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This woman's parents had her amputated leg buried on its own. "One foot in the grave" indeed. On one hand, I appreciate the gravity with which they treated their child's loss of limb and resultant change in life. On the other hand, the writer notes that it really weirded her out to attend her own funeral while still alive.
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As much as I hate to draw attention to stories that portray people with disabilities as sources of inspiration, I'm linking to this story about Paul Smith. For decades, he used a select ten characters from a typewriter to create intricate works of art. I love the bold and yet sketchy lines he makes. Very cool!

Yes, it is relevant to Smith's art that he had cerebral palsy. His inability to use a more traditional instrument such as a brush or pencil prompted him to employ the typewriter. However, there's absolutely no need to describe Smith as "suffering from" a "terrible condition" and therefore "remarkable" and "awe-inspiring" because he created art. There's no indication that Smith perceived himself as suffering, burdened or even awe-inspiring. In a video about his work, he says, "It's something to do." As far as I can tell, he was enjoying himself as he listened to classical music and meticulously created his masterpieces character by character. I'm not claiming that Smith had a purely joyous existence -- for example, he didn't attend mainstream school, which leads me to speculate that he might have felt painfully lonely in his youth -- but I'm not seeing the horrible suffering that this stinky article assumes he felt.

I desperately loathe the trope of disabled person as inspiration to non-disabled people. The OddityCentral article epitomizes the dehumanization implicit in this theme when it concludes, "He died on June 24, 2007, at the Rose Haven Nursing Center in Roseburg, Oregon, but left behind an impressive portfolio of typewriter art, and most importantly the inspiration that you can overcome anything in life, if you put your mind to it." This sentence dismisses the entire content, texture and detail of Smith's life by depicting him solely as an oppressed person who miraculously overcame his oppression to make art. It assumes that Smith's disability can be separated from his experience and art, that it's a barrier between him and a fulfilling life -- because there's obviously no way a person with a disability could ever have a fulfilling, happy life while also having a disability. In short, this sentence dehumanizes Smith by assuming that an inextricable part of his life, his cerebral palsy, can be excised like an early stage of cancer.

But the article isn't satisfied with chopping up Smith into neat little segments [Person vs. Disability] and comparing him to some  non-disabled person's ridiculous standard of a fulfilling life. No, the conclusion dehumanizes him a second time as well when it dismisses his artistic accomplishments and legacy, claiming that Smith's status as "inspiration" is more important. Yes, who cares about Smith's life and art and disability and the relationships among these elements of his experience? Smith was not a significant person who deserved dignity and respect like all other beings. No! He was a superhuman exception to humanity whose primary purpose in this world was to educate the lowly non-disabled people about how we, too, can distance ourselves from the revolting materiality of our weak and mortal flesh and transform ourselves into pure creative mind, ascending to a plane where physical pains and distinctions are irrelevant.

I also hate the Supercrip narrative because of its creaky old Cartesian dualist underpinnings that smack strongly of racism and sexism. Relatedly, Eddie Ndopu discusses just such misogyny and racism inherent in portrayals of Reeva Steenkamp's killer, athlete and miserable human being Oscar Pistorius. [My other discussions of sexism, ableism and racism at work in Steenkamp's murder and the portrayal thereof can be found at "Reeva Steenkamp, 29, is dead" and "Reeva Steenkamp still dead; ex still to blame, but declared innocent of murder by courts."]

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I bought a tutorial by Winterbrose on morphing G2F with Sculptris, a free program from Pixologic, makers of the more powerful [and more expensive] ZBrush. The tutorial, despite some atrocious spelling errors that could have been easily caught with a spell check, provides the absolute basics necessary to work in the program and begin creating morphs; since I prefer written instructions, which allow me to go at my own pace, over video instructions, I am satisfied with my purchase. Already I see that it will allow me to overcome my hesitation and start experimenting.

Being relatively skilled with the D-Formers available in Daz Studio at this point, I think that I will not require a steep learning curve for Sculptris. I need only acclimate myself to the new layout and features; the principles of digital sculpting remain the same. I look forward to Sculptris' ability to manipulate mesh on a finer level than I can achieve with D-Formers; I can then achieve more detailed and sophisticated results.

I've already decided the types of morphs I would like to create: a diverse range of body types and sizes not covered by existing commercial or free offerings. For example:
  • A really fat woman. Special attention to loose flesh on upper arms, wide silhouette of thighs, projection of buttocks and effect of fat on hands and feet. I cite these areas because people who do fat morphs tend to just make those areas thicker, with little concern for the effect of weight + gravity. For example, people can have significant loose flesh and fat on their upper arms, but it doesn't bulk evenly. It tends to slide toward the inner sides and backs of the upper arms, and it kind of tucks in at the elbow, so there is often a dramatic difference in circumference between upper arms and forearms. On the forearms, fat distributes in a more even, less pendulous manner and can greatly decrease the differentiation between forearm, wrist and hand. Forearms and wrists can look more like smooth, elliptical columns, and fat can extend across the backs of people's hands and fingers. Furthermore, people's fat tends to fold and roll around their torsos and hips in ways that I haven't seen accurately represented. I'm on a campaign to represent realistic fats.
  • A woman with achondroplastic dwarfism. I've been interested in representing people with this disability since an experiment in morphing back in 2008 [done entirely with D-Formers and scaling within Daz Studio], which led to the development of Davry, steampunk vegetarian Unitarian NERD vampire with an irritating propensity to self-righteousness. Most recently, Béatrice Doucette, a tertiary in Zombieville, has the same disability. I don't think this morph will be too difficult.
  • A woman with shorter and less muscular legs due to cerebral palsy. Full-body morphs tend to give the model the same build all over the body, but plenty of people don't have the same build and proportions everywhere. For example, my sister, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, may be my identical twin, but her legs are shorter and narrower than mine because her cerebral palsy strongly affected them. I would like to make someone with her body type, as well as someone with a very muscular upper torso and arms and very slender and scrawny legs -- a physiology that would be appropriate for someone who does sports in a manual wheelchair.
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I finally got to watch the first ep of season 2 this morning. Overall I feel a sense of relief that all significant characters introduced in the previous season remain in action.

Nicole Beharie as Abby and Tom Mison as Ichabod re-establish their easy, sympathetic chemistry. Their characters each have equal opportunity to rescue and be rescued by each other, a refreshing change from other male/female TV pairs in which the man does all the rescuing of the woman.

Jenny, Abby's sister, has survived so far, giving Lyndie Greenwood a chance to play an important auxiliary to Abby and Ichabod. Even more unflinching and martial than Abby, Jenny contributes a satisfying level of physical ass-kicking, as well as great affection for Abby. Grounded by her relationship with her sister, Abby escapes the Exceptional Woman trope/trap.

John Cho and John Noble return to bolster the main characters with some stellar supporting performances. Cho's sniveling, pathetic Andy, who alternates between helping and betraying Abby, decides to do the former in this episode. I hope he recurs, as I find his status as regretful servant of evil, who nevertheless performs good acts, interesting. Noble's Horseman of War, also Ichabod and Katrina's son [?!], lurks ominously, threatening people in the plummy tones of a classically trained actor, while picking scenery from between his teeth. I'm having a very, very hard time dissociating Noble from his 5 seasons as Walter in Fringe.

All that said, I do have some reservations. First of all, where was Captain Irving?!?!?!?! How dare you deprive us of Orlando Jones for an episode, especially right after he gave himself up to law enforcement? He'd better show up soon, along with his family too. Sleepy Hollow can't just not show a whole third of the characters of color like that!

I particularly want to see Irving's daughter Macey return and get some development. As a wheelchair user since getting into a car crash with her dad and then as a temporary vessel for some demon, she smacked a little too much of the Tragic Tabula Rasa Cripple last season. However, I think her brush with demonic possession could provide a chance for some character development. Maybe she could link up to the demon realm and give Abby and Ichabod some guidance therefrom? Of course, this will probably not happen.

Second of all, Katia Winter as Katrina, Ichabod's wife, just gets the raw end of things. Despite billing Katrina as a main character, the show grievously underwrites her. For example, her fascinating past as a powerful witch who joined a coven dedicated to protecting the town -- this aspect of her character dwindles over the first season as her status as pawn in the struggle between Ichabod and the Headless Horseman grows. Furthermore, where a person with more acting skills, like Nicole Beharie, Lyndie Greenwood or, heck, even Amandla Stenberg [who plays Macey], might add something to the role, Winter can't even muster that. The stereotyped nature of her character just shows up how untalented she is. 

I eagerly await further episodes, however!
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So, as people have no doubt heard, the Quad City Times recently reported that Vivian Boyack and Nonie Dubes married recently after 72 years together. The gay rights mainstream's obsession with marriage equality is problematic, as is the whole concept of romantic love. That being said, I appreciate [hah!] the photo of Boyack and Dubes holding hands in front of the officiant for several reasons.

For one, the photo represents aspects of queer culture that popular media likes to gloss over: a) women who are b) old, c) [visibly] disabled and d) at least somewhat invested in the butch/femme roles. Look! Two women in wheelchairs who are happy! ^_^

For another, the photo shows just how deeply Boyack and Dubes care for each other. Boyack reaches over to Dubes with a sort of protective air, while Dubes keeps Boyack's hand firmly within hers. They look calmly at the officiant; though this is a significant day for them, they also know that this is also a mere legality that does nothing to change their steadfast devotion to each other. That sort of mutual happiness always makes me want to cry. Sniff sniff.

