[FOUNTAIN]Body odors preferable to foul currencyThe old ways have been disappearing, but many older people in the countryside were careful to use only the toilet in their home. They used that night soil to fertilize their fields. The country smells were certainly offensive to visiting city folks, but it was the scent of growth to the farmers and their crops and produce.
These days, we can no longer smell the arrival of autumn. We have tried to eliminate body odors, and we cannot distinguish our friends and family members by their smell because body odor has become a barbaric symbol to be eliminated. Artificial scents in deodorants, air fresheners, perfumes and other fragrances have replaced the smells of nature.
Historians studying such things say that devaluation of sense of smell began in the 18th and 19th centuries. Charles Darwin and Sigmund Freud and their colleagues said the olfactory sense was a sense of madness and savageness, and since then smell has become the least celebrated of the five senses. At the same time, vision was praised as the most precious sense, one of reason and culture, and the modern world welcomed the advent of the age of visual images.
Some reckon the correlation of smell and politics. George Orwell, the author of “1984,” wrote, “Here you come to the real secret of class distinctions in the West. It is summed up in four frightful words. The words were: ‘The lower classes smell.’” To justify the Holocaust, Hitler and Nazi Germany accused the Jews of smelling bad. In the West, Caucasians have long discriminated the non-white people by saying they have a bad odor. They must have forgotten that their body odors were just as unbearable to the other races.
American neuro-physiologists Richard Axel and Linda Buck shared this year’s Nobel Prize for Medicine for their research on the human olfactory system. The two scientists found that humans are capable of distinguishing 10,000 different smells. The award marks a rediscovery the forgotten world of smell. Their research brought treatments for anosmia and the development of artificial noses. I suspect that Korean politicians and civil servants who received scentless apple or fish boxes might be hard-nosed. The boxes contained no apples or croakers, but were filled with foul-smelling cash. Luckily, we have a cure for anosmia.
by Chung Jae-suk
The writer is a deputy culture news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.