics, or external beauty, is considered a a core part part of eugenics, as it is the motivating factor behind the ideology. Pernick asserted that eugenics promised to make humanity beautiful in addition to the qualities of strength and intelligence.  He pointed out that this started as far back with the work of Charles Darwin  and his study of ‘the descent of man’ in 1871.  Another person that influenced this school of thought was Albert Wiggins who viewed human appearance as being a sign of human fitness.  As such he thought of morality, good health and fitness as barometers of beauty. The eugenicists did not just accept cultural standards but attempted to improve current accepted standards. As eugenics focused on physical perfection and equated items like fitness with beauty it equally considered a disability to be ugly and regarded this as repulsive and a true handicap of the individual concerned. Early Eugenicists were also racist and scorned the concept of getting ugly female immigrants. They considered many of the  female immigrants coming into New York as ugly and devoid of beauty and not fit to become Americans. It was Harry Haiselden who made specific comments  on associating blackness with ugliness

Eugenics also incites prejudice in the form of racism or other types of bigotry through the unrealistic expectations it places on genetics.. It can be seen as te core cause of The Holocaust. During the Second World War (1939-45), the National Sociality (Nazi) party in Germany were responsible for stereotyping the Jews living in Europe.  Stereotyping is often sourced in hatred, prejudice and bigotry. The concept of stereotyping is that of making generalizations about a person or groups of people. In some cases, a picture or representation is made allowing the reader to articulate the blanks. This can be very dangerous and lead to persecution as in the case of the European Jews.  The Nazi regime portrayed the Jews as monsters and dehumanized them as not portraying real human beings. They were seen as fat lazy rich people, often ridiculed with long bended noses and seen to look down on the poorer working classes of Europe.  This was particularly evident in the cartoons that they produced in Poland and Germany in the early stages of the war.   Jews have been traditionally stereotyped as ‘adept money handlers’.  In early European times, this practice was restricted from both Jews and Arabs as it was considered morally reprehensible by the Christians.  Many Jews became tax collectors and government officials making them easy targets for stereotyping models of hatred.

The implementation of eugenics as a viable policy or belief within a society leaves behind a stigma imposed on those who least benefit from the theories, and shared by the ones put on a pedestal.  Stigma is  often defined as discrimination, prejudice or bias against other people who are often deemed inferior in some way e.g. Mental patients, drug addicts, alcoholics, those with HIV/Aids and in some cases gender related alike that of homosexuals or lesbians. Women’s rights campaign is a specific example of stigmatism that has been perpetuated over hundreds of years. The struggle for women’s rights remains an international concern, even to this very day.  In particular, the rights of the African woman who toils night and day amidst almost intolerable conditions of poverty.  They suffer extremely difficult social and prejudicial conditions.  Despite all of this, women continue to fight for their human rights, race eloquence and tenacity.  Religion is also a contribution factor in denying women their basic rights.  The Islamic world seems particularly at fault here, unable to break away from outmoded tradition.  Prejudice here seems more focused towards women in the lower classes of society.

Conclusions

In sum, eugenics is just a form of unsupported science that promotes racial hatred and it should not be tolerated in a modern, educated and globalized society.  It is steeped in ignorance, bigotry, and lack of education. Despite the importance and need to encourage freedom of speech, I believe that we still need to retain some ethical guidelines over what is deemed responsible behaviour from the mass public. This is not to impose levels of censorship but the need to make people reconsider their actions by policies of intervention and debate.  It is important that we engage both controversial and extremist points of view. This needs to be accomplished in a professional and responsible manner within the framework of our democratic and constitutional rights.

Works Cited

Pernick, M.S. “Defining the Defective Eugenics, Aesthetics and mass culture in early twentieth century America.” The body & Physical difference (1997).

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