Read more... )
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The judge in the case against murderer Oscar Pistorius just found him not guilty of murder. As I predicted when I first heard about Steenkamp's death, her killer got away with it because he's a straight, cis, white, athletic superstar with the added bonus of having a disability, so, as an inspiring example of humanity overcoming wretched odds, he couldn't possibly do something as vile as killing another human being. Ugh, the stench of white privilege, straight privilege, male privilege and ableism is nauseating.
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For those of you not up on the latest hip party game for people in their 20s and 30s, let me introduce you to Cards Against Humanity. Essentially a group form of multiple choice Mad Libs, this game features a bunch of black cards, which contain sentences with key nouns left out, and a bunch of white cards, which contain nouns or noun phrases. Each player draws a hand of 10 white cards, and then everyone gets a chance to read a black card aloud. After a card is read, players choose from their hand the white card that they think best completes the sentence. These cards are distributed to the reader anonymously. The reader reads the selections aloud and selects the one they like best. The player whose white card is chosen wins the black card. All players draw another white card to keep their hand up to 10, and the role of reading black cards passes to the next player.

In concept, Cards Against Humanity is the sort of game I love. There's no competition and no real winning or losing. The game emphasizes creativity and amusement instead of points and strategy. It's the type of game that grows exponentially more hilarious with more and more players, and it sparks very interesting side conversations when people ask or joke about each other's choices.

In practice, however, I find Cards Against Humanity very problematic in terms of content and framing. The black cards, with their framing sentences, feature mostly topical references familiar to people in their 20s and 30s. Examples include: "What does Prince insist on being included in his dressing room?" and "What does Obama do to unwind?" Fine, no big deal.

It's the white noun cards, though, that drive me up the wall. If they contained only generically amusing phrases such as "murder most foul," "inappropriate yodeling" and "licking things to claim them as your own," I wouldn't object. But no, those cards are a distinct minority. The white cards focus heavily on topics apparently considered taboo or difficult to discuss by the white, straight, cis, male, bourgeois creator, including people of color ["brown people," "the hard-working Mexican"], people with disabilities ["amputees," "Stephen Hawking talking dirty," "a robust Mongoloid," "a spastic nerd," "the profoundly handicapped"], queer people ["the gays," "praying the gay away"], fat people ["feeding Rosie O'Donnell," "the morbidly obese," "home video of Oprah sobbing into a Lean Cuisine"], gender-nonconforming people ["passable transvestites"], genocide ["inappropriately timed Holocaust jokes," "helplessly giggling at the mention of Hutus and Tutsis"], Muslims ["Allah [praise be unto him!]," "72 virgins"], poor people ["poor people," "homeless people"], old people ["Grandma," "hospice care"], child abuse ["child abuse"], rape ["surprise sex"], paraphilias ["German dungeon porn"] and crap ["fiery poops"]. I could go on, but then I'd be quoting the entire suite of white cards.

Cards Against Humanity glancingly acknowledges the problematic structure of its game by billing its audience as "horrible people." "It's as despicable and awkward as you and your friends," crows the main page of the game's Web site. Of course, below this description are various cool publications and people praising the game, so clearly the game's creators see being "despicable and awkward" as a coveted, desirable status. They quote condemnations from the Chicago Tribune ["absurd"], The Economist ["unforgivable"] and NPR ["bad"] in contrast with praise from INC ["hilarious"] and Boing Boing ["funny"]. Thus they associate criticism with old-fashioned, conservative, humorless media outlets full of old people and appreciation with the young, hip, cool crowd. To be "despicable and awkward," then, is ultimately to be cool. 

What does Cards Against Humanity's concept of coolness -- that is, their idea of rebranded despicability qua awesomeness -- entail? Basically it means laughing at anyone who's not a straight, white, cis, bourgeois, hipster dude [like the creator]. Don't try to tell me that, because the game has white cards like "white privilege," it actually critiques those who are discomfited by the concept. No, it doesn't, not when the majority of cards make marginalized people who lack privilege into punchline after punchline after punchline.

If you're still not convinced, let me break it down to you with a single example: the white card that has the phrase "passable transvestites." There is so much wrong with this card that it's hard to know where to start. Well, to begin with, clearly someone thought this phrase worthy of inclusion into the deck of white cards, meaning that someone perceived it as shocking, racy, funny and potentially ridiculous. So what's shocking, racy and entertaining about "passable transvestites?" Yeah, a gender nonconforming person who goes out in public en femme so that they avoid being clocked always makes me laugh. The stats on trans and other gender nonconforming people being harassed, assaulted and killed provide comic relief every time I read them. The outdated language on this white card -- the vexed concept of "passable," coupled with the no-longer-used, clinical-sounding "transvestite" -- signals that the game's creators are hung up on old-fashioned binaries of gender presentation, the transgression of which they find hilarious and pathetic, instead of a matter of life and death.

I can make the same points about Cards Against Humanity's treatment of people with disabilities, the prejudice against whom can be summed up in a single white card: "Stephen Hawking talking dirty." Yup, yup, of course, people who are neuroatypical, emotionally atypical and physically atypical to the extent that society doesn't really know how to accommodate them -- they're comedy gold! I mean, really -- can you imagine a man with paralysis talking dirty? First of all, he'd be doing it with the help of his computer, which is inherently hilarious, you know, because he can't really talk. Second of all, it would imply that he, despite being unable to move parts of his body, has active sexual desires and interests, which is a shock, because no paralyzed person has ever had sexual interests and agency before -- ever! They're just...like... wheelchair-bound automatons. Yeah, "the profoundly handicapped" are a gas all right. Yet again, Cards Against Humanity's decision to employee the passe and offensive term "handicapped" shows that they're not interested in mocking prejudice, but in perpetuating it.

EDIT: As rosettanettle points out in a comment on my LJ crosspost, the creator of Cards Against Humanity expressed regret for the "passable transvestites" white card, which is now no longer included in decks. This does not, however, negate any of my points. If anything, it reinforces them, since the creator's expression of "regret," which came only because he was called on his transphobia, comes across as less a regret of treasuring bigoted tenets and more a regret at getting caught. I also suspect his theatrical Tumblr photoset of him lighting the card on fire of being a self-aggrandizing performance so that he may be showered with praise about what an enlightened ally he is. Why do straight, cis, white, middle-class dudes think they deserve extra special plaudits for meeting minimum standards of decency? "Despicable," indeed.
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A minor character in a Monster High ep, Finnegan Wake [har!], is a mer dude who speeds everywhere, mowing people down, and behaves with a mixture of insouciance and recklessness. [He's referred to as Rider in this wiki, but it's clearly the same character.] He also uses a manual wheelchair.

Mattel had a chance to create a really cool character who had a visible disability, but was not defined thereby. Instead, what did they do? They defined him by his disability. As the ep Ready, Wheeling and Able shows, the main monsters recognize that he uses a wheelchair and assume that he's into sedate, sedentary activities. After some platitudes about not jumping to conclusions and letting people do what they want, the main characters realize that Finnegan is much more at home on the track [?]. He assures everyone that, if he needs help with anything, he'll let people know, and then he asks someone to light his wheels on fire so he can do a trick.

In summary, Finnegan may appear at first glance to be some sort of super awesome stereotype-busting character. However, his adrenaline junkie behavior just acts as a blatant, sweating insistence that he's INDEPENDENT and AUTONOMOUS and ATHLETIC and FULLY CAPABLE DAMMIT EVEN THOUGH HE'S IN A WHEELCHAIR. As an implicit contrast to wheelchair users as silent, passive, objectified characters, Finnegan hits the other extreme and, because he tries so hard not to end up like the stereotype, he ends up referring all the more pointedly to the stereotype itself. An anti-stereotype, made with the intention of compensating for the failures in the original stereotype, still reinforces the stereotype. We can see this in the description for his episode: "When Rider rolls into Monster High, the ghouls learn there's more to this wheelchair-bound new student body than meets the eye." Yup, even though Mattel has strained mightily to progressively depict a character in a wheelchair, they still think he's bound to his chair, forever immobilized.

Finnegan also drives me up the wall because he's an inconsiderate, dangerous jerk. His ep introduces his character with a Finnegan-cam view of people diving out of his way as swerving and squealing noises occur. In other words, Finnegan barrels down the halls of Monster High at high speed, forcing people to yield the right of way. He seems to forget that he's not the only one in the universe with a mobility impairment. For just one example, zombies like Ghoulia and Slo-Mo walk with much more difficulty than most people, but apparently Finnegan doesn't care; he'll just run them over because going fast is cool! Nah, he's just an ass...
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Estimated to arrive at the end of this year or beginning of next, it's a little Peter Dinklage with bad hair! I really want him to be Guillaume Doucette, Béatrice and Delphine's dad.

As one of the closest things to an antagonist that Zombieville has, Guillaume has an unduly grandiose opinion of himself and a VERY LOUD VOICE with which to broadcast this opinion. Back when he was a disability rights activist, he was pompous, sure, but much less irritating. He used his pushy manner and VERY LOUD VOICE to good effect, for example, when heading the campaign to replace the quaint cobblestones on Church Street with even pavement that people wouldn't trip over. In fact, Béatrice and Delphine have fond memories of helping their dad unleash a can of institutional whup-ass on the UVM campus group that offered "midget bowling" as an event in their spring carnival. That, however, was over a decade ago...

