Skip to content

Bill Potts died for your sins, or, Even more ways in which the previous season of Doctor Who is a flaming turd

Bill Potts died for your sins, or, Even more ways in which the previous season of Doctor Who is a flaming turd published on No Comments on Bill Potts died for your sins, or, Even more ways in which the previous season of Doctor Who is a flaming turd

Now that I have had time to concentrate my rage into the long-smoldering core of righteous fury that burns within my core, fueling both activism and fixit fics, I would like to mention two more ways in which Season 10 of Doctor Who was horribly wretched.


It’s especially shitty, particularly in in World Enough and Time and The Doctor Falls.

Think of the Cyber people as people with disabilities: difficulties in communicating, in gross motor control, in feeling/connecting with their emotions, and/or people with chronic pain. You will soon understand how disgustingly they are portrayed.

A. They look dead. They are shown at first as motionless figures in wheelchairs. Their white costumes and head masks recall either body bags or bags over people’s heads when they’re going to a firing squad; either way, they carry connotations of death.

B. Their voices are silenced and treated as irrelevant. The first Cyber person who does have a voice, saying, “Pain, pain,” with their communications device, is treated as an annoyance; the nurse deals with them brusquely. Even further, Bill turns down the device’s volume so she doesn’t have to hear the disabled person speak. Her action suggests that the disabled person’s voice as scary and objectionable.

C. They do not want to live; they all want to die. After the pain Cyber person, we hear two other Cyber voices in the hospital. One person says, “Die me.” The other says, “Kill me.” Viewers are expected to take this death wish as applicable for all Cyber people; even Bill, in The Doctor Falls, says something like “If I can’t be me, I don’t want to go on living.” In this case, “me” means the entirely organic, able-bodied person that she was before. These statements from Cyber people imply that life with a disability is so hopeless and miserable that even those with disabilities don’t want to continue living.

D. They’re treated as cannon fodder. The Cyber people look dead, have no voices [according to able-bodied people], and say that they want to die. It’s very easy to jump from these observations to the conclusion that they are not people, but mere objects. Their deaths don’t count as deaths of people because they’re subhuman and…well…they were essentially dead already, right? As a result of this dehumanization, we get torture porn of the people at the orphanage blowing up Cyber people because killing nonpersons isn’t really killing, so it’s not a real problem or anything. It’s so kind, brave, noble, compassionate, admirable, and heroic for the Doctor to indiscriminately slaughter crowds of disabled people. This show really sends the message that we should respect all people’s worth, dignity, and integrity. I love it in shows and movies and books when all the disabled people die. I find it inspirational and uplifting.

For another ableist treatment, refer to the depiction of Eyeliner Master, as played by John Simm. Last time we saw the dude in the End of Time, he was insane on account of the Drums. Yup, that counts as being disabled. When he reappears in the Season 10 finale, he acts more like Roger Delgado’s Master: mentally disturbed and disordered, but much more restrained in speech and action. He presents as being sane[r]. Notably, he makes no reference to the Drums that so deranged his earlier life and plot arcs. What’s going on here? The character gives no explanation for the change, and all supporting media portray Eyeliner Master as a return of EoT Master, which leads us to conclude that they’re the same person. So EoT Master = Eyeliner Master – disability.

What the hell, fuckos? You can’t just wave a Magical Wand of Disability Deletion! After years and years of making the Master’s Drums and consequent Insanity a key part of his character, you can’t just remove them because you feel like it. The cheating is especially transparent because there’s no in-story explanation for his reappearance, his changed behavior, or indeed what the hell he was doing circling the drain in a Mondasian colony ship in the first place. An in-story explanation could have made his personality change more plausible and acceptable. For example, maybe he’s still insane, but he has learned how, at great mental and physical cost, present as “sane.” Or maybe he adapted some Cyber technology to partially inhibit his explosive rages and so restore some measure of his beloved self-control. However, without an in-story explanation, we are left with a deus ex machina Magical Disability Deletion. The form of the character remains, but not the content. In a way, disabled EoT Master was dehumanized and discarded just like the disabled Cyber people. The character is lost, and so is his [highly problematic] representation.


