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OUR OBSESSION OVER FOOD IS RIDICULOUS

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Sometimes a civilisation can become so sophisticated that it believes it can overcome truth. We have become one of those civilisations. As a consequence of our arrogance, we have come to believe that we can circumvent some of the most fundamental truths about reality. We blame inequality on the social structure even though most social animals live in hierarchies. We believe that primitive people are noble even though mankind in its primitive state is more violent than at any other stage. And we believe that we can change the way human beings eat despite the fact that it is making us unhappy.

It is our modern obsession over diet and exercise that I would like to focus on. This obsession has arisen from a society that is too safe, too free, and too prosperous for its own good. This is not to say that safety, freedom, and prosperity are bad things. Indeed, we should get down on our knees and thank God every day that we live in a country that has these things. However, it is also true that too much safety, freedom, and prosperity breeds passivity and complacency. The hardships our ancestors faced – war, poverty, disease – are no longer problems for us. Therefore, we lack the meaning that these hardships bring to our life. As a result, we have come to invent problems. Among these has been a tendency to render the consumption of certain food as something unhealthy, unethical, or both.

Our modern obsession with food is causing significant personal problems. On the one hand, the ease in which food, especially that which is laden with sugar, is causing a rise in cases of obesity. (Note: I am using the word ‘obesity’ as a blanket term for people who are overweight). It is a uniquely modern problem. Our ancestors never battled weight gain because they were only able to find or afford enough food to keep them and their families from starving. Now the quantity, cheapness, and, in many cases, poor quality of food means that the fattest amongst are also often the poorest. But obesity is less a problem that arises out of food and more of a problem arising from laziness and gluttony. (Naturally, I am excluding health problems and genetic disorders from this conclusion).

On the other hand, however, our obsession over being skinny or muscle-bound is also causing problems. I have seen plenty of people who are clearly overweight. In rare cases, I have even seen people who are so morbidly obese that it can only be described as breathtaking. However, I have also seen women (and it primarily women, by the way) who can only be described as unnaturally thin. It is as though our society, having realised that being overweight is healthy, has decided that its opposite must be good. It isn’t. Just right is just right.

And it’s not just individuals who are subjecting themselves to this kind of self-imposed torture. And it’s not limited to people in the here and now, either. In 1998, The Independent reported that many doctors in the United Kingdom were concerned that well-meaning parents were unintentionally starving their children to death by feeding them low fat, low sugar diets. These children were said to be suffering from the effects of “muesli-belt nutrition.” They had become malnourished because either they or their parents had maintained had become obsessed with maintaining a low-fat, low-sugar, low-salt diet. The article reported: “Malnutrition, once associated with slums, is said to have become an increasing problem for middle-class families in the past fifteen years. The victim of so-called ‘muesli-belt nutrition’ are at risk of stunted growth, anaemia, learning difficulties, heart disease and diabetes.”

Our obsession over diet is really a sign of how well-off our society is. Our ancestors had neither the time nor the resources to adhere to the kind of crazy-strict diets that modern people, in their infinite stupidity, decide to subject themselves to. It is high time we stopped obsessing over food and got a grip.

FRANKENSTEIN

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This week for our culture article we will be looking at Mary Shelley’s (1797 – 1851) 1818 Gothic masterpiece, Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus. The story that gave rise to countless plays, radio-shows, TV shows, movies, video games, and created one of the most iconic characters in horror.

BACKGROUND

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Mary Shelley was inspired to write Frankenstein whilst touring Europe with her future-husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792 – 1822), in 1814. On the Rhine, they visited Castle Frankenstein where they were told a ghoulish story about a mad alchemist who had attempted to resurrect corpses two centuries prior.

Two years later, in the summer of 1816, the Shelleys travelled to the Swiss Alps but were forced to stay in their lodgings due to bad weather. (1816, for anyone who is interested, was known as ‘the Year Without Summer’ – an event caused by the eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815).

There, joined by Lord Byron (1788 – 1824), they amused by reading Fantasmagoriana, a book of German ghost stories that had been translated into French. Byron suggested they all put pen to paper and see who could write the best ghost story.  Shelley, much to her dismay, was unable to think of a story. Then one night, after they had all gone to bed, Shelley had a waking dream:

“I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion. Frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of  any human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world.”

Initially, Shelley only thought her dream only gave her enough material for a short story. However, she was encouraged by Percy Bysshe Shelley to turn it into a fully fledged book. Setting herself to this task, Shelley finished writing her story in April/May 1817. It was picked up by publishers Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor, and Jones and published in January of 1818.

ANALYSIS

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In one sense, Frankenstein is a cautionary tale. By using Victor Frankenstein and his creation as an example, Shelley’s classic tale warns us of the dangers of interfering with the world’s natural order. There are things in this world, Frankenstein tells us, that are beyond our ability to understand, and which are better left alone.

Both Victor Frankenstein and his creation are tragic figures. For Victor, it is ultimately his obsession with Natural Philosophy (that’s the archaic name for the sciences), his passion, and his unchecked ambition that lead to his downfall. In trying to play God, Victor creates the catalyst for his own doom. In the end, it is his remorse, shame, and burning hatred that destroy him.

Similarly, Victor’s creation is also destroyed by his hatred. This hatred, however, is not borne of remorse or shame, but of rejection. Victor’s creation is intelligent and articulate. He desires human companionship, but, due to his hideous appearance and massive size, finds people to be cruel and unwelcoming. Even Victor himself fails to see his creation as adequately human, not even bothering to give him a name (Victor’s creation is referred to as ‘wretch’, ‘monster’, ‘creature’, daemon’, ‘devil’, ‘fiend’, and ‘it.’) Ultimately, it is this rejection that leads Victor’s creation to destroy not only Victor Frankenstein, but also himself.

Frankenstein is ultimately a tale of what happens when we fail to see others as human. It reminds us of the limitations of human endeavour, and what may happen when we surpass those limitations. But, more importantly, it reminds us of the importance of love and compassion.