Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A New Aesthetic

It all began with a comment passed from mouth to mouth: several Argentines, to a pair of Brazilians, to an American woman, to me. As the journalistic jargon would have it, well-informed observers (one imagines little men standing on a hill scanning the horizon with binoculars) affirm that the cosmetic surgery in greatest demand in Argentina is breast reduction.

You read right: reduction.

The lollobrigidian augmentation is a thing of the past, according to the Feminine Party spokespersons. (Incidentally, my adjective -- also passé -- was once rumored to have been accepted by the French Academy to describe hilly terrain.)

These days the thing is to have bosoms no larger than an American champagne glass (see image).

Another correspondent adds:

I heard this from a transvestite leader: those who in the ´90s got silicone implants regret it today. They envy the young transvestites, who rarely even try to enlarge their breasts because, according to them, the masculine market (their clients in prostitution) demands adolescent breasts. Note that transvestites try to emulate the women that men desire.
Are we facing a new human aesthetic in the 21st century? If so, it is anti-rubenesque, transsexual and multiracial.

The gamine look, typical of the postwar French street waifs, with its slim, often boyish, sexually teasing appeal, is valued for women. Tom Wolfe calls them "boys with breasts" in A Man in Full. For the man, there's the hairless, or hair plucked, slim but not muscular look. The preferred skin is cafe au lait or Asian; the favored face is clean of obvious ethnic characteristics or, at a minimum, it hints at a cultural blend.

The desired character of women is now decisive and lively; the men calm and easy-going.

Think of Angeline Jolie's full and luscious lips or Halle Berry's prim and European pout or the transcultural look of Keanu Reeves, who in The Matrix played Neo, the new man.

The new aesthetic proposes, as I see it, the perspective of a generation that has seen neither war, nor hunger, nor pestilence, nor death. Today's young adults of around 25 began to become aware when the world was already cybernetic; in their adolescence they glided seamlessly into an Internet newly opened to non-academic users.

It's the L'Auberge Espagnole generation: thriving, open to everything, pluralist. To them, traditionally masculine and feminine roles are intermingled, because to the extent possible they share the common human task for the first time. The races, colors, nationalities, creeds, are all part of a quilt, humanity in fusion.

Perhaps this is the generation addressed by Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill), possible president of the United States, or by Paul David Hewson (better known as Bono) in his humanitarian hegira in Africa, or by Danish novelist Peter Høeg, who Smilla's Sense of Snow playfully fused the humanities and mathematics.

Even though this trio does not belong to the new generation, they seem to express the new zeitgeist, just as The Beatles did in 1964 for the postwar Baby Boom generation that was really made up of their younger siblings.

Every aesthetic has its significance: the equilibrium of the Renaissance after medieval chaos; Baroque tension through the wars of the religion and the breakup of the European consensus; the theocratic escape of Gothic style as compensation for the loss of Greco-Roman culture caused by the onslaught of illiterate Teutonic hordes; the European absolute monarchs' excess, expressed in Rococo; and so on and so forth.

At the moment we see in this aesthetic an ethnic and cultural fusion, pansexualism and possibility. For the moment, it inspires optimism.
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