Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Modern Plastic Surgery & The Elephant Man

Joseph Merrick, The Elephant Man, is one of the most endearing people in history. He endured mockery, humiliation, being spit on and beaten, called every nasty name the British children could think of. And yet, through the kindness of some sympathetic figures, he made it through hell and become a beloved historical figure and Londoner. Some of the royal family (The Prince and Princess of Wales) even came to meet him in his little apartment under the London Hospital.

What if Merrick had lived today? His life would have been much different. Joseph never had elephantiasis. His nickname, The Elephant Man, was given to him by a freak show owner who told the rubes paying to see him that his mother was trampled by an elephant when she was pregnant. Thus the deformity. Merrick was then billed as “Half-a-Man, Half-an-Elephant.” Most scholars believe that Joseph’s medical condition was Proteus syndrome. Which is now somewhat treatable with a drug called Rapamycin.

Now to the point. With modern day plastic surgery, could Merrick have been treated enough to live a more normal, mock-free life? To a degree, I believe the answer is yes. (Merrick was operated on a couple times, but with little success.)

Here’s the irony: We live in a culture, a frighteningly shallow society, where the famous and wannabe famous go to outrageous lengths to make their appearance worse.

The celebs think they are improving themselves. Nothing is farther from the truth.

There is direct dichotomy between The Elephant Man wanting more than anything to live a quiet, “normal” life, and the faux-famous who go to any length to alter their appearance to “look better” and stay in the tabloid headlines.

Ask yourself; have you ever seen a facelift, Botox treatment or collagen lip injection that makes a woman look more desirable? I’d bet no. Even with real actresses – many of whom are naturally beautiful – have made horrendous mistakes by altering their face and by extension, looking plastic and fake. Like their personalities. Think of Meg Ryan or Nicole Kidman or Nikki Cox (yikes) or Dolly Parton or half the cast of Desperate Housewives. We could make jokes about Joan Rivers, but that almost seems sad now that she’s gone so far. I read a feature not that long ago, where Rivers expressed that the plastic surgery started because no man ever called her beautiful. That just makes me feel sorry for her.

It isn’t just women. Have you seen Kenny Rogers and Wayne Newton lately?! They are barely recognizable. Faces taut as a tom-tom drum. My bet is they regret having the work done. Tell me Tony Bennett doesn’t still look distinguished. Untouched by a hack surgeon’s knife.

Merrick, ironically, joined the freak show to escape the cruelty of a London workhouse. He thought the only way out was to the join the traveling carnivals that took advantage of his condition and subjected himself to more horrible abuse. There he endured cruelty that none of us can possibly imagine. It looked hopeless for Merrick until he met Dr. Frederick Treves. Dr. Treves’ heart went out to Merrick and after some time, it was arranged for The Elephant Man to live under The London Hospital. (The apartment is now bricked over.)
When Merrick went into public, if he mustered the courage to step outside, he wore a dark, floor-length cloak and a custom-made hood to hide in plain site. The desperate-to-be-famous have their publicists call the scumbag paparazzo’s so they can show off their new oddly altered face and circus-boobs.

A glaring example is the pathetic case of Heidi Montag. A girl – along with the Paris Hilton, the Kardashians and others – that are willing to be despised by America in exchange for people knowing their name. We live in a strange world where being on the cover of the tabloids is worth being a national punchline.

Montag was so shallow, so insecure, that she endured 37 (or so) plastic surgeries in one day to achieve what she feels is “beauty.” The result was shocking. She went from a decently attractive person with no business being on television, with nothing interesting to say and a dinosaur brain, to an X-Files-looking alien hybrid with nothing interesting to say and a dinosaur brain An unrecognizable mess. She’s 3 procedures away from looking like Admiral Ackbar.

(When I read that Montag was writing an action film script for her to star in – delusion is an odd beast – I couldn’t help but imagining her trying to write the dialogue. To be a fly on the wall to watch that debacle… “How do you spell Ferrari? This is going to have a Ferrari chase!”)

