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IEET > Security > SciTech > Rights > Disability > Life > Innovation > Health > Vision > Bioculture > Interns > Kristi Scott

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Big hairy hobbit feet are OK by me


Kristi Scott
By Kristi Scott
The Yellow Canary

Posted: Jan 7, 2010

I always like watching movies I haven’t seen in a while. Life changes you and your perspectives, so when you watch a movie again later you bring something new to the viewing experience. Potentially a perspective you didn’t think about the first time you went.

This is what happened recently when I watched The Lord of the Rings: The Return of The King (2003) again while obsessively cleaning out my cabinets. (I might note as well that it’s best not to look for the cues, but inadvertently to discover them.) Anyhow, I was watching the movie and observing the interactions between the Hobbits, Humans, Dwarves, Elves, etc.

I thought about their world, which is technologically simple. They fight with bows and arrows, elephants, fire—quite medieval. I couldn’t stop looking at the Hobbits. I love Frodo, Sam, Pippin, and Merriadoc. They are proud of whom they are and that pride was something I couldn’t quite shake.

It made me think of the topic of conversation surrounding genetics and the altering of genomes. While I am admittedly not an expert in genetics, one of the discussions that surround this subject is whether or not we should alter genes. The obvious fallback movie is Gattaca (1997), but there are other ways and film lenses through which to view this discussion. One of the aspects that interests me is who decides what is normal, and what is decided to be changed by scientists vs. society. I recognize that the word “normal” is not necessarily the ideal term to use since normalcy is more an opinion than a fact. Normalcy can be contested depending on which side of normalcy you fall on. When I think of altering genetic features I think of it as having great pros and cons. One of the cons is the perception that there is a desire to “fix” what is not a socially acceptable “normal” feature.

imageAs I was watching The Lord of the Rings: The Return of The King, I thought about what it would be like if this technology—and this discussion—was overlaid onto Middle Earth, after the battle and they all went home. The Hobbits have a proud culture, one where they live together as a community, everything is their size, and they are as happy as anyone can be. They co-exist with those who are dramatically different from them, even if they might not all interact with those other cultures and species on a daily basis.

OK, but now look at it again with this situational overlay. What if the Humans decided that the Hobbits’ feet should be smaller, less hairy, and that the Hobbits should be taller, more like the Humans? Or even, what if the Elves, who live in an Aubrey de Grey type of life where they don’t age but could still get hit by a bus and die, decided that everyone should have rounded ears? Because there is a founded clear superiority for beings to have pointed ears and therefore the inferior rounded ears should be addressed! The feet, ears, hair, height—they are all hindrances to optimal living. Not to pick on the Hobbits, this argument can start from any of the points of view, but the Hobbits seem more relevant in this case than even the Humans to make my argument.

After watching the movie, I started thinking about how I don’t want to change the Hobbits. At least, not unless their feat, ears, and height result in them having some illness or disability that is life-threatening, and as a community there is agreement that these features need to be fixed so that future generations of Hobbits don’t suffer or die from them.

I think the Hobbits are quite great, just the way they are without intervention. What I’m trying to say, then, is that while we are exploring new fantastic ways to understand, change, and enhance ourselves, it’s not necessarily a forward movement to be taken lightly or made rashly. If dividing lines of opinion are to be drawn, both sides need to be heard for their core arguments of pros and cons.

Let’s just make sure that when we alter ourselves we don’t just make cookie-cutter versions, and those who don’t want to participate are respected too. How boring a life that would be for everyone to be the same. There is something to be said for the differences we have that make us unique. If those differences aren’t killing us off, then let them be, unless it’s for aesthetics and vanity (which is another discussion I’ve already ventured in to). I mainly say this for those of you who are concerned that society is going to be stripped of uniqueness. This is for both sides of the aisle on change. The Hobbits are wonderful, and so are the Dwarves, Elves, and Man (the undead army…well…if they can stop killing people and acting crazy that would help their cause).

That’s my take. What do you think?