Those squealing with unalloyed joy over Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor should note that a white woman came on as the Doctor just as Pearl Mackie, a woman of color, departed.

@stardust-rain points out that the timing is no coincidence:

also everyone ignores the fact that we are getting a female doctor in the expanse of getting rid of an amazing black lesbian character. that’s right, this is the reason why Bill Potts isn’t coming back, bc having a female doctor AND a black lesbian would have given a heart attack to the bigoted fans all at once. they had to make a sacrifice and Bill was it.

When I say BILL POTTS DIED FOR YOUR SINS, this is what I mean. The show has had an overall craptacular history of representing women and/or queer people and/or Black people and/or disabled people. Attempts to make the show more accurately reflect the demographics and identities of the viewers have been piecemeal and insultingly small. Bill, as a queer Black woman, had the potential to significantly improve the show and make it more relevant, interesting, nuanced, and overall better. But she was done in by a poorly organized conception [seriously, what’s her backstory beyond chips, Moira, and a mum about which we know nothing, not even her fucking name?] and horrible, stereotypical writing.

Bill became a liability to the show, not because of her underdevelopment and shitty lines, but because she was a queer Black woman. Here’s the thought process at the BBC: “Whoa there! That’s just way too much representation; the straight cis white dudes won’t stand for it! If we stick a white female Doctor in the mix along with a queer Black female character, the straight white cis dudes will pitch shit fits. We need to think strategically and make it look like we’re actually representing our audience when we’re not. So Bill’s gotta go. There aren’t that many queer and/or Black people who watch this show, so it won’t be a big deal. We can just turn her into LITERAL SLIME and send her off with her space stalker and call it a happy ending. THEN we’ll have a female Doctor. We can’t have a queer Black female Doctor because that would be too much representation. But we can have a straight white female Doctor. Yeah, that’s just enough representation. We’ll look edgy without really making substantive change. [Plz fanboys don’t hurt us. D: ].”

Bill Potts was too real for the BBC to handle. Thus they killed her off, making her the scapegoat for their cowardice.

Julia Phelps, the steampunker of mobility aids

Julia Phelps, the steampunker of mobility aids published on No Comments on Julia Phelps, the steampunker of mobility aids

I have a character in the mini universe, Julian, an inventor and tinkerer who steampunks out mobility aids. She has spastic hemiplegia, so she uses a power wheelchair. She can make sounds, but is mostly non-verbal, so she communicates largely by her tablet, where she types phrases, which are then translated with text to speech. Because she moves mostly only her right hand and her head, she plans steampunk mods and then enlists help in the construction. She has been working most recently with her sister Heidi, but Heidi talks over her so frequently that Julian has Yakkety yak, don’t talk back! on speed dial so she can interrupt her, so they don’t get along well.

Anyway, Julian is obviously really cool, and I’ve long wanted to make a 1:6 scale steampunk power chair. Furthermore, this weekend I was talking Zombieville, zombies, and neurodiverse and disabled characters with Nataluna. We got onto Monster High and agreed that our favorite character is Ghoulia Yelps, the deeply nerdy, intelligent, awkward, canon autistic zombie. I regretted not getting a first edition of her when she was initially released, but I’ve always held off on Monster Highs because the big-headed aesthetic doesn’t work for me.

All the aforementioned elements came together, and I decided to do a realistic doll version of Ghoulia for Zombieville…or wherever the hell she wants to be. Named Julia Phelps, she would have as much of Ghoulia’s style as I could realistically replicate on a person who obviously needs help dressing and adorning herself, plus Julian’s personality, steampunkery, and spastic hemiplegia.

So far I have…the head. Mattel’s 11″ She-Ra figure has the perfect pointy features, so I got one, despite limited edition prices. She’ll need a repaint, especially of the eyebrows, since I love Ghoulia’s quizzical ones. She’ll also need some blue hair, which I can easily produce with a faux fur wig.

I’m wondering what to use for the body, as I have a very specific body type in mind for her. I want her to be frail, spindly and underweight, with narrow limbs. Her head should seem slightly large for her neck. I also have a very specific vision of her posture in her chair — head tilted to the right, left arm bent up to her chest with her wrist cocked and hand clenched, torso slanting to the right, knees bend and also pointing to the right — so I want a body that can fold and hunch into this position.