The almost-famous flaunt their man-made deformities under the false pretense they look improved, while Merrick went out of his way to hide his condition. He didn’t want to scare anybody or be mocked for something that wasn’t his fault. He didn’t choose his appearance, he was cursed with it. The socialites and celebutantes looked through a catalogue and picked their freakish features.

Quick note for those that are referred to in the media as “socialites and celebutantes.” 1.) This is because you have no definable talent and the media doesn’t know how to categorize you. 2.) It’s actually a veiled insult.

The new-famous will show up to anything to get their picture taken. Sometimes I doubt they even know what the event is. “The premier for Toddlers & Tiara’s? Are there going to be cameras there? Sure, we’ll show up. I just got my ears pinned back.”

Joseph Merrick, again, was the opposite. He never tried to capitalize from his notoriety. I’ve read two books about Merrick, both told the following story. One of Joseph’s dreams was to attend the theater. He was a voracious reader and wanted to see actors portray a story he knew. The fear was that his presence would shock the theater patrons and potentially cause a panic. Dr. Treves had an idea. He contacted one of Merrick’s friends, Madge Kendall with whom Joseph exchanged letters and gifts. They made an arrangement at the Theater Royal, Drury Lane and arranged to sit in a Baroness’s private box. Then Dr. Treves asked some young nurses to accompany Joseph to the theater. The cloak and hood was donned, they waited until the theater crowd was seated, then Merrick slipped into the box. The nurses and Dr. Treves sat in front of him, hiding his presence. After the show, the crowd filed out. When it was clear, Merrick and his nurse entourage quietly went out the back. Nobody even knew he was there. Merrick called it the thrill of his life. All done with dignity.

I have told this story to people over the years and have a hard time doing so without getting choked up.

Theory: Montag has such serious mental problems that she unconsciously turned herself into what inside she believes she actually is: a circus freak.

It’s my belief that the cast of The Hills, select members from The Real World, everyone from The Jersey Shore and The Real Housewives of Milwaukee should be put into circus train cages like in Dumbo. Traveling the country to be gawked at and have peanuts thrown at them by innocent children. Maybe it’s more appropriate if juiced needles are chucked at the Jersey Shore douchebags. They’ll put a cap on the needles, it’ll be safe. We could throw books, but they’d just eat them.

The kind of celebrities were are talking about (let’s throw Lindsay Lohan into the pot, though I know she doesn’t fit in the plastic surgery gang) engage in almost weekly poor behavior. Fist-fights, cat-fights, DUIs, drug busts, poor grammar, grave robberies, rehab stints, really childish nonsense. In Merrick’s whole life, despite all the abuse he took, he remained kind, thoughtful and seemingly happy. Never lashing out because he has treated like an unwanted animal and chained to walls as he was mocked.

The way Joseph died was tragic. How he slept was odd but necessary. His head, due to the many tumors, weighed over 30 pounds. (Yours weighs about 8-10 pounds.) So he sat in his bed, raising his knees to his chest, then rested his massive head on his knees. One afternoon, Dr. Treves’ house surgeon went to check on Joseph and he was motionless in his bed, laying on his back. The sheets were unmoved, no sign of struggle. Joseph was dead. He was 27-years-old. What Dr. Treves believes happened is that he was sick of sleeping as he was accustomed to. He had expressed the sentiment several times. So Joseph simply tried to lie down. The weight of his head snapped his neck and he died instantly. The death certificate lists “asphyxia” as official cause of death. Joseph died trying to do what he wanted his whole life; live normally. To “sleep like other people.”

That story, made “The Elephant Man: A Study in Dignity”, the only book that has ever made me cry. (Okay, maybe “Charlotte’s Web”, but I was 9 and Wilbur was some pig.)

The point of this bollocks; Plastic surgery can be an amazing tool to those that use it wisely. Fixing a cleft palate or assisting the recovery of a burn victim. Pumping your lips full of your own ass-fat is not one of them. Had The Elephant Man lived today, he could have been the beneficiary of miracle surgeries and lived a very different life.

Joseph Merrick’s skeleton is stored with care in the basement of the Royal London Hospital. To be visited by the lucky and compassionate. The desperate-famous are soon to be forgotten, only to become punchlines on VH1’s I Love the Teens.


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