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‘That is the skin of my brother’: alterity, hybridity and media representations of facial transplantation

Abstract

In this paper, I explore the 2012 face transplant performed on US recipient Richard Norris and how it was represented by the media as a ‘makeover story’. Informed by press coverage from the date of the transplant to the present day, I examine a widely viewed and critically acclaimed investigative report that aired on CBS’s 60 Minutes entitled ‘My Brother’s Keeper’. Through a close reading of both its form and content, I claim that the report’s makeover story consists of four key themes: heroic medicine and miraculous science; appearance-based stigma and social alienation; appearance-based conformity and social assimilation; and subjective alterity and embodied hybridity. In doing so, I contend that the report’s themes contain the widespread ambivalence about facial transplantation by confirming prevailing assumptions about medical science and how it creates normal people who live good lives. That said, I also contend that the report’s themes complicate these assumptions by highlighting how facial transplantation invariably involves immediate encounters with otherness and corporeal interconnectedness. I conclude that the report’s makeover story—characterised as it is by the constraints of the before-and-after format—must be rethought and, ultimately, reworked if we wish to do justice to face transplant recipients.

  • popular media
  • medical humanities
  • aesthetic/plastic and reconstructive/cosmetic surgery

Data availability statement

Data sharing is not applicable as no data sets were generated and/or analysed for this study.

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