Nowadays, Guillaume has become much more bitter. He hijacks public forums with his jeremiads about how the quality of life in Burlington has declined since he was a boy. He intensely dislikes PWS, who he calls "zombies" for shock value. According to him, PWS are "hogging media attention" and "draining state coffers," thus diverting coverage and funds from people with "legitimate" disabilities. [He actually says "legitimate." No one is quite sure why.] His argle-bargle about "cleaning up this town" eventually coalesces into a campaign for local public office, which, much to the PWS community's consternation and his daughters' embarrassment, he wins.

Of course, I could just heavily mod a body from my stash to make him, but no! I wanna little Peter Dinklage in my life!!
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Thanks to melopoeia who sent me this link, I just now learned about Kaylene Kau's prosthetic arm designed for people who have amputations below the elbow. Its tentacle-like design simplifies the usually complex design of manual prosthetics, resulting in an appendage that requires fewer parts and motors than most arms of its type. Though Kau conceptualized this prosthesis at least as far back as 2010, it's news to me.

This is so cool! I definitely need to make one of these in 1:6 scale so that someone in Zombieville can use one!
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In one of Weird Al's recent parodies, Word Crimes, about a prescriptivist's rant against supposed language misuse, he sings:

Saw your blog post
It's really fantastic
That was sarcastic
'Cause you write like a spastic

When I heard this part of the song, my esteem for him immediately plummeted, as "spastic" is, in my world, a derogatory, dismissive term for a very energetic and/or clumsy and/or forgetful and/or fidgety and/or unintelligent person. It derives from "spastic" as a description for people, particularly those with cerebral palsy, because of their muscle spasms. Said spasms, which cause uncontrollable contractions and may cause involuntary movements, may cause a person's limbs, head or core to shake. Speech may also be interrupted. People who didn't know any better interpreted these spasm-induced movements as signs that disabled people were overly excitable, clumsy, forgetful, fidgety, uncoordinated, etc. It became a shorthand insult, which then itself was shortened to "spaz," a term most prevalent in the late 1970s and 1980s.

Let me tell you about muscle spasms, at least from my secondhand experience. My sister Jill, who has cerebral palsy, regularly experiences them. My ex-wife, who also had cerebral palsy, had them. Janna regularly has them as well. In all their cases, their muscle spasms manifest as uncontrollable twitching and jerking in the affected body parts. In all cases, the spasms cause them pain and sometimes keep them up at night. In none of their cases do their muscle spasms have any connection with their overall levels of energy, coordination, excitability, forgetfulness and/or fidgetiness. In none of their cases do their muscle spasms limit their brain functions. To take an adjective for disruptive, excruciating pain and transform it into a dismissive term for a silly person is a prime example of rank ableism.

This is why I object to Language Log's discussion of Weird Al's use of "spastic" and subsequent apology. Ben Zimmer, author of a post discussing the term, claims that "spaz" and "spastic" have "become innocuous playground slang in the U.S. but a grave insult in the U.K." He asserts that Weird Al apologized for using "spastic" primarily because it offended British listeners.

NO! You are wrong wrong wrongity wrong, Ben Zimmer. "Spaz" and "spastic" have always been derogatory and insulting because they transfer terms for disability into the realm of insult, thereby turning disabilities into insults. Weird Al should not have apologized because "spaz" is an insult over in the UK. He should have apologized because ableism is nasty and harmful in general the world over.

Anyway, even though he apologized for his ableism in Word Crimes, Weird Al's ableism remains on display in his song Lame Claim to Fame. STOP USING "LAME" TO MEAN "PATHETIC" PEOPLE!

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 ...with Barbie and all her friends because, for the most part, it manages to balance light humor at no one's expense with slapstick and clever in-jokes. Midge as snorting, safety-obsessed introvert who talks like the 1950s also cracks me up -- and she's so cute when she appears in Smidge of Midge in greyscale!

I also really like Ken, who ultimately ends up being portrayed as just another character who happens to be Barbie's boyfriend, rather than the major plot motor and deus ex machina of the series. He's goofy and utterly devoted to Barbie ["Barbie sense...tingling..."] and supremely confident enough in his masculinity to invent a super-sophisticated closet for all his girlfriend's clothes. In other words, rather than having gay panic over activities often coded as queer, Ken does IT, back-end programming for the Super Style Squad [actually saying, "Beep boop bop," with Skipper as they hit buttons ^_^ ]. I can't tell you how happy I am to see a cartoon where all the characters, male and female, take fashion, style, clothing, etc., etc., etc., seriously, and no one shits on it for being trivially feminine. That's actually kind of revolutionary.

Life in the Dreamhouse would be even better if it ditched its racism and ableism. For example:
  • The cast needs more POC in significant speaking roles besides Nikki.
  • While we're discussing Nikki, she needs to develop a modicum of personality beyond Sassy Black Friend. For God's sake, she even does the head jerks and vocal fry so routinely associated with this stereotype. Everyone else has some interest or trait to differentiate them [Teresa's monkey, Midge's macrame, Summer's high energy, Skipper's use of gadgets, Ryan's really bad songs], but Nikki has nothing.
  • Furthermore, the show needs to stop using Afros as a visual shorthand for disastrous hairdos. When all characters have shiny, sleek, straight hair and curly, kinky, gravity-defying clouds of natural locks are depicted as the ridiculous punchlines to jokes, people with such curly, kinky hair are derided by extension.
  • The ableism needs to go too. Any use of "lame" as an adjective meaning "bad quality, boring, uninteresting, etc." should be scratched from the script pronto. Ditto for any appearance of "crazy" for "wild, unusual, strange, exciting" or "cray cray" for same. Just cut it out.
  • In terms of additions, I think that Life in the Dreamhouse would be greatly improved by the appearance of Becky, a photographer friend of Barbie who uses a wheelchair. I mean, c'mon -- if they can devote the air time to a running gag on the inadequate single elevator in the Dreamhouse, surely they can devote an episode to its upgrade and Barbie and Becky's happiness when Becky can finally get to the second floor to see her super-awesome closet, right?
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Queer interpretation of Gotye's Somebody That I Used to Know. The facial expressions and acting make it all clear here -- person 1 is a whiny, self-entitled creep, and person 2 is liberated upon ridding their life of them.

Solo interpretation of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody...with bonus translation in notes. Performer's facial expressions and body language during guitar solos show how much fun he's having!

Both of these translations illustrate how putting a song into a different language change, transfigure and enhance it.
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One of the many reasons I enjoy my new avatar photo is that Jareth looks both considering and on the verge of laughter. In other words, he has on his face the same expression that I had on mine when I was reading Flush Blush Crush Rush by Maya Banks. Well, at least I exhibited aforesaid expression up till page 33, which I just lost it and cracked up.

Rush is not written as a comedy, however. It's the first in a trilogy of novels about a young, inexperienced ingenue hired to work for an older, richer, wiser dude who overmasters her with his sexy sexiness and seduces her into the thrilling, glamorous world of BDSM, where he dominates and she submits and -- hey wait -- where have we heard this before? Oh right, in E.L. James' Fifty Shades of Tedium Grey, Sylvia Day's Bared to Complementary Neuroses You and the herd of other BDSM lust novels that have sprouted like post-rain mushrooms since about 2011. For Pete's sakes, people -- find a new template!

Anyway, at first I thought that Flush might prove better than 50 Shades, as it's written by an experienced, prolific author. Well, no dice. Bank writes in generic statements and superficial vagueness. A paragraph on page 29, wherein the ingenue eyeballs the rich dude's office, epitomizes this flaccid style:

[The office] screamed classy and expensive. Rich mahogany wood, polished marble floor that was partly covered with an elegant oriental rug. The furniture was dark leather with an antique, old-world look. Paintings adorned three walls while the last wall was all built-in bookcases filled with an eclectic mixture of works.

As anyone with a modicum of real-life and/or reading experience knows, looking into someone's personal space -- bedroom, study, den, boudoir, office, etc. -- provides a wealth of information about their activities, routines, interests, preoccupations and general character. The paragraph above, full of missed opportunities, demonstrates Banks' generic, inexpensive style because it, technically speaking, contains detail, but doesn't really communicate anything. The mahogany, marble, oriental [sic] rug, leather furniture, paintings and stocked bookshelves stereotypically signify wealth. Without any further modification to particularize them so that they reveal the character of the rich dude, the stereotypical signifiers just lie there limply like the authorial equivalent of spaghetti flung against the wall in a test to determine its adhesive properties.

As I intimated, Banks passes up a huge chance for the reader to get to know the dominant dude. If she would just give us more specifics, we might ground the story and the characters a little bit more. What's the design on the rug? What figures, palettes and styles appear in the paintings? What subject matter fills the books? How is everything arranged within the room? Are there focal points or salient details and, if so, what? Music, traffic noise, computer keys clicking? Garish fluorescent lighting, natural light from huge windows, cave-like dimness? The smell of carpet shampoo, dried spooge, expensive cigars, floral perfume? We'll never know. In paragraph after paragraph like this, Banks builds empty edifices of stereotypical tropes that may seem to evoke certain worlds, personalities and feelings, but which ultimately leave the subjects that they describe mysterious and cipher-like.