Oh yeah…also of relevance to the custom is that she drools, so I think I will put some glossy varnish coming out one side of her mouth. She will also have a wrist band to wipe away saliva.

Original edition of Ghoulia being incredibly cute below. Continue reading Julia Phelps, the steampunker of mobility aids

So…devos…have you actually ever encountered an amputee?

So…devos…have you actually ever encountered an amputee? published on No Comments on So…devos…have you actually ever encountered an amputee?

Just like any other group of fetishists that doesn’t desire who or whatever they lust after so much as what connotations they afford to their fetish, so devos seem not to actually be interested in amputees themselves. Nah, instead, the devos seem to prefer a sexualized combination of immobility, helplessness, passivity, diminution, and humiliation with which they associate people with amputated body parts.

And yet — surprise surprise! — amputees are not essentially immobile, helpless, passive, diminished, and/or humiliated! They’re [gasp!] fellow human beings, with a wide variety of various temperaments, traits, skills, abilities, and inabilities, just like everyone else in the species. I have a special loathing for devos because their fetish so blatantly illustrates the objectification and dehumanization that many disabled people struggle with every damn day.


On a tangentially related subject, I remain highly disappointed that I haven’t figured out a good way to render amputees in digital, especially Fay. She has a BTK amputation of her left leg, and there are no realistic socket prostheses anywhere on the market. I’ve resorted to hiding her left leg from the knee down and parenting a lower leg from my vast collection of robots to her left thigh. This is inaccurate all the way, as well as limiting to the type of clothing I can make her wear, as I don’t want to show the unrealistic join between end of [hollow] leg mesh and beginning of metal prosthesis. I could also do with some sort of attachments that would realistically turn plug the [hollow] open ends of figure mesh to create convincing stumps, but I haven’t seen any of those either. Thhpfft.

Home invaders, vampires, rapists, kidnappers, and other people who think intent is magic

Home invaders, vampires, rapists, kidnappers, and other people who think intent is magic published on No Comments on Home invaders, vampires, rapists, kidnappers, and other people who think intent is magic

I detest characters who think that no means yes [fuckin’ Lovelace… >_> ], but I must admit I have a special depth of hatred for characters who manipulate others’ ambivalence.

For example, in no particular order:

  • Christian Grey. As I’ve discussed ad nauseam [most recently here], Ana thinks Christian’s pretty hot. However, he also terrifies her. Christian gives exactly zero shits about Ana’s terror. He assumes that her lust for him means that she wants him. He equates the presence of her lust with consent to sexual activity. Thus, in his mind, he is perfectly justified in raping her.
  • Frank from Rocky Horror. In my discussion of rape scenes I’ve missed, there are successive parts of RHPS in which Frank rapes both Brad and Janet. Both of them express distress in these scenes, as well as some indications that they’re turned on. Some twisted logic in Frank’s mind, same result.
  • That pervert in that movie who’s obviously watching that girl’s house, just waiting for her to give him an excuse to break, enter, scare her, and wangle her into his mind games. [Which movie? Find out below the cut.]


I have a particularly violent loathing for scenes according to the following template:

Protagonist [all by herself]: Hmmmm, should I do make this statement?

Audience: No!

Protagonist: I really shouldn’t.

Audience: Yes!

Protagonist: I mean, it’s not very nice…

Audience: Don’t say it!

Continue reading Home invaders, vampires, rapists, kidnappers, and other people who think intent is magic

Father of Lies part II: disability = difference

Father of Lies part II: disability = difference published on No Comments on Father of Lies part II: disability = difference

I just reread Father of Lies by Ann Turner, and I both love it and hate it in equal measure. Briefly put, it’s about Lidda, an unconventional Puritan girl who lives in the time of the Salem witchcraft outbreak. She feels compelled to denounce her town’s mass panic over the supposed machinations of Satan. Her developing relationship with an invisible man inside her, Lucian, who encourages her defiant, rebellious behavior and claims to give her the power to see the truth of the witchcraft accusations, makes her life somewhat more complicated. Much to my dismay, Turner completely misrepresents Salem, a failure that I have discussed earlier at great length. As the Goblin King would say, “What a pity,” because Turner does so well at other aspects of the story. For example, her depiction of Lidda and Lucian’s relationship — indeed, Lidda’s mental illness in general — is powerful, sensitive, nuanced, rich, and basically everything that I wish her treatment of Salem was.


