Venus: Darwinian Contexts of Beauty & Contingency

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While the show girl was presented as being a savage who did not fit the typical white Anglo-Saxon personification of beauty, the reaction from people fit Darwin’s theory of human nature. As whites saw her through the lens of inferiority, they merely judged her based on their ethnocentric views. Their views and behavior were characterized by the different “standards of beauty between societies, contrasting the ‘hideous’ ornaments and music of ‘savages’ with the ‘refined’ tastes of the ‘civilized races’” (Stevenson 209). In this case, the show girl was the savage while the viewers were the refined race who was dominant. They did not account for the fact that living in Africa was a different environment that required certain adaptations in terms of skin color and figures for women. Superiority was merely assessed based on her appearance and status of being black.

The treatment of the girl also reflected the way in which humans tend to treat inferior races. For starters, she was shown “totally naked in her iron cage,” a clear indicator that she was sub-human (Parks 13). She was essentially treated like an animal. Moreover, when introduced to the crowd, she was characterized as being “the very lowest rung on our Lords Great Evolutionary Ladder” (Parks 55). As an inferior race, according to the people, she was merely exploited on the show to make the owners a profit. Indeed, this fits Darwin’s characterization of how weaker people could potentially be treated by an inferior race. Darwin argued that these weaker people were susceptible to being used “for a contingent benefit” (Stevenson 210). The contingent benefit was showing her body for profit and when her purpose had finished its course, she was disposed of and replaced, much like an expendable part of a machine. This exploitation is just one option that superior races have in terms of interacting with others. Unfortunately, the show owners took a very greedy and ominous approach in marketing and using the African girls.

Ultimately, Darwin’s theories of human nature were supported by Venus because of how society perceived her. While her figure and physical characteristics were natural and perhaps attractive in her own country, they were seen as alien and monstrous to the viewer’s standards. This complies with the thought process of defining beauty based on biodiversity across the world. What is beautiful in one context does not always apply. Finally, the contingent use of the weaker species was also supported because the show girls were merely there for benefit.

Works Cited

Parks, Suzan-Lori. Venus. New York: Dramatists Play Service Inc., 1995. Print.

Stevenson, Leslie, and David Haberman. "Darwinian Theories of Human Nature." Ten Theories of Human Nature. 5th Edition ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. 201-234. Print.