The gummy, rubbery prose, impervious to all attempts at the incision of fine detail, does this book in. I bravely put up with it until the ingenue's discussion of her impending BDSM contract with the rich dude on pages 32 and 33:

"And this relationship you propose. What exactly do you mean by nontraditional?"

..."I'll own you. Body, soul. You'll belong to me."

Whoa. That sounded so...heavy.


Right there was where I bust out laughing. The 24-year-old ingenue has evinced no particular idiolect up until this point, except for a distressingly ableist propensity to describe stuff that she thinks is pathetic as "lame." Suddenly, for no reason that I can discern, she sounds like a mash-up of Neo from the Matrix and Marty from Back to the Future. The odd combination of two elements totally anachronistic for this character's generation struck such resoundingly wrong notes that I just had to give up. When the supposedly steamy and erotic BDSM novel has me snorting and rolling my eyes at the glaring infelicities of style, it ain't really having its desired effect.
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Today we're examining The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker. I picked this up because it looked to be in a similar vein as Deborah Harkness' All Souls Trilogy, a silly but agreeably diverting series with occasional intelligent grace notes. In fact, Harkness endorsed Barker's debut novel as "a marvelous plot [with] clever dialogue [and] complex characters...a perfect escape from humdrum reality." I mentally translated this as "fun, shallow escapism" and settled in for some entertainment.

I have not been entertained. Instead, Barker has been providing object lessons in how not to write, here presented for your delectation in no particular order:

1) Spend a significant portion of the book having the protagonist raped and brainwashed, and then forget about it. Nora, a 30-year-old unhappy grad student in English literature, somehow accidentally pierces from this world into the realm of Ye Olde Standarde Faeries: that is, supernatural assholes who appear like beautiful humans but really look disgusting and who enjoy kidnapping humans and messing with their minds. The first 80 pages of the novel detail her transformation into a thoughtless automaton, coerced into a muzzy-headed state of permanent compliance. She is essentially drugged, threatened, gaslighted, forcibly married to Raclin, a draconic fairy prince, raped by Raclin, beaten by Raclin and, finally, terrorized by Raclin's mom Ilissa until she miscarries. By this point, the reader just wants the torture to end, but no such luck. Aruendiel, a human, male magician, rescues Nora, and we still have about four-fifths of the book left to go.

The remainder of the book, however, doesn't adequately address the aftermath of Nora's ordeal. Barker discusses Nora's physical healing from Raclin's assault, as well as the disconcerting experience of having a huge amount of fairy glamour lifted from her. We also get a little bit of ambivalence from Nora about having a miscarriage, but that's about it. We don't, for example, see Nora angry or ashamed at her seduction, regretful that she has left behind the lap of luxury for a hardscrabble life with Aruendiel, proud that she managed to get out or even frightened that the fairies might come after her. She does not appear to have been emotionally affected by her torture at all. For God's sake, she shows more impassioned feeling in her discussion with Aruendiel of his language's sexist deployment of gendered conjugations and declensions than she does about her repeated mental and physical violation at the hands of the fairies.

2) Fail to establish credible antagonists. Of course, the fairies do indeed come after Nora once Aruendiel rescues her; Raclin, in the form of a dragon, chases her on a few separate occasions, but is thwarted when Aruendiel a) pop-flies him into the stratosphere, b) leaves him with a much larger and very pissy lake monster and c) turns him into a rock. Aruendiel's casual [and silly -- seriously, pop-flying him into the stratosphere?] dispatches of Raclin make the prince seem less like a truly threatening abuser and more like an annoying bug. Because Nora and Aruendiel always repulse the fairies, the fairies fail come across as creakingly obvious devices with which to move the plot [such as there is] forward.

3) Use ableist and racist stereotypes in place of character development. In the ableism department, Aruendiel represents one of the most tedious types, the Aloof And Commanding Cripple With A Broken Body, But A Restless Mind, Whose Rudeness And Grimness May Be Excused By His Secret Tragic Past [But It Wasn't His Fault]. In Aruendiel's case, he killed his wife because [somehow] he thought this would free her from an enchantment that Ilissa had put on her. Then he was fighting in some war with Ilissa, and he fell out of the sky, broke lots of bones and died, but his friends brought him back to life. He does not, however, think that he was worth reviving. Why are the Tragic Cripples always so whiny and self-pitying?

In the racism department, one of the most interesting characters unfortunately ends up being the most exoticized. Hirizjahkinis, Aruendiel's friend, is the only female magician in a book where the main culture's characters think of female magicians as highly improbable, if not impossible. Hirizjahkinis skirts the sexist restrictions of Aruendiel's society by being a foreigner from some hot, jungle-covered, southerly place [lazy Africa equivalent] with a tradition of female witches. Physically, she is dark-skinned -- the only non-white character in the entire book [a fact noted by the white characters] -- with her black hair in cornrows. When Nora first meets her, Hirizjahkinis is so exotic and foreign that she wears both a kimono-like robe and a leopard skin over her shoulders. Yes, folks, a leopard skin: the stereotypical sign of a comic-book "jungle girl" or "savage!" Oh yeah, and she's bisexual -- the only non-hetero person in the entire book [also noted by the characters]. Even though she is warm, friendly, patient, competent, unflappable, sexy, badass and clearly the most lively and engaging character in the whole book, Hirizjahkinis suffers from intersectional objectification because, for some reason, Barker thought it acceptable to turn her into an egregious token, the embodiment of all that is different from the straight, white majority in the book.

4) Focus on a vacuous protagonist. I have no idea why Harkness thinks that this book involves "complex characters." They are the least complex I have come across in a long time. The protagonist Nora has no personality whatsoever, and the structure of the book, in which events happen to Nora through no agency of her own, certainly doesn't help matters. Nora is stalled in her dissertation by her advisor, dumped by her boyfriend, accidentally sucked into another world, abducted and raped by fairies, rescued and healed by Aruendiel, etc., etc., etc., shuttling from one event to another like a pinball being smacked by paddles of plot. It is possible to write a fascinating story about a protagonist who experiences dramatic changes in her life that are outside her control, but this is not that story. Said hypothetical fascinating story requires a protagonist with an interesting inner life whose interpretation of events offers counterpoint and/or insight into the whole structure of the plot. Nora, who apparently has no phenomenological experience whatsoever [see her lack of reaction to her rape], is not that protagonist.

Barker does Nora no favors on the development front by depriving her of a history. Sure, she's got an ex-boyfriend and a female friend, but we quickly breeze past these people so that Nora may be brainwashed and raped by the fairies. Quick summaries of Nora's relationship with her ex or an explanation of her friend's personality provide no revealing details about Nora as a person.

And what about Nora's family?  Heck, it's not until two-thirds of the way through the book, when she visits her 10-year-old sister through a two-way scrying spell, that we see that her sister has a shrine to their dead brother and that it now includes a photo of presumed-dead Nora as well. Why didn't we hear about her little sister and dead brother earlier? Why does Barker pass up a chance to forge significant relationships and thus a bit of individuality for her main character? Why does she withhold such important information about Nora's dead brother until practically the end of the book, when the reader is so stultified by the pointless plotlessness that they have no energy left to give a shit? The poignant conversation between Nora and her sister, who thinks she might be a ghost, contains more emotional heft than all the pages before it, but apparently leaves no lasting effect. In conclusion, Nora, a character apparently impervious to the effects of life, bores the poop out of me.

4) Tell the wrong story. Barker spends most of her time on a) Nora's torture in fairyland, b) Nora's physical recovery from her assault, during which she does a large amount of chores with Aruendiel's housekeeper, c) Nora's failed attempts to learn magic and d) her increasing, inexplicable infatuation with Aruendiel. To this, Barker tosses in interminable discussions of human/fairy politics that never seem to impinge upon the plot, scads of silly made-up names ["Hirgus Ext" being a typical example] with no logic behind them [she seems to think that telling the name of everything constitutes convincing worldcraft] and Nora's continual frustration over the sexism in Aruendiel's society. If there's a plot or anything of consequence going on in there, I missed it in the wash of extraneous details.

Meanwhile, there's a much more interesting thread running through the story: that of the conjunction between magic and death, fairyland and the afterlife. Nora enters fairyland through an abandoned cemetery, and it's mentioned that she has always liked old graveyards [a fact that's never enlarged upon]. When she determines how much time has passed in the magic world, she figures that her family must think that she is dead. In her adventures with Aruendiel, she encourages him to bring back to life a young girl. Her interest in life and death takes on new significance when she converses with her little sister and sees herself in the same category as her dead brother: enshrined in absence. Nora has a cautious, curious, mournful relationship with death, which is probably the only interesting thing about her.

Aruendiel does his own dance with death. As a magician, he has used magic enough so that his life has been extended to a few centuries, time enough to see generations of friends and family grow old and die. He has killed a bunch of people, including his own wife, which seems to affect him less than his own death and revivification. Part of him kind of wishes his friends had just let him stay dead, but part of him clearly wishes to keep on living. 

I'd like to hear that story -- the tale of how two people so personally invested in death navigate the trials of life -- but no. Instead we get the housekeeper teaching Nora how to chop up apples. I stayed up way too late last night, reading this book, waiting for something to happen, but nothing ever did.
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The dude generally pisses me off with his fucking stupid misogyny and gender essentialism, not to mention racism, but I do love this poem:

Death Is Not Evil, Evil Is Mechanical

Only the human being, absolved from kissing and strife
goes on and on and on, without wandering
fixed upon the hub of the ego
going, yet never wandering, fixed, yet in motion,
the kind of hell that is real, grey and awful
sinless and stainless going round and round
the kind of hell grey Dante never saw
but of which he had a bit inside him.