Regarding Lidda’s mental illness, it is neither a surprise nor a spoiler that she has one. The Library of Congress data at the front of the book categorizes Father of Lies as a book about “1. Manic-depressive illness — Fiction,” even before “2. Trials (Witchcraft) — Fiction.” If that ain’t explicit enough, Turner dedicates the book to “all those with bipolar disorder who work so hard to make lives for themselves.” She also includes an afterword entitled About Bipolar Disorder, in which she makes it clear that all of Lidda’s strange and frightening perceptions [racing thoughts, seeing auras, uncontrollable movement, hallucinations] may be adequately explained by the disorder. Though she concludes with an open question about Lucian’s reality, Turner obviously characterizes him as a hallucination, an unreal product of Lidda’s imagination, and thus the most salient symptom of her mental illness.

Okay, so Lidda has a mental illness, and she directs much of her time, energy, and interest to Lucian, a person who does not exist outside of her head. Now, if this were a typical book written by an author without a mental illness and/or characters in their head, Lidda’s mental illness and her relationship with Lucian would be horrible barriers to happiness, fulfillment, or satisfaction. Lidda’s inability to be like everyone else would cause her no end of distress; her relationship with Lucian would just highlight for her what she was missing in relationships with people outside her head. In other words, she would be wretched and miserable because of her mental illness. She would only attain peace through managing her symptoms, denying her unique perceptions, and almost certainly killing off Lucian. And the narrative would stink of condescending pity for the poor little mentally disabled protagonist.


But this is not your typical book written by someone without a mental illness [and, I’m assuming, without characters like Lucian in her head]. Nope, in fact, Turner takes both Lidda and Lucian seriously in Father of Lies. While definite that Lidda has a mental illness, of which Lucian is a particularly egregious manifestation, Turner accords Lidda robust characterization without ableist authorial pity. Because of her mental illness, Lidda suffers physical and emotional pain that those around her do not: when she feels chilled and overheated in rapid succession, for example, or when she panics upon seeing flames emanating from her sister’s head. Yet she also experiences unshared joys: the sense of flight and freedom in a wild onrush of thoughts, the secret solace of a friend inside her who admires her for those traits that people around her chastise. As Turner writes it, Lidda’s mental illness makes her life different from that of most people around her, and it frequently contributes to the difficulties she faces. However, Lidda’s mental illness is never shown as inherently bad, wrong, pathetic, or burdensome. It may be disabling on occasion, but mostly it’s just a difference upon which the author places no negative judgment.

Turner’s respect for Lidda comes across most subtly and pervasively in the way that Lucian is written. As noted, Turner’s descriptions of Lucian as a voice in Lidda’s head, a sensation centered in her belly, and sometimes a shifting, flickering form on the wall demonstrate to the reader that he is an imaginary, unreal hallucination and byproduct of Lidda’s mental illness. To Lidda, however, he is a true, concrete, separate individual with his own agenda and personality. She jokes with him, argues with him, asks his advice, wonders where he goes when he won’t talk to her, fantasizes about him, and otherwise treats him like a real person. Turner reports all of Lidda’s interactions with Lucian in a straightforward, matter-of-fact manner. Turner never looks down on Lidda for believing in Lucian, nor does she invite the reader to do so.  Avoiding the evaluative and contemptuous distance endemic to so many portrayals of people with disabilities and/or mental illness, Turner’s portrait of Lidda shows that she is mentally ill, but also fully human, fully sympathetic, and fully dignified.

