The New York Times: It Reads Your Mind So You Don’t Have To

We can always count on the New York Times' Thursday Styles section to provide us with low-hanging fruit.

Here at CJR Daily we can always count on the New York Times’ Thursday Styles section to provide us with low-hanging fruit. Like, say, the New York Post or Fox News, it’s so easy to make fun of that we usually forget to.

But then there’s a story like today’s cover feature, “The Face of the Future,” which reminds us all over again just how completely absurd and nonsensical this section’s pieces can be, and we can’t help ourselves.

You can almost imagine the story meeting.

Clever editor: “This new face transplant thing, can we do something with this? I bet you could find some rich Manhattanites who’d be willing to pay big bucks for a new face. It’s, like, the new frontier of plastic surgery. Yeah, that’s it — face transplants as the cosmetic surgery of the future. I know! We’ll call it ‘The Face of the Future!’”

Enter Vicki Murray, who thought she was going to get just a pedicure at a Chelsea spa when she found herself being asked by a Times reporter whether (and please follow the logic here) if she were horribly disfigured in an accident, she would prefer to take the face of Angelina Jolie. “If celebrities put up their faces for auction after they died, people would be bidding on her features all the time,” she responded.

Hah. We’ve got ourselves a trend. Granted, a tremendously distant, hypothetical, extremely far-fetched trend — but a trend, nevertheless. Or, as the writers put it: Although the procedure is thought “to be too experimental, and medically and ethically controversial, to have cosmetic applications … Nonetheless the prospect of being able to one day swap one’s features for a prettier, more idealized configuration seems to have sent the imaginations of people into overdrive …” Really?

The article then goes on to conflate plastic surgery, which has become more and more common and acceptable, with an extremely sensitive operation tried on one woman in France (the success of which is far from certain), not really taking into account the vast difference between the two procedures. For one thing, if Angelina Jolie’s face could be transplanted onto Vicki Murrey’s, there is no way she would look like Angelina Jolie. How your face looks has much more to do with your bone structure than just flesh and muscle. Plus, it’s safe to assume that face transplants, even if they are perfected, would never be that prevalent, considering that you need, say, a brain-dead donor with a willing family. We know Angelina is a generous, giving person — but come on.

The authors also scour the Upper East Side and Beverley Hills for sources to comment on this preposterous hypothetical trend. The answers are pretty predictable. “Replacing your features with those of a donor just to make yourself prettier — that idea is abhorrent,” said Sally Cook, an author of children’s books who lives in New York. “I can see someone like Michael Jackson flying to Paris for a nose transplant, although not in my lifetime,” says the plastic surgeon featured on the television show “Extreme Makeover.”

We then get the opinion of a few science fiction writers, those reliable fountains of accurate information, and a historical tour of Hollywood’s fascination with face-changing (again mostly a question of plastic surgery and not face transplants, except for maybe Travolta and Cage in “Face Off”). Throw in a few more inane comments, like the onetime supermodel Janice Dickinson saying that she is “dying to look like Iman Bowie,” and you’ve got yourself … a big airy piece of nothing.

These stories don’t cause anyone any harm, so it’s hard to get too worked up over them. But pity the poor woman who reads this article and starts saving up her pennies so that one day, some day, she can buy those lips off Angelina Jolie.

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Gal Beckerman is a former staff writer at CJR.