Know thyself, and that thou art mortal.
But know thyself, denying that thou art mortal:
a thing of kisses and strife
a lit-up shaft of rain
a calling column of blood
a rose tree bronzey with thorns
a mixture of love and hate
a wind that blows back and forth
a creature of beautiful peace, like a river
and a creature of conflict, like a cataract:
know thyself, in denial of all these things --

And thou shalt begin to spin round on the hub of the obscene ego
a grey void thing that goes without wandering
a machine that in itself is nothing
a centre of the evil world.


Frankly, I ignore the fact that someone's been reading too much Freud and return to this poem for the middle part: the quintessence of glorious, vacillating humanity. "A calling column of blood" -- what a perfect evocation of our physicality and our longing for emotional connection.

D.H. Lawrence really hates machines... He especially has it out for electric wheelchairs [ref. Clifford Chatterley]. Fuck off, D.H. Lawrence!


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Steenkamp hailed from Cape Town, South Africa. She began work as a model in 2001 and graduated from Nelson Mandela Metro University in 2005 with a BA in law, then went on to work as a paralegal. She applied to the bar in 2011, hoping to be a legal advocate by the age of 30. She was murdered on Valentine's Day, 2013, two days before the fifth season of reality TV show Tropika Island of Pleasure, in which she appeared, began airing.

She was murdered by abusive, wretched excuse for a human being [and celebrity athlete] Oscar Pistorius, in yet another depressingly common case of intimate partner violence.

How much do you wanna bet he'll get away with it due to his super privileges as a white, rich, straight, cis, celebrity dude who can also play on the public assumption that people with disabilities are useless lumps who can't do anything, much less murder?

And how much do you wanna bet that Steenkamp will disappear in the media's narrative about how they're shocked -- shocked, I say! -- that the inspiringly heroic supercrip should have such a tragic downfall?

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Just in case you thought last month's anti-fat advice column from Slate's Dear Prudence was a fluke, here she is recycling the same rant for Valentine's Day.

Letter writer: "I like this guy, but he's gained 20 pounds in the past year, and he doesn't brush his teeth before bed. I'm in the health industry, so I'm very concerned. What do I do?"

Prudie: "I see you're worried about fatty there croaking from diabetes and you raising your kids alone. So give him an ultimatum: A) No kisses till he starts brushing regularly. B) Either he gets his fat ass to the gym on a slimming program and stops stuffing cake in his piehole, or you're outta there. P.S. People without teeth are hilarious. Also ugly."

This response, like last month's, reveals Prudie's hangups and preoccupations. In both cases, she assumes that the fat people in question will, if they continue their current behavior, become shamefully disabled and eventually die, probably from complications from diabetes. Then their poor wives will be alone, so tragically alone, forced to raise the kids by themselves.

It's so multiply offensive. In no particular order, there's the clueless assumptions that fat people are axiomatically unhealthy. There's the nasty, cruel jokes at the expense of people with disabilities. And there's the heterosexist idea that a single mother and kids is not a real family, but something pathetic, unnatural and inadequate.

If Prudie really wanted to give helpful advice, she should encourage the letter writer to talk to her boyfriend and find out more about his childhood relationships to dental hygiene, sugar, diabetes and food in general. She should also ask him how he's been doing in the last year physically, mentally and emotionally. The first subject could shed some light on why he has poor dental hygiene; maybe he never had toothbrushing habits modeled, or he's scared of the dentist, or there was that one time his uncle called him Buckteeth, so he has really ambivalent feelings about his mouth in general. The second subject could provide context for his weight gain; maybe he's feeling lethargic, or he's lost his appetite, or his tastes have changed, or he's eating in part due to boredom, anxiety or depression. Heck, maybe his thyroid's off!

With this information, the letter writer and her boyfriend can, if they feel so motivated, better figure out the actual contributing factors to his poor dental hygiene and his recent weight gain, instead of attacking the symptoms. They can then consult the appropriate health care providers or social supports and work from there.

I know, Prudie; I know...that's too much work. Far easier to focus on the symptoms and use emotional bribery to combat the eeeeeeeeevil fats.

Didn't anyone tell you that ultimatums never work?

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This is awesome! How often do you see fat, kinky, androgynous, pierced people with disabilities in stocky photos? WOOOOOO HOOOOO! What a cute pair. ^_^

EDIT: I fixed the link!
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Chaz, a denizen of Zombieville [my future storyline], is a Batchix Nan Sook BJD in tan resin. Her spondis [fictional condition that causes people's body parts to fall off, which can only be arrested by a diet of 50% fresh human brains] has cost her her right hand and forearm, as well as her left foot and calf. Ideally she should use an electric wheelchair, but I only have one, which is currently occupied, so :p.

Chaz rescued her Russian tortoise Dandelion after Dandelion lost her leg in a car crash. Chaz nursed Dandelion back to health with a steady diet of dandelions...hence her name. Chaz and Dandelion love each other very much. ^_^

Dandelion is a custom Russian tortoise figurine sculpted by theTurtlePond on Etsy. She is anatomically detailed down to the accurate patterns on her shell. She is stylized, though, with a bigger head and eyes than true scale, as well as an overall larger size. [Female Russian tortoises rarely get over 8 inches long, from beak to rear feet.] She's also smiling. I plan to put some wheels on an elastic strap that fits around Dandelion's shell so that she can have a tortoise wheelchair.Read more... )
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This gem is from Monday's Dear Prudence, a trove of crap:

Letter writer: "I'm in my late 20s with a husband and a young daughter. My husband, who has a familial history of thyroid problems and high blood pressure, has gained nearly 100 pounds in the five years we've been married. He has developed liver problems and high cholesterol, OBVIOUSLY because he's so disgustingly fat.

"I exercise and eat healthily and encourage him to do the same, but he resists, calling me a nag. He's a grown man, but I'm so concerned about his health that I refuse to treat him like an independent agent. How can I further insult him by infantilizing and objectifying him?"

Prudie: "Fat people are gross. They're also stupid lazy slobs who don't eat right or exercise and can't perceive that their fat is killing them. KILLING THEM I SAY!

"Oh wait...you had a question there. I strongly recommend going to a 'bariatrician,' a.k.a. someone with lots of letters after their name who gets paid handsomely for bullying people into losing weight and supporting the lucrative, ultimately futile diet industry.

"I also recommend even more nagging and shaming. Project for your husband a future in which he lurches from health crisis to health crisis and where you have to take care not only of your daughter, but also his fat lazy ass. That should motivate him into the spiral of shame and self-hatred that makes people lifelong devotees of the 'bariatric' industry.

"Good luck...you're gonna need it. At the rate your husband''s going, I wouldn't be surprised if he ends up wheelchair-bound, never to walk again, because he's such a tub of lard. Then he'd be fat and disabled, and that would just be...[ralllllllphgack].

"Excuse me. On second thought, forget the 'bariatrician' and the extra nagging. Just do the world a favor and put him out of his misery now. Poison his cupcakes."

What a sad, bitter, lonely, empty life she must lead to be so full of hatred toward fat and/or disabled people.

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I picked up Eon by Alison Goodman after reading some laudatory reviews on Amazon and also being marginally intrigued by the concept, in which a young woman adopts a boy's identity to compete for the chance to communicate with dragons and wield great magic, which is, of course, reserved for men. Of course, Eon wins the chance to communicate not just with any dragon, but with the super special awesome Mirror Dragon, the most powerful of all. Then she becomes involved in imperial politics, and eventually the fate of the emperor's succession and the kingdom depends on her. Of course it does. :p

I did not expect this book to be quite so shitty. It really reminded me of The Diviners in that it was a textbook example of how not to tell a story.

Do you need to learn how not to write, kids? Okay, then pay attention to the following precepts, in no particular order.Read more... )
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Is there any interest in seeing the first three episodes in an aborted 1:6 scale melodrama, The Pink Squad, written [and crappily photoed] nearly a decade ago?

It was my earliest scripted photostory series [as opposed to my earlier, pictures-only attempt], and it contains many of the characters and themes that we know and love today:
  • Female protagonists
  • Queer characters
  • Trans characters
  • Disabled characters
  • Characters of color
  • Vermonters
  • Kinky sex
  • Horny robots
  • Mad science
  • An amazing amount of sarcasm
  • PINK HAIR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!111eleventy

DISCLAIMER:
If I do post this story, please note that it contains humor that I thought was funny back then, but which now strikes me as blatantly racist, sexist or transphobic. That's the main reason I've refrained from making it public again.

On second thought, maybe I'll just summarize it or something. There are some cool, engaging, humorous, well-developed aspects to it, but it's also a glaring example of How Not to Write People with Marginalized Identities.

Or maybe there's no rehabilitating a bigoted piece of personal history, as fascinating as I find it for reasons of historical creativity. Arrrrgh, I dunno.

EDIT: Fuck it. Discretion is the better part of valor. No Pink Squad for you.

