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The Human Condition and the Quest for Perfection in South Korea

In Margaret Atwood’s novels, Oryx and Crake, and The Year of the Flood, the desire to conquer and suppress the human condition is expressed on several occasions. Mortality is deemed the as humanity’s greatest insecurity and proves to be of great significance to the fate of humanity itself. The whole concept behind cheating the human condition by striving for immortality was so important to society that it lead to the extermination of the entire human race with the BlyssPluss Pill.

In Oryx and Crake we see that the luxurious Rejoovenesense hotel is totally funded by, as Crake describes it “‘Grief in the face of inevitable death […] The wish to stop time. The human condition.'” (Oryx and Crake, 292). In this passage Crake is referring to the money made from the rejuvenating products and treatments produced by the company.

stopwatch

In The Year of the Flood, we learn more about the company Anooyoo being that it is a place where “[ladies], frightened by the first signs of droop and pucker, then [come] out [of the AnooYoo Spa] again, buffed and tightened and resurfaced, irridiated and despotted”(The Year of the Flood, 263).

     We’re not selling only beauty, the AnooYoo Corp said in their staff instructionals. We’re selling hope. 

(The Year of the Flood, 263).

In recent years, North America has seen great movements aspiring to change the societal standards of beauty in our modern media. Young girls and boys are feeling the af002_innisfree-adpressures induced by the media to adopt and conform to their standards of what is beautiful. However, in South Korea, this issue is notably worse than what we are experiencing here in the West. Seoul, South Korea has the highest rate of plastic surgery per capita in the world. It is a city that’s standards of beauty revolve around perfectly made up, photoshopped and worked on celebrities that requires that people meet that standard if they want a chance at being successful. The young people of South Korea are feeling immense pressure from the professional world and from their personal relationships to live up to these particular beauty standards to the point where often family members will reward high school graduates with plastic surgery.  Even more mature citizens are feeling the pressure to reduce the signs of aging as if its a bad thing like presented in The Year of the Flood. According to Business Insider, South Korean surgeons perform approximately 20 procedures per 1000 people, where the U.S. performs only 13 procedures per 1000 people. 

     As described by a young man from Seoul presented by the short documentary done by Al Jazeera 101 East, “So many people have surgery, it’s just like wearing make-up.”

The most popular surgeries among the Korean people are facial reconstructive surgeries such as double eyelid surgery, anti-aging surgery, and jaw reconstruction surgery, in addition to surgeries such as breast augmentation and body contouring.

Eyelip

 

Though these pressures have compelled body activists to come out and promote self-love in the fight against societal beauty standards, one can only wonder how effective these movements will be in the long run. Stories such as Atwood’s make us question how deep rooted these societal standards are in our human nature. Will we ever be able to break free from this cycle? and if not, will humanity see a demise such as the one seen in Atwood’s trilogy? Only time will tell… however, it is clear from countries such as South Korea that we still have a long way to go.

If you would like to know more about the situation in South Korea today, take the time to check out these informative videos, they’re definitely worth the watch!

1: Al Jazeera 101 East

2: BuzzFeed

Alexa Schwarzwald

 

Works Cited:

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Erase Genetic Disorders from your Family Tree Today!

        The concept of human engineering is a relatively new one. When one thinks of a perfectly engineered human, they tend to imagine a futuristic, Jetson-like setting, with spaceships for cars and robots for butlers.

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      Such realities seemed much too far advanced to be possible… Yet, 2015 was marked the first year of the beginning of a new era of scientific possibilities beyond our comprehension. In that year, the first human embryos were successfully “edited”. This signifies a pivotal moment in medical history. Editing human genes can benefit humanity in several ways but more pertinently in preventing genetic disorders that were once incurable. For DNA mutations such as Hemophilia, sickle cell anemia, cystic fibrosis, though treatments may be available, no cure has yet been found…  

         Which brings me to the focus of this article, and a more narrowed down example of this incredible progress in genetic engineering that is happening within our own city limits.  