Kristi Scott M.A. is an IEET Affiliate Scholar. Her work centers on the way popular culture presents issues of identity, body modification, cosmetic surgery, and emerging technologies. She has been a freelance writer since 2003 writing for a variety of magazines over the years, most recently as a writer and copy-editor for h+ magazine.
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COMMENTS


After reading this article, I am again reminded why women were at one time not allowed to vote.  No logic, just all “feeling” about everything around them.  After a couple of odd statements is this quote: “I mainly say this for those of you who are concerned that society is going to be stripped of uniqueness.”  I mean, “going to be stripped of uniqueness”?  Does this woman not have a clue as to what is going on around her?  Does she read the news?  I won’t apologize for being 57, male, and having grown up in a time when people were expected to know the difference between fantasy & reality.  “(the undead armywellif they can stop killing people and acting crazy that would help their cause).”  I guess the only way to make the “undead” change would be to strip them of their uniqueness.  Or does she not notice that the uniqueness of the “undead” is precisely their killing & acting crazy?  Maybe a few courses in critical thinking are needed, that is, if critical thinking is still taught?





Where to start? I will save the glaring statement of offense till the end and start with the statements that pertain to my argument. Regarding the “stripping people’s uniqueness”, I had particular groups of people in mind when I wrote this. Since I am well aware of the difference between fantasy and reality, my intentions were to take the arguments surrounding change at the genetic level, for example, with Down’s syndrome, Dwarfism, etc. and put these arguments into a fantastical, relatable context. By establishing an argument in this manner it helps remove some of the emotional attachments people might have associate with the argument and give them the chance to have a logical argument for/against altering them genetically. Through fantasy and film, which are relatable scenarios for most people, the logic can be overlaid onto the fantasy, which can allow a conversation that doesn’t involve or evoke emotions of their son, daughter, friend, etc.

Regarding the “undead army” I was being sarcastic. I will not apologize for being raised to be a sarcastic, intelligent 30 year old female. I am sorry you did not get this. I have taken critical thinking courses and I did quite well actually. I was actually told I brought a unique perspective and logic to the arguments.

Regarding the “‘feeling’ about everything around them” I find that there is not enough examination of the human feeling condition in regards to some of the serious ethical arguments surrounding technologies. I think that I am one of these perspectives that exist out there. Fear and anger are two feelings that come up with discussions of technology. People, not women or men specifically, people exist in this world who are afraid and angry about potential changes in humans in regards to technology. These feelings should not be dismissed as irrational because they are not always logical. In fact, they should be addressed because of their absence of logic. To do that, you need to be able to talk to people, not at them or down to them. They do not need to be told how to think, act or feel they need to be understood and talked to on a relatable level so that through understanding a logical understanding and discussion can be had. Knowing the root of their argument and where that resides on the continuum of what is actually known.

As for the comment piece de resistance, “I am again reminded why women were at one time not allowed to vote”. Is this truly how you perceive my piece? As something that is so saturated with feeling that it should be discredited and women should be set back to a time when they were unable to voice their opinions and perspectives? Or are you flummoxed by the fact that you are so insulated by your own mindset of logical ways in which the world should be perceived that you are unable to step back and look at the piece from a different perspective? If you do truly feel this way about my article, perspective, logic and capacity for critical thinking I ask you, do you watch the news? I don’t mean CNN, I mean the news that people read daily, like TMZ.com, people.com, etc. Sure it’s seen as trash, but this is what keeps people entertained and coming back. People unfortunately do not have the time or interest to read some of the wonderful, smart and well-written articles put out by my peers. They want things that are accessible, written in a way they are familiar and talk about topics that are distant from their daily lives. It is a form of escape and entertainment that is a relief to turn to when you don’t want to deal. While the IEET site is not that site, people come when they see things they can relate to, they can engage on topics that they don’t have access to on the other sites, and hopefully they can read some of the wonderful pieces that my peers have posted. If not, there is no shortage of relating the technological topics du jour to reality television, film, and sitcoms.

Thank you for reminding me of my passions and giving me the opportunity to lay out my ideas. I hope you read this and comment back. I enjoy talking to those that disagree with me. Hopefully I’ve opened you up to some new ideas we can discuss. And, since I, or my female counterparts, won’t be losing our right to vote or feelings any time soon, you might to consider a bit of change. I would recommend a course in popular culture.





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