At my mother’s behest, I recently sent a tube of spit to a lab for DNA analysis. No surprises in the results. I’m a mix of Teuton and Celt, and my mother had nothing to hide. Equally unsurprising is the daily drip of e-mail advertisements with which I have since been pestered by the testing laboratory, Ancestry DNA, urging me to purchase additional services.
Today’s drip included the photo I have pinned below. I now see that I was supposed to see this pair as a couple of brothers who were surprised by the differences in their gene sequences, who paid Ancestry DNA to explain what this means, and who are now grinning like the dickens because they are such satisfied customers.
But I must confess, that is not what I saw at first.
What I saw at first was a homosexual couple, and what I thought at first was, “those two guys are going to be nobody’s ancestors.” A nasty thought, some would say, but there you have it. What I saw on closer inspection was, perhaps, two half-brothers, the one on the left vaguely Latin, the one on the right a Teutonic blockhead like myself. Maybe they are grinning like the dickens because, thanks to Ancestry DNA, they now know their mother did have something to hide.
My reactions may be nothing more than the twitches of a crabbed and ungenerous mind, but I think there is more to it than that. DNA testing encourages people to see themselves as members of extended families and, truth be told, races. Ancestry DNA reported my results by geographic region, but everyone knows these geographic names are euphemistic proxies for what were until very recently known as races.
This makes DNA testing profoundly countercultural and “transgressive” in a world where cosmopolitan individualism is public doctrine. Just about everything else in our culture discourages people from seeing themselves as members of extended families and races. I am sure the DNA testing services are acutely aware of this, and that this is why they use weirdly ambiguous images like the one above.
Perhaps the most fitting caption to this photo would be, No Nazis Here!