P.S. Earlier I wondered if Baozha started me on my pink hair kick. Uhhhhhhh, nope. I place all the blame at the feet of the Pink Squad.
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I just finished Libba Bray's latest doorstop trilogy opener The Diviners. Set in New York City in 1926, it follows a group of teenagers with magical powers as they pursue and attempt to thwart a murderous fanatic who wishes to cheat death by bringing about Hell on Earth [or something -- this point wasn't entirely clear]. Characters include protagonist Evie, an obnoxious flapper wannabe and burgeoning lush, who can learn about owners by holding their possessions; her best friend Mabel, whose major conflict in this book is about whether she should bob her hair; Evie's new friend Theta, a Zeigfield girl and apparent pyrokinetic; Memphis, Theta's boyfriend, who has healing hands and a possessed little brother; Will, an absentminded professor stereotype, who heads a museum of the occult and ostensibly watches over Evie; Sam, a pickpocket and male version of Evie [only with less alcohol], who can become invisible; Jericho, a tragic cyborg with the power of hulking menacingly; and Naughty John, the aforementioned murderous fanatic. Shenanigans ensue.

I'm going to finish this series because Bray knows how to write mindlessly engaging entertainment. I am not, however, finishing this series for its literary merit. In fact, the book presents many beautiful examples of how not to write. I have gathered them in a list below for your convenience in no particular order.This book REALLY pissed me off. )
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Thanks so fucking much for NOT GIVING A SHIT about users, especially visually impaired users who find your new Friends reading pane a horrible illegible pile of shit. You STINK, and I'm leaving.

Find me over here, peoples: http://modernwizard.dreamwidth.org

This blog is officially an ex-blog. All content will be transferred to DW, assuming I can get some archive/transfer service to work.
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The elevator in the office building is not working. The elevator company can't fix it until the close of business today or the start of business tomorrow.

GOOD THING NO ONE WITH A MOBILITY IMPAIRMENT NEEDS TO GET AROUND THE BUILDING, HUH?

This is all the Knights of Columbus' fault. They're the assholes who pestered FDR to make Kill Indigenous Peoples Day a federal holiday in 1934, which is why the elevator company was off today in the first place.

The world is pissing me off today.
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When I first wrote about Jodi Anderson's tedious slog of a novel Tiger Lily, I predicted that Pine Sap, Disabled Stereotype Extraordinaire, was going to die.

Now, having finished the book [give me a medal for endurance], I would like to apologize. I'm sorry. I was wrong. Pine Sap does not die. Instead, he becomes Tiger Lily's Consolation Prize Husband after Peter leaves Neverland to grow up in the UK as Wendy's husband. [I'm not gonna even go into how narratively wrong that is.] Pine Sap's status as Permanent Runner-up is not at all an improvement over my assumption that he would be the Tragic Dead Guy. He's still portrayed as inherently pathetic and not as awesome as Peter because of his disability.

So guess who dies? Tik Tok. Yes, Tiger Lily's adoptive dad bites it. On insistence from a shipwrecked "Englander," the Sky Eaters force Tik Tok to change his gender presentation and wear men's clothes. He loses his spirit and commits suicide as an instructive object lesson to Tiger Lily about what happens when you try to deny your true self.

Really, Anderson? You're gonna go with the Tragic Dead Queer trope? You realize it's a fucking evil stereotype, right?

...No, apparently you don't. Boy, you really do have shit for brains.
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Peter Pan was published in 1911 by the British author J.M. Barrie, based on a 1904 play called Peter and Wendy. It’s the story about three British kids, Wendy, John and Michael, who go to the Neverland of their imaginations. There they have adventures with pirates, mermaids, wild animals, lost boys and, of course, the boy who wouldn’t grow up: Peter Pan.

The concept of Peter Pan and the crude outlines of the story have exerted a fascination over US and British readers for more than a century. Thanks to Disney’s 1953 animated adaptation, most US fans have rather superficial ideas about Peter Pan, chiefly involving flying, fairy dust, pirates and maybe a crocodile. Naturally, the play and the novel are much messier and more interesting than our cliched ideas about them.

Having read Peter Pan many, many times, I could provide you with rants on everything from the authorial interruptions to the treatment of female characters, but right now I am focusing on the Indians. Yeah, there are Indians in Neverland. They are members of the Pickaninny tribe, referred to by that narrator as “red men,” and they scalp people. I am not making this up; Barrie specifically writes that the name of the Indians’ group is a racist term for African-American people. Furthermore, the Indians have silly nature-related names like “Great Big Little Panther.” They also talk like stereotypical Japanese people who can’t pronounce their Rs. In short, the Indians are a horrible farrago of Edwardian racist stereotypes, which kind of makes sense, if you figure that Neverland is populated by Wendy, Michael and John’s ideas of Indians gleaned from idealized and disparaging media they have consumed.

The only Indian in Peter Pan to develop something like an individual personality is Tiger Lily. Described as the trite Ice Maiden who “staves off the altar with a hatchet,” she is beautiful, imperious and aloof to all potential suitors. For some reason, though, she has a rather pathetic crush on Peter, declaring, “Me his velly nice friend.” [See what I mean about the stereotypical broken English?] Her major scene occurs when Smee and Starkey kidnap her, but untie her at Peter’s orders, as they think he is Captain Hook. Tiger Lily does the smart thing and immediately jumps off Smee and Starkey’s boat and swims away to freedom. Other than that, though, she’s a barely personalized bit of scenery.

One hundred years after Barrie published the original novel, Jodi Lynn Anderson decided to vomit forth her revisionist response entitled Tiger Lily. In this version, narrated by an observant but mostly uninvolved Tinker Bell, Tiger Lily is merely referred to as a “native,” a member of the Sky Eater tribe. A teenager, she lives with her adoptive father, the cross-dressing shaman Tik Tok, and excels at “masculine” pursuits and suppressing her emotions. She meets Peter Pan and falls in love with him, an experience that, of course, feminizes and gentles her. [I fucking hate that trope.] Her impending marriage to a cruel lout, as well as the arrival of Wendy, John and Michael, messes everything up. Angst ensues. As far as I can tell, this is a cheap attempt to capitalize on the paranormal romance subgenre by employing, for no discernible reason, the trappings of a previous author’s universe.

As soon as I heard about Anderson’s book, I began to cringe. Why is she so interested in rehabilitating stereotyped Indians? What makes her think she has the authority to tell Tiger Lily’s story? Why do we need yet another white author with no native connections treating the Indians of Peter Pan like shit? [I’m serious. In all sequels and adaptations of the story that I’ve read or read about, the Indians fare extremely poorly. Please check Debbie Reese’s "Peter Pan" and "Peter Pan in Scarlet" tags on American Indians in Children’s Literature for details. Reese is an author and activist tribally enrolled in Nambe Pueblo (New Mexico), and she knows what she’s talking about.] The answer to these three questions appears to be 1) no idea, 2) absolutely nothing and 3) we don’t. Yet Anderson forges ahead.

I decided to give Tiger Lily a chance, though. I was right – it is cringeworthy and terrible. The persistently clueless portrayal of the Sky Eaters combines with the talentless writing to create a literary disaster.

This book is so bad that I don’t even know where to begin. Let’s start, for want of a better place, with the subject of consistency. All of the “native” tribes of Neverland appear to be named after their location – the Bog Dwellers and the Cliff Dwellers, for example – except for Tiger Lily’s tribe, the Sky Eaters. Why aren’t they named after their location as the Forest Dwellers? What’s this irrelevant business about the sky and eating it? Here’s just one clue of many that Anderson hasn’t thought her world through.

The Sky Eaters behave like a loose collection of Native American stereotypes. They live in huts; they have a medicine man, Tik Tok, even though he is called a shaman, who heals people and works magic; they wear deerskin clothes; they have long black hair and high cheekbones; many of their names follow the stereotype of Literally Translated Natural Phenomenon; they worship many gods or spirits…argle bargle bargle. Despite this, they don’t seem to have any culture. Anderson will often add asides about the Sky Eaters’ marriage customs, religious beliefs or bathing habits, but we never see these things affecting the characters’ actions or the development of the plot. Tiger Lily’s little village, populated by the Loving Adoptive Dad, the Disabled Kid With a Crush on Her, the Teen Exemplar of Femininity, the Evil Suitor, the Evil Suitor’s Mom and Various Uncomprehending and Gossipy Tertiaries, could appear in any other setting without a problem. It’s a thoroughly generic story and a thoroughly generic setting, which Anderson only gestures at making specific. And, unfortunately, her idea of making the Sky Eaters specific involves tossing them into a pit of Indian stereotypes.

Even though I’m only halfway through, I’m dogged by the sense that Anderson is telling the wrong story. As I mentioned, the depiction of Tiger Lily and the other Sky Eaters is so vacuous as to deter sympathy, identification and investment in Tiger Lily’s experiences. Furthermore, Tiger Lily and Peter Pan have a tediously formulaic Forbidden and Doomed Love piece of crap going on, which is also boring. I’m much more interested in…well, basically anyone except them. For instance, what’s Tik Tok’s history? How does Pine Sap [Disabled Kid with a Crush on Tiger Lily] feel about being a sensitive, thoughtful butt of tribal jokes? What’s the relationship between Smee and Hook? Why does Tink have a crush on Peter? Where the hell are all the other faeries anyway? Where’s the magic?

Neverland holds such a grip on our imaginations because it’s a problematic, messy, dangerous, powerful place. Anderson commits a crime against fiction by sticking it somewhere in the Atlantic, leaching out the magic and populating it with racist and sexist cliches that wouldn’t grow up.

P.S. I just know that Pine Sap is going to die. The disabled character always bites it in this kind of ableist tripe.

