I was talking to someone I hadn't seen for a while the other day. "This will give you cancer" she mentioned with an ominous forefinger referring to my perfume use. I felt like I was a 6 year old in elementary school, taught about the bad effects of picking my nose and tasting the boogers. It made no sense, though it appeared like it did. She was also misusing a lot of the words we hear brandished a lot in similar discussions: "chemicals" (hey, everything is chemical, including H2O), "nasties" (some of them do keep your products from rotting), "toxic" (well...).
I try to be an inquisitive person, rather than an argumentative one, though it often comes across like I am argumentative (all right, I might be just a bit), so instead of trying to win an argument with my long-lost friend I probed her with more questions to understand the stem of her apprehension and panic towards fragrance. Turns out she was apprehensive and panicked about a lot of other things too, not just perfumes. Foodstuff, livestock, drugs sold at the chemist's, air pollution affecting her (nascent) asthma, whether her skin would withstand the assaults of "chemicals" in just about anything sold over the counter, how her totally dropping the habit of the occasional fag with her infrequent drink when going out, once every three months, would result in gaining a pound or two, God forbid, how she would never again let a drop of alcohol pass her lips "because it creates fetus malformations", the fact that she had just bought a juicer to try to juice her organically grown carrots and alpha alpha sprouts, yada yada yada. My eyes would have glazed if my surprise wasn't written all over them like storm on a winter's day sky. What the hell had happened to the woman I knew?
Perfume is just the tip of the iceberg and my rant just a budding disconnect with the (misconstrued, I suppose?) Protestant morals that have swept over Europe and possibly the world thanks to the ill effects of previous policies. It's easy to target, because it seems frivolous and morally suspect (Isn't perfume routinely associated with sexual attraction and seduction?). It's also easy to place all the shortcomings of the modern world on the back of this little scapegoat, called perfume, and think that by ousting it out of the community, burdened with all our sins, we have escaped Nemesis and can go about our lives feeling much lighter as if we have taken a massive crap. Alas, as any classicist will tell you, things don't quite work out this way. Hubris is just around the corner.