I was in a lifestyle consumer culture lecture at Nottingham Trent circa 2009/2010 when a bloke named Stephen Mennel was cited as someone who had done considerable work on the study of diets through the lens of anthropology and sociology. Going through my notebooks I attributed a quote to Mennel, ‘The trend towards increased self control is a result of a broader civilizing process.’
‘The Civilizing Process’, is a ground-breaking piece of work in the field of figurational sociology done by German-Jewish sociologist Norbert Elias, the book purports [in general terms] that human beings have been systematically civilized with the use of language & ‘mannerisms’ from the dark ages up to the 1900’s. One can argue that today, technology is employed in the civilizing process, à la Brave New World style.
What Elias lays out is that all which is considered ‘normal’ has been dictated by the financial elite and/or royal elite since the dark ages, to shape the ‘civility’ of today. Yo! Remember when Heath Ledger’s Joker sort of touched on this in The Dark Knight?
Following Elias’s logic, since the monkey days of Space Odyssey 2001, there has been a system of influence trickled down from the top of a triangular pyramid scheme structure, trickling down pre-approved codes of civilized behaviours down to the lesser ‘important’ monkeys, serving the top while enslaving the bottom to present to you The Matrix.
Following Elias (the way I interpret it) the civilizing process created laws to minimize acts of violence, rape and so forth. Ultimately though (as commie and Marxist as I sound) these codes of ethics allowed capitalism to flourish. You can’t do business with someone who wants to kill you and take your business any ways. So rules were created to ‘civilize’ the increasing number of uncontrollable homo sapiens experiencing evolution. Machiavelli dropped ‘The Prince’ in 1531 which became the holy grail of a guidance book for western rulers all round; how to keep the public under the rule of thumb. Aldous Huxley dropped dime when he prophesied the rulers of today would be a group of elite oligarchs. They will replace the popes and spirituality with the velocity of Scientism.
But back to Menell, who focuses on the anthropological, sociological constitutions of diets, Mennell outlined that one’s diet is dictated by class & gender, I have some vague notes that according to Mennell obesity is sometimes read as the inability to control your own body and anorexia is seen as the opposite; therefore eating habits seem to be normalised through the civilizing process, in some cases Obesity = a failure to self control, Anorexia = a fail to self control. Pierre Bordieu who stays true to the mammalian primitive nature of man, feels moderation + restraint are associated with bourgeois practices. That the upper classes are more prone to regulate a healthy diet which then dictates the diet trends for the rest of the masses.
Susan Bordo a feminist philosopher (it’s a thing) believes, – contemporary rejection of the traditional feminine body is associated with the maternal domestic figure. Hips, Stomach, Breasts. The maternal image is con-temporarily replaced by a feminine body fit for the masculine workplace. The lean feminine body signifies an identification with the traditional values of masculinity. Bordo suggests there is a sense of empowerment experienced from rejecting the association between femininity and domesticity. To reach the ‘Ideal’ of female slenderness becomes more pervasive through identification with female empowerment. Atkins Diet I noted enabled a masculine-ization of diet for both sexes.
The preoccupation with Fat/Slenderness is one of the ‘normalizing’ mechanisms through which modern societies are regulated. For example, Fat programs make people compare themselves and ignite a debate of social discourse vs. media discourse. Systems of control stay preying on individual insecurities it’s kind of sad sometimes.
I relate the theories and suggestions of Bordo, Bordieu, Menell & Elias to the Yin & Yang symbology, personally speaking of course. I now believe that there is no straight or gay, there is only grey. Nothing is set in stone. What I ponder is how the influence of the ‘ideal’ body reaches the masses. The social engineering that influences taste, diet, sexual behaviours as well as lifestyle choices, I feel the “Concept of Cool” plays a big part in this. I will do something on this soon… The Concept of ‘Cool’ that is.
Trying to keep my word-count below 1k So signing off with a paragraph from Menell’s Taste, Culture & History.
IS ‘TASTE’ A HUMAN UNIVERSAL?
First, can we say that ‘taste’ is a human universal, that the capacity to discriminate between foods on the basis of social preferences has existed ever since the emergence of Homo Sapiens, when the human species was not numerous and existed only in small foraging bands? Yes, probably, in one sense. It has been noted that no human group in normal times eats everything of potential nutritional value that is available to it in its environment. Earthworms, for instance, must be among the most widely distributed of edible fauna, but I don’t know of any human group – apart from Britain’s SAS special forces – where they are a normal and preferred item of diet. Mary Douglas was probably right in arguing that ‘each individual, by cultural training, enters a sensory world that is presegmented and prejudged for him’ (1972: 62). The propensity for humans to make patterned classifications of foods is probably universal, and of course Claude Lévi-Strauss sought to show that distinctions between the raw, the cooked and the rotten played a fundamental part in the structure of thought.