in media res

Hi! How are you today? by meandomedar
May 19, 2008, 12:42 pm
Filed under: anne, media everyday media, theory | Tags: , , ,

This question seems to become increasingly important within everyday life, not only as a polite way of starting a conversation, but even more so for media and public bodies to check on the nation’s health. TV shows on public and private broadcasting showing the daily diet of a 150 kg man chewed up in a see-through tube or the likely development of an overweight child in a more than disturbing computer simulation have become daily family programme.

Discourses surrounding a person’s body and how to stay fit and healthy have not only swamped tv, but also pretty much any other medium I can think of. One recent, rather funny element of the whole health frenzy, I think, is Nintendo’s wii console where people can exercise playing virtual golf or doing a boxing exercise. The pinnacle, however, is the new wii balance board, enabling people to do pushups in their living room on this board while keeping the balance and, at the end of the exercise, measure their weight “more accurately than with a typical bathroom scale.” You can ski on the board, too. What once was a game console for people / teenies and 20/30 somethings has evolved into a DIY fitness studio.

While being able to smile about the wii and its new gadgets, I recently received an email from a concerned mother talking about the new health passport introduced into the school of her child. On this passport the children have to tick if they have washed properly and when and how long they exercise each day. They need to list their attendences at sports clubs and night exercise (night exercise? hello…kids?) activities while also stating how many hours they sleep a day. Progress in any of these activities needs to be listed and goals need to be fixed.

Whilst a healthy lifestyle (whatever that is) seems to be a good idea in general, this government-introduced health passport seems to be yet another step into the self-surveillance panopticon that Foucault initially described in Discipline and Punish. I am not going to talk about the child as the “other”, the more vulnerable here in whose surrounding it seems even more absurd to introduce a measurement like this; but I’d like to contemplate a bit more on the discourse on the human body and health as well as the idea of self-surveillance actually making tamer citizens than putting them into prison when crimes are committed (Ruddock 2001).  Foucault is quoted in Ruddock stating that “the development of discourses around military training, health, sexuality and crime [are] aimed at social control centred on the body and ‘its disciplining, the optimization of its capabilities, the extortion of its forces, the parallel increase of its usefulness and its docility, its integration of efficient economic controls’ (Foucault 1976: 139).”

Actually, the latter idea with self-surveillance seems to be rather self-evident. If I had such a passport and were asked to fill in all of this data, I’d be occupied gathering data and writing reports about my activities all day. I probably wouldn’t even think about “being naughty”, but possibly also lose out on time exercising because of all of the list keeping.

One might even take a political economy approach at this: how much of the government’s money might be saved through the introduction of this health passport? Not only are the kids occupied filling in the blanks of their bits of paper, giving away personal data for free for the government and (who knows what) other bodies to analyse, but they also spend less time playing. They will be preoccupied brushing their teeth and exercising at the “Night Owl” in order to be able to tick another cross in their passport. If I were a bit more cynical here, I’d say: less money to be spent on playgrounds, public transport (as healthy kids walk longer distances with their parents), and most of all national health services.

The mum sending me this passport also told me that she had a row with her child that night it came home with the passport. Mum didn’t approve of the child’s eagerness to diligently implement the passport in her life. Two questions that could be further discussed here are: how far do we as adults go in our eagerness to count, measure and fill in data on ourselves when it comes to proving our level of health and fitness? And how does this lead to social exclusion – not only of the child that might be the only one in her class not dealing with the passport properly – but also to those who either don’t like, aren’t bothered or can’t afford all of the gadgets out there to strengthen our health?


2 Comments so far
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Hi Anne

I think this measurement thing is crazy. I am a very keen cyclist but I am a very slow cyclist. I know there are other cyclists who go out with heart rate monitors strapped to them and cadence savvy computers (for measuring revolutions of pedals per minute). I think they turn the very enjoyable activity of cycling into a misery of worrying about whether it is benefiting them in some measurable way or not.

I can’t be too smug about these people. I do have a very simple cycle computer as well and I use it to measure distance. I do like cycling a good distance and then looking at the figure at the end. I find a sense of satisfaction for some reason in that.

Some years ago I went through a period of measuring my cycling performance. I had a sophisticated computer on the bicycle and a heart rate monitor. Thank goodness I gave all that up. My performance figures were always so awful compared with even the average cyclist that if I’d kept measuring them then I would have stopped cycling eventually.

Comment by giantinsect

Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation 🙂 Anyway … nice blog to visit.

cheers, Return.

Comment by Return

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