Science fiction tells us that fashion will be different in the future. In sci fi movies and tv, they love to show us outlandish hairstyles and crazy get-ups. For every show with a sensible and futuristic but understated fashion sense, like Gattaca, there are many more that revel in making a show of how insane people dress in the future.
What there is remarkably little of, is nudism (rationalized often in the work of Robert Heinlein and poked fun at in Futurama) and cosmetic dentistry. Although the former makes sense from a marketing perspective since any significant amount of nudity will push the rating up into the R region, cutting the proceeds from films that target the teen market, it’s harder to explain why we’re so reluctant to show modified teeth.
Catching Fire, releasing this week on DVD, is one of the few movies that dares to take this step, and it shows us why modifying teeth is taboo in our culture and sci fi.
Fashion Sense and Flashing Teeth
The Hunger Games universe is one where outlandish fashion is a conspicuous sign of wealth and power. People from the capitol don all kinds of insane clothing and hairstyles, epitomized best by Effie Trinket. She has a spectrum of clothing that crosses the entire rainbow, often all in a single outfit. Her hair, in its 80s updo perm style often dyed just as outlandishly as her clothes, surrounds and accentuates the unhealthy and inhuman pallor of her heavily powdered and colored skin. But when she smiles, we see not some elaborate artifice of a smile, but simply a perfect one (perhaps too perfect)–all the teeth are white and even, with no modifications or strange colors or additions.
To its credit, Catching Fire does show us one good example of daring dentistry: the athletic and deadly Enobaria. Enobaria is a tribute from District 2 who won the 62nd Hunger Games in singular fashion: she tore out another tribute’s throat with her teeth. To play off this signature move in her subsequent celebrity career, Enobaria had her teeth modified into sharp fang-like points, their decorative rather than deadly nature attested to by gold trimming.
But this example just makes us ask all the more: why does a society with such a foreign sense of color and style still embrace a traditional dental aesthetic of even, white teeth?
Our Experience with Grillz
It shouldn’t be that hard to imagine dazzling dental work.
Gold and jewelry-encrusted tooth jewelry has been popular in some counterculture circles, especially hip hop, since the 1980s, but it has had a very hard time making it to the mainstream, despite Nelly’s 2005 promotional ode. This is largely because when many people see them, they get the impression of a decayed smile, according to some fashion commentators.
Unlike many aspects of the human anatomy, teeth tend to be very uniform. We’re used to seeing people with different skin colors, different hairstyles including different colors and textures, and different fashion sense. We’re prepared to see people with crazy makeup, crazy hair, and crazy clothes, but healthy teeth are always white, and always even.
This is why the Game of Thrones creators wouldn’t dare show us characters with realistic medieval dentistry, and it’s why we don’t see very many edgy dental fashions in science fiction. And when characters do have modified teeth, like Enobaria, the goal is alienate and threaten us.