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Elsie Chapman's first novel, Dualed, sounds like a cross between a bad Hunger Games ripoff and the stupidity of someone who has never actually thought about what it's like to be an identical twin. It's about a city where people prove their worthiness by killing their identical twins, who are raised apart from them.

The stupidity hurts. Why is one half of the population murdering the other half? Are they in a competition for scarce resources? In that case, why keep both twins around at all? Why not selectively abort or turn to infanticide?

Furthermore, the ableist and eliminationist implications of this are disturbing, to say the least. If one twin has a disability and the other doesn't, there are many ways in which the twin without the disability could exploit the other's disability to kill him/her off. Has the author thought about the bias against disabled people inherent in her worldbuilding? To be clear, I have no problem with ableism in worldbuilding. I do have a problem, however, with ableist bias in worldbuilding done by an author without a grain of self-reflectiveness.

You know, if you really wanna run with this "kill your twin" premise, why not attack the inherent ableism head on? Give both twins disabilities. One could be a deaf person with agoraphobia and an anxiety disorder. The other could be a person with depression, narcolepsy and binge/purge syndrome. Then they could grow to be friends. Maybe they would even fall in love. They would decide that this whole "kill your twin" thing was, in fact, incredibly stupid and struggle to make their own lives in a society that a) expects them to try to kill each other and b) devalues people with disabilities anyway.

Man, that would be a much better story!
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I was all excited to read Memoir of a Debulked Woman, Susan Gubar's account of her diagnosis and treatment for advanced ovarian cancer. Since Gubar is a noted feminist literary critic, I expected a powerful combination of personal details and polemic yielding a strong, thought-provoking critique of the medical industrial complex.

I did not expect gratuitous similes about people with disabilities. At least twice in the half of the book that I read [before throwing it across the room in disgust], Gubar compares her social withdrawal and disinclination to talk about her condition to having autism.

NO! Your social withdrawal and disinclination is NOT like having autism, Susan Gubar. More accurately, your social withdrawal and disclination to talk about your condition correspond to your personal stereotype [also a cultural stereotype at large] of how autistic people act in social situations.

In any case, please shut up. You are not like a person who has autism. Only people with autism are like people who have autism. And do I need to remind you that people with autism are actual, real people, as opposed to fodder for your literary flourishes?

While I'm on the same subject, people need to stop using "blind," "deaf," "crippled" and other words that refer to people with disabilities as metaphors. No, in fact, you're not "blind" to the obstacles facing you or "deaf" to criticism and therefore "crippled" by your inability to heed advice. You may be inattentive to obstacles, heedless of criticism and therefore challenged by your inability to heed advice, so use the right words, rather than ones that don't belong to you.

Also, everybody, stop using any form of the word "lame" to refer to something that you think is pathetic, insignificant, not good enough, unconvincing, etc. Look at how many synonyms I just listed in the preceding sentence! Pick one of them instead, not a term that shows how horribly prejudiced you are against people with disabilities.
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Do you have body integrity identity disorder? Well, that's neither here nor there, since I really don't care about your BIID.

I do care, however, when you start calling yourselves "transabled" and organizing your whole identities around the supposition that your experiences are analogous to those of people who are trans or who have disabilities.

First of all, you don't get to use the word "transabled." By doing so, you appropriate the terminology of the trans rights movement and disability rights movement. You dismiss the lived experiences and struggles of trans and/or disabled people by using their vocabulary as your metaphor. You're therefore objectifying and dehumanizing trans and/or disabled people. You're perpetuating discrimination and prejudice against these populations. Go find your own terms.

Second of all, neither do you get to claim that your oppression is like that of trans and/or disabled people. When you are murdered for your state of being and society finds your killer[s] understandable, justifiable, sympathetic and symptomatic of an entire social program that dehumanizes people like you with the goal of eliminating them, then we might be able to talk. Otherwise, you need to understand that being different does not axiomatically entail being oppressed.

[Prompted by a similar takedown on Womanist Musings.]
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I was justing listening to Dan Savage's Savage Love podcast 289, in which a teenaged boy called up about expressing romantic interest in another teenaged boy, who happened to have Asperger's. This was the occasion to bring in British counselor Maxine Aston to discuss challenges and special considerations when communicating with people with Asperger's.

I immediately hopped over to Aston's Web site to investigate her credentials. She has a Master's of Science in health psychology. She specializes in counseling people with Asperger's and people who love people with Asperger's. She's also written a bunch of articles and books about people with Asperger's in relationships with non-Asperger's people. Sounds pretty qualified, right?

WRONG! The About Maxine section tells all: She writes, "I was once married to a very special man who was affected by Asperger syndrome..."

Pardon me while I barf! As far as I can tell, Aston does not have Asperger's. However, she presumes to be an expert on people with Asperger's because she's objectified them for years and years by studying them.

You can tell she has objectified people with Asperger's because she uses the dismissive and condescending term "very special" to refer to her ex with Asperger's. In my experience, the term "special" is frequently used by non-disabled people to place disabled people in a separate, subhuman category where they become silent, inspirational symbols instead of fully respected human beings. In fact, when I hear a non-disabled person describe a disabled person as "special," I interpret that word as a derisive insult. Aston does not respect people with Asperger's; instead, she feels pity and contempt for them.

Aston arrogates the authority to discuss Asperger's syndrome because of her neurotypical privilege. Paradoxically enough, she is assumed to be an expert in Asperger's syndrome precisely because she does not have Asperger's syndrome. She may be an authority on people without Asperger's in relationships with people with Asperger's, but that doesn't automatically make her an expert in Asperger's syndrome. The experts in Asperger's are the people who know what it's like to experience Asperger's day in and day out because they themselves have the condition. But they are frequently marginalized by the non-disabled majorities who participate in their objectification and suppression, therefore making it very difficult for people with Asperger's to communicate their experiences.

Man, now I have even more of a reason to loathe Dan Savage. Instead of having some people with Asperger's on to discuss their perceptions, communciation and advice, he perpetuated the dehumanization of people with disabilities by calling in a neurotypical "expert." Way to go, Dan Savage!

P.S. Is it pronounced "ass per gerrrrs" or "ass per jurrrrrrs?"
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As much as I'm interested in the concept of the novel [a cure for aging and its effects on the world], I DO NOT CARE AT ALL about the adventures of the protagonist, a straight, cis, white, middle-class, able-bodied, US man with a societally acceptable body shape and a slag heap of unexamined privilege.

Seemingly THE ENTIRE WORLD revolves around the adventures of straight, cis, white, middle-class, able-bodied men with societally acceptable body shapes and slag heaps of unexamined privilege. They're tedious, boring, self-indulgent and overdone. Find a new narrative, people.

P.S. And if you're a straight etc. man whose protagonist happens to be a straight etc. man, you're suffering A FAILURE OF IMAGINATION. The world don't look like you no more. Get over yourself.
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This week has been a particularly enraging week. The NYT reports that Angela Norman "gets 9 years in teen's malnutrition death." Norman's daughter, Makayla, died at the age of 14, weighing 28 pounds, suffering bed sores and other signs of ill health. Makayla had cerebral palsy.

This was not a "malnutrition death." Norman murdered her disabled daughter by abusing her, neglecting her and starving her to death.

Ugh, I don't even know what to say any more.
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I read advice columns for the same reason I watch mediocre TV shows. I gain entertainment not only from the stories told, but also from the advice supplied by the columnist and, frequently, the commenters. Plus there's always the opportunity to castigate the TV show or the advice column for how good it could have been.

Before I go into critiquing the NYT's most recent Social Qs, let me just say that the only advice column I can currently take seriously is Captain Awkward. She's a person with no official credentials to tell other people how to live their lives, but she, along with the trenchant commentariat, manages to provide practical, straightforward, explicit, helpful advice to the questioners. Be warned, though; she does use sexist slurs ["bitch" and "dick"], as well as ableist adjectives ["crazy"]. Despite her failings, I approve of her generally open-minded approach.

Now back to my original subject. In the most recent Social Qs, a letter writer says that her daughter's future mother-in-law loves Fifty Shades of Grey, a BDSM romance novel. "As a feminist," the writer dislikes the books and wonders how to respond when the future MIL asks the writer what she thinks of the books.

Philip Galanes, author of Social Qs, advises the following:

Engage your future in-law, mother to mother. Steer clear of judgmental terms like “offensive,” but try to get to the bottom of her excitement. Say: “I’d hate for a man to treat me or my daughter that way. What do you think the big appeal is?” She couldn’t object, and it might start an interesting conversation.

Good advice. When someone asks you your opinion of something controversial with which you disagree, you can neutrally state that you have a different view and, if you're interested, attempt to start a more general discussion and go from there. Of course, you can react in other ways [for example, "I don't really feel comfortable talking about that" is also perfectly acceptable], but this is a polite option.

I agree with the advice, but I resent the snide tone in which it's delivered. Galanes spends one paragraph of four answering the writer's question and the other three making sneery judgments about BDSM. In effect, he undermines his advice to be respectful and tolerant about things you don't know anything about by being derisive and dismissive about a subject with which he is [clearly] unfamiliar. Wow, he's really shoring up his credibility.

Besides an anti-BDSM stance, I also detect some misogyny in Galanes' response. Romance novels are predominantly read by women and, for that reason, are frequently not taken seriously, especially by male critics. Galanes' incredulity that female readers could find romance novel tropes interesting seems to subserve his distaste with Fifty Shades of Grey.

