Trading Faces

Labrador Prompts Transplant Breakthrough

Illustration: Zach Trenholm


They did that one over in France. Somebody needed a face, right? And in France, apparently, “face donor” is something you can check off on your driver’s license. At least it will be if this face transplant-thing catches on.

They just did the first ever. Wild stuff. But so, right away, I have questions. Now, bodies reject donated organs all the time. N’est-ce pas? Well, could a body reject a face, the way it sometimes does a transplanted liver? And wouldn’t that be a whole different, much more personal level of rejection?

I mean, wouldn’t you be offended? Wouldn’t you want to know exactly what was so wrong with your face that it got rejected by whoever ended up with it? Even posthumously, I’d want an explanation. “Was it the unibrow? Have you never heard of threading?”

Nevertheless, this leap in nip and tuck technology would have a range of immediate applications. If you had committed a blasphemous act of lampoon fundamentalism depicting the Prophet Mohammed in a controversial manner, you might want to get a face transplant yourself, right away.

And not a cartoon face, either. That would be too obvious. It would have to be a real one, but whose? It’s not like you can request Beyonce. You have to go with pretty much whatever face happens to be available at the moment your need for one arises.

Still, this first ever face transplant case was a sort of a bizarrely compatible match between donor and recipient. As near as I can make it out, the woman who needed a transplant had tried to kill herself with sleeping pills but lived, and then got a face from another woman who had who successfully committed suicide. Read that again if you like; it won’t make it any easier to follow. The face of a woman who didn’t want to live and no longer does, now lives on as the face of a woman that doesn’t want to be alive any longer.

But, OK, here’s the weird part. The reason the first woman needed a face transplant is because, while she was out cold from the overdose, her dog ate her face off. Google it if you don’t believe me. When dogs run out of homework to nosh on, all bets are off.

Given the dog’s culpability, however, I’d have thought another option might have been to transplant the dog’s face onto her, seeing how often dogs tend to resemble their owners anyway. But I am neither doctor nor canine inquisitor, and can only marvel at the story as it actually unfolded, and its possible future implications.

No one doubts that not having a face is socially problematic and should be addressed. But how will facial interchangeability, if unchecked, transform society?

Even a doll, if you get the face right, projects the personality of whomever it was modeled on. I was at the Midland/Odessa airport, in Texas, where they were selling a George Bush doll, and they had captured one of his most recognizable expressions – that half grin/scowl he gets when you ask him a question at a press conference that he had asked you not to.

And I could not resist pressing the doll’s American flag lapel pin to hear him talk. “We were welcomed as liberators. Just not peacefully.” “We have dramatically reduced non-weaponary spending.” “Brokeback Mountain, my ass.”

Jeez, as I’m sitting here typing away, wondering where the hell I am going with this, I just had a twilight-zone chill go up my spine about what a nightmare it would be if I woke up from a transplant and realized that somehow I had gotten Bush’s face. It would serve me right. But I wouldn’t reject it for anything in the world, even though he’s pissed off more Muslims than any cartoonist. I’d go out and have fun with it. Jump out of the motorcade every once in a while to join anti-war protesters and shout things like, “Yeah, Impeach me!”

I would hope that I would never need a face transplant in an emergency. But there are circumstances under which I might go for one. If it would fix my credit rating, for instance, I’d get one right away, and put it on my Visa card.

Anyway, thanks to the French, two brave but depressed women, and one hungry dog, the face transplant genie is finally out of the bottle. As with botox, there will be no turning back. In fact, I expect the procedure will be the rage right about the time we perfect human cloning, so that you can look forward to one day staring at an exact replica of yourself, with someone else’s unibrow.