         At McGill University in Montreal, can be found the lab of Dr. Eric Shoubridge, specialising in human mitochondrial diseases in the department of Human Genetics and Neurology and Neurosurgery.Their focus is “on the molecular genetics of human mitochondrial respiratory chain defects.” These deficiencies are the cause of numerous “multisystemic disorders“, that mainly impede the function of the nervous system and muscle in addition to the function of single organs including “skeletal muscle,the central nervous system, kidneys, endocrine organs and the gastrointestinal system“.

        Their studies have determined that mutations found in the maternally inherited RMND1 gene (responsible for encoding the protein involved in mitochondrial translation, in laymans terms, it “generates the chemical energy that all cells need to function“) were fatally accountable for acute neurodegenerative disorders in two infants.  More fascinatingly, it was found that this mitochondrial dysfunction may be the root cause of “adult-onset disorders like Parkinson’s disease“. If you already understand the complexity, diversity and severity of this disorder that around 55000 Canadians suffer from, then you can imagine how this research can be extremely useful and important to neurodegenerative disorder research.

        As a solution, Dr. Shoubridge has come up with possible processes that involves replacing mutated mitochondrial DNAs (mtDNAs) with healthy ones in two possible methods:

  1. The first, known as the pronuclear transfer, which takes the pronuclei, the sperm and egg nuclei before fertilization, from the original egg that “harbours some mutated mtDNAs” into a cell will healthy mtDNA and no nucleus. 
  2. The second, known as the meiotic-spindle transfer, takes nuclear DNA (“DNA that is contained within a nucleus of eukaryotic organisms“), and transfers it to a healthy, nucleus free egg in which it would be fertilized, as demonstrated below.

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     “Parents who have had a child with a mitochondrial disorder and who are hesitating to have another child now have the possibility to know the cause of the disease. With genetic information, they have reproductive options like in vitro fertilization.” – Dr. Eric Shoubridge 

        This means that parents who fear that their children will suffer from a specific hereditary neurodegenerative disorder, now have the possibility of completely removing the mutation from their reproductive cells and subsequently from their children’s lives.

        As seen in Margaret Atwood’s, Oryx and Crake, medical advancement has reached an all time high where the scientific limits we understand have been chewed up and ruminated until totally broken down and made into a new substance. In short, medical limitations no longer exist and researchers have reached a point where they’re creating boundaries in order to break them down… for fun!

         Awesome concepts such as designer babies come up in the novel in reference to the company RejoovenEsense and their new service offering parents the chance to chose any feature, “physical, mental or spiritual” (Atwood) for their future children, and more applicably they have the option of having “certain hereditary diseases […] screened out”(Atwood).

          In the novel, this process is described as an imperfect science, however, it is possible and as we know now from the information that I’ve presented, even in our reality is such engineering possible. Soon we too will be able to engineer our children to predetermine their future health.

 

Alexa Schwarzwald

 

Works Cited:

Christodoulou, John. “Genetic defects causing mitochondrial respiratory chain disorders and disease.” European Society of Human Reproduction & Embryology (n.d.): n. pag. Web.

Shoubridge, Eric A. “Biomedicine: Replacing the cell’s power plants.” Nature News. Nature Publishing Group, 30 Nov. 2016. Web. 15 Feb. 2017.

Wong, Suzy L., Heather Gilmour, and Pamela L. Ramage-Morin. “Parkinson’s disease: Prevalence, diagnosis and impact.” Government of Canada, Statistics Canada. N.p., 27 Nov. 2015. Web. 15 Feb. 2017.

“Editing Human Embryos: So This Happened.” National Geographic. National Geographic | Phenomena, 15 Oct. 2015. Web. 15 Feb. 2017.

“Mitochondrial genetic disorders.” National Institutes of Health. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, n.d. Web. 15 Feb. 2017.

“Molecular Neurogenetics.” Neuro. McGill, n.d. Web. 15 Feb. 2017.

“REQUIRED FOR MEIOTIC NUCLEAR DIVISION 1, S. CEREVISIAE, HOMOLOG OF; RMND1.” OMIM. OMIM, n.d. Web.

“Scientists discover gene behind rare disorders.” Canadian Association for Neuroscience. CAN-ACN, n.d. Web. 15 Feb. 2017.