I must note that Turner’s treatment of Lidda isn’t perfect, verging as it does on the stereotype of Super Crip with Compensatory Powers. In the concluding paragraph of the afterword, Turner writes, “Was Lidda mad, or was she saner than the villagers? You decide” [p. 239]. Ignoring the artificially binary choice, we can discern that Turner wants us to answer yes to both questions. She wants us to think that, yes, Lidda was “mad” or mentally ill, and, yes, she was “saner” — or, more precisely, more reasonable and accurate in her analysis of the witchcraft outbreak — than the villagers. In fact, because Turner has Lucian tell Lidda that he gives her the wit to separate truth from lies, Turner effectively argues that Lidda’s reasonable, accurate analyses derive directly from her mental illness. Like Daredevil, Professor X, Daphne in Heroes, or any other superhero who loses some capacity, but then gains a magical ability that allows them to do way more than they ever did and thus basically renders the lost capacity irrelevant, Lidda has the superpower of seeing the truth. Her superpower comes from her mental illness and reinforces her unfortunate status as an insufferable Visionary Before Her Time Doomed to Pass Her Days Among the Small-Minded Masses. [See my analysis of this anachronistic concept in part I.] In other words, Turner risks defining Lidda by — and thus reducing her to and objectifying her with — her disability. Turner’s sympathetic and respectful treatment of Lidda ensures Lidda’s full humanization, but the deleterious authorial tendency to objectification yet remains.


Despite my caveat, I generally approve of Turner’s deployment of mental illness in Father of Lies. Though it occasionally smells like a crashingly obvious metaphor that Turner uses to highlight the “true” “madness” at play [i.e., the anti-witchcraft panic], Lidda’s mental illness mostly functions with a refreshing realism. Sometimes it contributes to her distress, sometimes to her happiness, always to her unique interpretation of reality. While Lidda’s mental illness sometimes estranges her from people and causes her difficulties because her perceptions don’t accord with others’, Turner does not ask the reader to pity Lidda because of her disability. The matter-of-fact way in which Turner reports on Lidda’s treatment of Lucian demonstrates that Lidda recognizes her difference from other people, but does not think any worse of herself for it. In a culture where the treatment of people with disabilities defaults to snide objectification, Turner’s well-rounded, compassionate characterization of Lidda is a radical [and depressingly uncommon] argument for disability rights.


Well, it looks like I don’t have time tonight to expatiate about Lucian and the Bishonen Fever Dreams. More later….

Part I here.

Part III here.

Part IV here.

Part V here.

Breaking news: Kid with disability becomes object of contemptuous pity

Breaking news: Kid with disability becomes object of contemptuous pity published on No Comments on Breaking news: Kid with disability becomes object of contemptuous pity

James Rink hit his head in an Apple Store in Green Hills, TN when shopping with mom LynnMarie. Store employee Andrew Wall asked how he could help, comforted James, and programmed James’ iPad. For some reason, this is news.


Actually, I know the precise reason that this counts as news. It’s because of the way in which the culture at large views the kid, who has autism and Down Syndrome. Thus, because of his disabilities, the cultural narrative assumes that he is miserable, contemptible, and subhuman. The cultural narrative also assumes that non-disabled people don’t have to pay any attention to those wretched objects. Therefore, when a non-disabled person advances the radical notion that disabled people are persons worthy of respect and, as a result, treats a disabled person with basic dignity, respect, and kindness, the heads of most non-disabled people implode.

What beacons of compassion these non-disabled people are in according basic humanity to disabled people! Let’s keep our standards of humane and decent behavior so low that yet more non-disabled people can practice Level 0 Altruism and dehumanize even more disabled people!

Excuse me while I puke.

Kanya Sesser skateboards and surfs on hands, models lingerie, kicks ass, prompts ableist “journalism”

Kanya Sesser skateboards and surfs on hands, models lingerie, kicks ass, prompts ableist “journalism” published on No Comments on Kanya Sesser skateboards and surfs on hands, models lingerie, kicks ass, prompts ableist “journalism”

23-year-old Californian skateboarder, surfer, Paralympian in training, motivational speaker, and lingerie model Kanya Sesser is unusual because she is a successful multisport athlete and model who was born without legs. She is definitely newsworthy because of her achievements in realms from with people with disabilities are all too frequently excluded. Her challenge to ableist beauty standards — “I’m different and that is sexy; I don’t need legs to feel sexy…These images show my strength” — also rates coverage, as the idea that people with visible physical disabilities are sexy, sexual, confident, and okay with their bodies is, unfortunately, a mind-blowing concept for most people. Yes! She is a cool person with notable achievements in fields uncommon for people with physical disabilities! The news media should definitely propagate her story!


