French social theorist Michel Foucault first coined the term “biopower” in his 1978 three-volume study of sexuality titled, The History of Sexuality. Foucault was referring to the national-State practices of policing, regulating and moralizing bodies according to constructed ideals of so-called-good health and the ideal bodily form, that is no doubt racialized as it was gendered. Furthermore, Foucault attributed such deployments of hegemonic discourse to the national-State desire for control over populations: “an explosion of numerous and diverse techniques for achieving the subjugations of bodies.” Today when we talk about biopower, it is often not in reference to the governmentality of national States, but rather to the societal policing of one another and of selves. Indeed, we are the mechanism by which hegemony gets produced and reproduced. Need some evidence? No problem! Look no further than celebrity gossip blogs, magazine articles and news coverage of Lindsay Lohan (LiLo) and her infamous struggles with addiction.
Editor Jeffrey Jerome Cohen would have us believe that the public rise and fall of LiLo is nothing new. His Monster Theory details numerous case and points in which cultural perceptions and expectations of transgression are imprinted onto the body of the monster. In his article, he attempts to read cultures by and through the “monsters they engender” – meaning we designate the boundaries of what passes as acceptable and what gets demonized as monstrous. Monstrosity has taken many forms throughout histories and throughout cultural contexts but one truth remains the same, Cohen warns us, that: “Monsters are our children,” in that they are our creations produced through our imaginations; “They ask us to reevaluate our cultural assumptions about race, gender, sexuality, our perception of difference, our tolerance toward its expression.” Monsters are telling in this way.
I have no doubt that we, as a society, have transformed celebrity identities into dialectical Others: embodying a larger than life quality and simultaneous monstrosity all at once. It is against these constructions of monstrosity that we regulate ourselves. We punish transgression in the form of public, online condemnation. Celebrity online blogger, Perez Hilton, details [his take on] the chronology of LiLo’s various court dates, familial interactions and Tweets to fans – facilitating a forum through which his followers can then partake in comment wars, in which they contribute their own opinions and advice surrounding LiLo’s ‘addictions’ to “partying,” “drugs,” and “drinking [alcohol].”
Guest lecturer and Sociologist, Rebecca Tiger, traces public insistence upon two dueling conceptions of addition: 1.) “that addiction is a disease that should…be fixed” by punitive measures (i.e. incarceration and/or institutionalized rehabilitation), and 2.) “that addiction is a disease that…can’t…be fixed.” So therein lies a paradox for those transgressive (i.e. addicted) bodies. There is a simultaneous construction of addiction that embodies both badness as well as sickness. These two manifestations of deviance work together in order to strengthen the call to biopower; the desire of knowledge and to control deviant bodies is what drives our online obsessions to ridicule the monster and to ultimately justify her imprisonment, as consequence of her wasted self. Juxtaposed to these images of deviance are certain fetishized images of ‘good health’ as both a physical and moral state of superiority. Indeed, we fetishize the so-called-natural body and, ironically, strive for it. If something is natural, then why is it so darn difficult to obtain? Hmm…
These reproductions of biopower feed into the system that which exercises its surveillance power over populations. This is the very same [American] system which has successfully incarcerated more people than any other industrialized national-State in the world, but has rather unsuccessfully done much of anything to STOP drug use. Perhaps by punishing individuals, it has lost sight of those much larger, structural factors of society that are more truly to blame. And of course when I say “it,” I mean that mechanism which we occupy – by which we govern.