P.S. We're not even getting into the letter writer's assumption that feminism is incompatible with BDSM.
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Some businesses in New York City are complaining that lawyers join forces with people with disabilities to sue said businesses into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Shorter article: "'We don't want to obey the law,' some businesses whined. 'P.S. We hate disabled people.'"

Look at me, playing the world's saddest song on the world's smallest violin. >:
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I just looked up impetus on dictionary.com to verify that the plural is impetuses. [It is.] For a quote that used the word in a sentence, the dictionary provided this shining gem by the horrendous bilgewhacker D.H. Lawrence:

"While the white man keeps the impetus of his own proud, onward march, the dark races will yield and serve, perforce. But let the white man once have a misgiving about his own leadership, and the dark races will at once attack him, to pull him down into the old gulfs."

Apparently this comes from a 1920s novel by Lawrence entitled The Plumed Serpent. Stupid condescending crap from the main character Kate.

Maybe the dictionary.com quote generator should exclude bigoted tripe, huh?

P.S. The title of this entry comes from Yo, Is this Racist?, a hilarious [and ableist] Q&A blog.
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"Tale of Love and Illness Ends in Death:" Oh, it sounds so tragic, the way the New York Times frames that headline, right? It must be the tale of a long-enduring affection severed by the death of one of the participants, leaving those still alive to mourn and soldier on, right?

Wrong.

Charles Snelling, 81, murdered his wife, Adrienne, 81, who had Alzheimer's, and then he committed suicide. That's what happened.

The NYT article goes on and on about how much Charles supposedly loved Adrienne, but the fact remains that he killed a disabled, mentally ill woman, arrogating responsibility for her life and death to himself. If a husband thinks it's his prerogative to end the life of a disabled member of his family "out of love," we as a culture have just sadly demonstrated, yet again, how little we value the lives and autonomy of people with disabilities and/or mental illness.
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Dan Savage, a gay male advice columnist who writes for the Seattle Stranger, has some cachet among liberals/Democrats/progressives as being queer-friendly, pro-kink and open-minded, but he still has lots of privilege as a thin, white, rich, cis, married, U.S. man. I've collected several criticisms of his advice which should make you think long and hard before calling this columnist helpful, progressive and open-minded. In no particular order...here they are...
Read more... )
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Tami says it succinctly and well on Racialicious. Some people, including those that I've been friends with, seem to think that racism or any other prejudice that comes out in anger represents a deviation from their normal character. However, I agree with Tami that pressure shows what a person is truly made of. If racism comes out of you when you are angry, you have shown yourself to be a true racist. No ifs, ands or protestations.
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So FX network has a new series out this season, American Horror Story. The story concerns the Harmons, mother, father and teenaged daughter, who move into a haunted house in Los Angeles, complete with past murders, creatures in the basement and eccentric neighbors. Among the neighbors is Adelaide, or Addy, a young woman in her mid- to late 30s. She has Down's Syndrome and lives with her mother in the house next door.

At first I was all excited to see an actor with Down's Syndrome playing a character with the same condition in a television show. I suppose I was entertaining visions of Life Goes On, a feel-good sit-com from the 1990s centering around a family in which one of the members had Down's. I'm not here to discuss the complexities of the portrayal of Corky, the young man with Down's, but just to say that, in my memory, the show at least gave him a personality and character arcs, treating him as a well-rounded character.

No such luck for Addy on American Horror Story. Her primary function is to give warnings about ghosts to people, who then ignore her, and also to sneak inside the Harmons' new home and startle them. In fact, the first scene of the first episode has a young Addy warning twin brats who vandalize the house, "You're going to die in there." Naturally they do. Grown up in the present day, Addy continues pestering the Harmons with similar admonitions. From her initial appearance, then, Addy is shown to have unusual insight into the creepiness of the house, in the same way that so many blind characters in TV and literature can't see, but have unusual insight into people's souls [or something]. This subtle display of a compensatory strength -- maybe Addy has intellectual disabilities, but, as a substitution, she can sense ghosts! -- starts Addy's one-dimensional portrayal as a character solely defined and developed by her disability.

The TV show itself presents Addy as a strange sort of disabled object, and the able-bodied characters in the show continue such alienating, abusive treatment. In the first episode, Addie's mother refers to her derogatorily as "the Mongoloid." In the second episode, Addie's mother refers to tying Addy to a chair "again," about which the Harmons make no comment, thus passively colluding with the ableist, demeaning treatment of Addy. We are also shown a scene in episode two in which Addie's mother abuses Addie, locking her in a closet full of mirrors and telling her to "look at [herself]." Though Addy's screams follow us, the camera quickly cuts away, denying the audience any chance to sympathize with a grown woman being manipulated by her cruel mother by being shoved around and locked in a closet. The show doesn't care about Addy as a person, and neither do the characters.

In the two eps of American Horror Story I watched, I also noticed how Addy's mother subtly infantilizes her through controlling her appearance. As I mentioned, Addie is in her mid- to late 30s, so figured because she was shown to be somewhere between 6 and 8 in the initial scene in 1978. Addie now wears the same type of pastel pinafores that she did when she was less than 10. Furthermore, her mother keeps her hair in long curls. I assume that her mother controls these aspects of her appearance because she treats Addie like a stupid child on other occasions, so why wouldn't she continue this abusive attitude with Addy's dress and self-presentation?

I'd watch a show about a woman with Down's Syndrome growing up next to a haunted house, dealing with her abusive mother, if the show focused on the protagonist as a full, rich character who was affected by, but not defined by, her disability. But American Horror Story is not that show, and I will not be watching it any more.

Thanks to Fangs for the Fantasy for summarizing [and calling out various prejudices of] this show.
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...Brought to you by DaVinci's Notebook's The Title of the Song. Favorite line: "Drop to my knees to elicit crowd response." The same group also has in their repertoire a host of other humorous a cappella songs.

Also in the same vein is Britanick's Trailer for Every Oscar-Winning Film Ever. The accuracy of the parody is marred by useless ableism ["Said retard is now in your custody"]. Phooey. Why does otherwise good humor have to be so corrupted?
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After reading my analysis of season 7, ep 15, “Manipulated,” of Law and Order: SVU, my sister Jill, who uses a wheelchair, added another stereotype to my list of those that the ep perpetrates:

1. Disabilities are horrible things. Linus obviously thinks so; as I pointed out in a previous entry, he calls his wife Tessa, who uses a wheelchair, a “victim,” that is, a contemptible object of pity. Jill points out that Tessa also uses negative language to describe her disability. She claims that Walter is persecuting her, saying, “If I weren’t stuck in this chair, I would kill him myself.” Tessa clearly adheres to the stereotype of a wheelchair user as someone who is “wheelchair-bound,” that is, limited and restricted by the chair, rather than enabled to move around.

Jill also notes that there is a long tradition of characters in various media faking disabilities, which only causes able-bodied people to regard people with disabilities with suspicion and hostility.

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Law and Order: SVU season 7, episode 15, “Manipulated,” is the gift that keeps on giving. Every time I think about it, I discover more reasons to ferociously criticize its portrayal of people with disabilities. [Here’s my plot summary of the ep if you haven’t read it. http://blogofstench.livejournal.com/511983.html And here’s the first part of my discussion of the depiction of people with disabilities in the ep. http://blogofstench.livejournal.com/512150.html ] Here are some more wretched stereotypes that the show supports:

Read more... )

 

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How many deleterious stereotypes does season 7, ep 15, “Manipulated,” perpetrate against people with disabilities in the character of Tessa McKellen? [Read the plot summary if you don't know what I'm talking about.] Let me count the ways…

Read more... )

 

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Oh boy, this ep is a treasure trove of stereotypes and virulent characterization of people with disabilities!

Law and Order: SVU, season 7, ep 15, “Manipulated,” plot summary:

Read more... )

 

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The inaccuracies in SVU really both me, not just those about twins and trans people, but those regarding just about everyone in the known universe.

Read more... )
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In light of my recent completion of the quiz about my invisible illness, this entry on FWD [Feminists With Disabilities] has me thinking. If I can come out publically as having a mental illness, can I go further with a political/social self-definiton of "disabled?" I commented:

Nellie Jean said, I’m also “afraid” of coming out PWD because I never thought I had it “bad enough.”

I can understand that sentiment thoroughly. I have a sister with cerebral palsy, so the manifestations of her disability have strongly affected what I think of as “disabled.” I am very much loath to identify as disabled with my anxiety disorder and occasional depressive episodes because they don’t seem “bad enough.” The medical model is clearly talking here. I have more thinking to do.

Thank you for the post, Abby.



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I can't stand when people use the word "lame" to mean "bad," "undesireable," "contemptible" or "worthless." Every time anyone uses "lame" in such a context, he or she is telling me that he or she equates a mobility impairment with a moral failing. More specifically, he or she implies that my sister is morally objectionable because she uses a wheelchair.

Same with the word "retarded" to mean "bad," "silly" or "stupid." Such a use equates brain damage with a moral failing and judges my sister as morally objectionable because she has brain damage.  And I also feel personally offended whenever "retarded" comes up because it disparages the non-neurotypical, and I don't think I'm completely neurotypical. "Lame" and "retarded" are stupid, hurtful, prejudiced words. STOP USING THEM.

I can't believe I'm even writing this entry.

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