That said, coverage needs to nix the “overcoming disability,”  “inspirational,”  and “something missing” angles, especially when Sesser obviously doesn’t promote them herself. The New York Daily News article to which I linked describes Sesser as “determined to overcome her disability” from her youth. Never mind the fact that Sesser says nothing about overcoming anything. She talks about “expressing [her]self in a different way than people usually see,” enjoying herself [“It’s something fun”], making money, and “showing people what beauty can look like.” These are not the words of a person “determined to overcome her disability.” These are the words of a person who has decided to campaign against ableist conceptions of beauty and ability by demonstrating that she, as a person with a disability, is attractive, expressive, playful, and sexy. Y’all need to stop putting words in Sesser’s mouth, clueless journos.


As for the “inspirational” and “something missing” argle bargle, it shows up in articles like this one from Bustle. The article introduces Sesser as someone with “the biggest reason to be bitter about” her body, but then goes on to say that “she’s got enough determination, drive, and talent to make up for” the fact that she does not have legs. A clip of an interview with Sesser is introduced as “inspiring advice.” Once again, the coverage is ignoring Sesser’s actual story. She says nothing about bitterness; that’s an editorial aside on the part of the writer, who assumes that a person with a physical disability would automatically feel bitter because of her bodily difference. Sesser also says nothing about compensating for her physical disability by working extra hard; again, this phrasing speaks to the ableist assumption that her disability creates an emptiness inherent in her life. Finally, Sesser never describes herself as inspirational. She’s not doing a Supercrip performance to elicit the ableist hordes’ condescending admiration. As she herself states [see first paragraph], she is living publicly as an athletically active, commercially successful person with a physical disability because she is explicitly challenging limited conceptions of what people with disabilities can do and be and how they can act. The ableist media needs to stop silencing her with its patronizing templates and let her speak for herself.

Not angry at, just disappointed in, Erika Johansen’s Invasion of the Tearling

Not angry at, just disappointed in, Erika Johansen’s Invasion of the Tearling published on No Comments on Not angry at, just disappointed in, Erika Johansen’s Invasion of the Tearling

I should start by saying that I liked the first book in Erika Johansen’s fantasy trilogy, The Queen of the Tearling. While set amidst Ye Olde Tirede Fantasie Elements [princess raised in secrecy must ascend to throne and deal with treacherous nobles while fending off an evil, magical queen who threatens to invade], the book distinguished itself by considering how a young noble woman might fare, coming of age in such a setting. Frankly, I’m bored by princes Finding Their Destinies, but I read The Queen of the Tearling with interest, as it lavishes attention on protagonist Kelsea as she both rises to the challenges of her role and chafes at unfamiliar restraints. The story of a young woman with a bad temper and an egalitarian, reactionary perspective coming into her own in a conservative, sexist, hierarchical society fascinates me. Thus I finished book 1 eager to learn how Kelsea’s new magic powers and the impending invasion of her country would affect her character, particularly her impulsiveness and her reformist tendencies.

Continue reading Not angry at, just disappointed in, Erika Johansen’s Invasion of the Tearling

“A path out of autism,” or, Parents who can’t stand it when their autistic kids don’t make eye contact

“A path out of autism,” or, Parents who can’t stand it when their autistic kids don’t make eye contact published on No Comments on “A path out of autism,” or, Parents who can’t stand it when their autistic kids don’t make eye contact

This article “Can an app for Google Glass offer a path out of autism?” really infuriates me. The Beta Boston post describes apps for the head-mounted eyeglass computer Google Glass. In development by Cambridge, MA startup Brain Power, apps aim to encourage autistic kids to maintain eye contact when people are talking to them. One app rewards eye contact with images of popular cartoon characters, while another highlights an interlocutor’s eyes, since kids with autism may tend to focus on someone’s mouth instead.

