Though I do not endorse the movie, during one scene in Fight Club, Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) looks at Jack (Edward Norton) while standing in a bus and comments on a Calvin Klein advertisement showing a man with rock-solid abs:
“Is that what a man looks like?”
Jack responds with a smirk. To the two of them, the poster resembles structuralist consumerism’s monopoly on image and gender. While indeed it may represent just that, I think it represents so much more. In the news today, a new surgical procedure promises perfect abs to its patients through “abdominal etching.” Apparently washboard abs are all the rage these days and instead of being the result of many hours in the gym and a disciplined diet, they can now be purchased. You can now live up to Calvin Klein’s expectations. Good news if your stomping grounds happen to be territories of the business world and not those of your local gym.
Of course, this is part of a much larger movement that is dead set on making everyone into supermodels and pornstars. This movement has been well-documented and analyzed before, so there’s nothing new here. But I believe today it serves us as a good reminder of the other reformation going on that has little to do with Martin Luther.
How are we supposed to read the poster in the bus? How do we interpret and understand the surging cosmetic surgery industry? And what does it have to do with reformation? There’s much to be said of how this relates to identity and certainly much more to be said of what C.S. Lewis rightly recognized as an over-indulgence of the sex appetite, but I’ll leave those topics for another time. It’s 2007, not 1517, and I believe this has everything to do with reformation.
In a world permeated with sin and cursed with death, even a secular world that lives in the here and now cries out for a reformation; a re-formation of the body. As Christians we know that we have been given a foretaste of this re-formation (regeneration) with the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. We are a new creation now while not yet entirely. At the same time, God is working to redeem the whole of the cosmos from an enemy that Christ has defeated (death).
Think in terms of generation, degeneration, regeneration, and consummation. God created the cosmos (generation), we cursed it (degeneration), Christ redeemed it (regeneration), and God will make it new (consummation).
When we see an ad from Abercrombie & Fitch or a doctor’s office selling improvements on the body, it has much more to do with eschatology than we might think. Perfect abs and liposuction are a poor substitute for the resurrection, but that’s exactly what they are. The world admits that our bodies are cursed when they seek to overcome an enemy that only Christ can overcome.
As we look forward to the coming resurrection of the body and restoration of all things in Christ, we can put industries like that of cosmetic surgery into proper focus. We live in a world that cries out for a savior, is terrified of death, and acknowledges sin unwittingly through the repudiation of imperfect bodies.
Tyler and Jack were right to read the picture beyond what it desired them to, but they didn’t really get the point. Death surely comes to us all, but not so with age. Should we have the privilege of many years on this earth, our wrinkles and so-so abs (if any at all) should serve as a reminder of how much we have been blessed. They should terrify us as we consider our stewardship of that time. Yet they should also cause us to laugh in the face of an enemy that we all must face, knowing that the battle has already been won.