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.
As 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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