A fairly recent episode of This American Life (1) detailed the outlandish ways that people expressed love towards their desired partners. It included the basics, such as overdone promposals and Disney-esque stories of love at first sight (not all of it is as starry eyed as it sounds–you’ll have to listen to the whole podcast), but there was one love story–from the 1940s–that stood out from the rest. Essentially, an older, white German man fell hopelessly in love with a beautiful, young Latino woman who was terminally ill with tuberculosis. He, being a doctor of sorts, did everything within his reach to save her, but ultimately failed. Despite her passing, this man was convinced he had found his soul mate. He could not fathom not being with this woman, so he resorted to the only thing he thought was logical: he undermined her funeral, and took her body to make his bride. It’s also important to note that the woman–while not repulsed by his behavior–did not feel nearly as strongly about their relationship.
Now, under normal circumstances, this story has all sorts of red flags. However, it is often told as a story of love and perseverance, and it reminded me of Pecola and Maureen from The Bluest Eye (2). To put it simply, it seems as if love is seen as the ultimate free pass in term of acceptable social behavior in society–even when it is often borderline mental illness. And the understated hard truth associated with love is that beautiful people deserve it and ugly people do not. The behavior of the man was deemed acceptable (by 1940s standards) enough for it to become a tale of love rather than extreme violation of another’s body.
What sticks with me the most is how the doctor directly associated his love for the woman to her body, and therefore–beauty. The understated, damned truth about love is that beauty is often a part of it. And that, for me, is uncomfortable to think about. For the doctor to be so infatuated with a woman for really nothing more than her body bothers me greatly. We talk about how this course is all about “The gaze”. But does that mean love is really only about beauty (which means bodies, and sex)?
(1) This American Life. https://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/610/grand-gesture.
(2) Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eye. London: Vintage, 2016.