I support the ultimate goal here, that is, teaching commonly accepted social skills to people who might not have them [if the people want them] so that they can connect with conventionally socialized people. I’m all for increased communication, especially between people with disabilities and people without — mostly so that the people with disabilities have a chance to tell ableist dipsticks to take their assumptions and shove off. :p

While I advocate for the goal, I decry the means to the end. This article makes clear that no people with autism were involved in the development of Brain Power apps. Founder Ned Sahin has no personal experience with autism, even though he was keynote speaker at this month’s Autism Investment Conference. Creators of the apps didn’t even talk to kids with autism directly when they brainstormed. Do kids with autism who don’t make eye contact think that their lack of eye contact is a problem? Do they want to develop methods for maintaining eye contact? Do they think that cartoon characters and highlighted mouths might help them? Who knows?

Brain Power apparently didn’t think that the firsthand input from app users was important. Instead they asked parents what the parents wanted for their children. In other words, Brain Power’s apps result from asking a bunch of people who are not kids and not necessarily autistic what software they, the non-autistic adults, would like so that the autistic kids in their lives could better conform to their expectations of properly socialized human beings. Or, to put it more bluntly, Brain Power violates the dictum strongly associated with the U.S. disability rights movement: “Nothing about us without us.” With arrogant condescension, Brain Power’s non-autistic developers assumed that they knew what autistic kids needed and thus received praise from an ableist public that denies consideration of the voices of people with disabilities.

By the way, anyone who tries to rebut me by pointing out that some kid who tried out the Brain Power apps said, “I think I am breaking out of an autism prison!” will be summarily ignored. I am not arguing against Brain Power apps’ potential ability to benefit people. Rather I am arguing against the viewpoint that spawned these apps: i.e., a world view in which kids with autism are problematic individuals with limited understanding who can only be made to sustain eye contact through rewards such as pictures of cartoon animals. Why are autistic kids who don’t make eye contact considered a problem? Why aren’t non-autistic parents who are so hung up on eye contact as a marker of interaction that they can’t accommodate other ways of being considered a problem? Why aren’t ableist startups who want to use technology to train kids out of their disabilities so that they parents can be happier considered a problem?

Funeral for amputated leg

Funeral for amputated leg published on No Comments on Funeral for amputated leg

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.

This entry was originally posted at You can comment here, but I’d prefer it if you’d comment on my DW using OpenID.

Paul Smith takes typewriter art to the next level! Also Reeva Steenkamp is still dead.

Paul Smith takes typewriter art to the next level! Also Reeva Steenkamp is still dead. published on No Comments on Paul Smith takes typewriter art to the next level! Also Reeva Steenkamp is still dead.

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."]

This entry was originally posted at You can comment here, but I’d prefer it if you’d comment on my DW using OpenID.

Sleepy Hollow’s back!

Sleepy Hollow’s back! published on No Comments on Sleepy Hollow’s back!

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!

This entry was originally posted at You can comment here, but I’d prefer it if you’d comment on my DW using OpenID.

Reeva Steenkamp still dead; ex still to blame, but declared innocent of murder by courts

Reeva Steenkamp still dead; ex still to blame, but declared innocent of murder by courts published on No Comments on Reeva Steenkamp still dead; ex still to blame, but declared innocent of murder by courts

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.

This entry was originally posted at You can comment here, but I’d prefer it if you’d comment on my DW using OpenID.

Cards Against Humanity and the insidious trap of hipster prejudice

Cards Against Humanity and the insidious trap of hipster prejudice published on 1 Comment on Cards Against Humanity and the insidious trap of hipster prejudice

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.

This entry was originally posted at You can comment here, but I’d prefer it if you’d comment on my DW using OpenID.

“I do need help with one thing: Can you light my wheels on fire?”

“I do need help with one thing: Can you light my wheels on fire?” published on No Comments on “I do need help with one thing: Can you light my wheels on fire?”

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…

This entry was originally posted at You can comment here, but I’d prefer it if you’d comment on my DW using OpenID.

Avant-garde tentacular prostheses!!!!!

Avant-garde tentacular prostheses!!!!! published on No Comments on Avant-garde tentacular prostheses!!!!!

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!

This entry was originally posted at You can comment here, but I’d prefer it if you’d comment on my DW using OpenID.

“Spastic” has NEVER been an “innocuous” term over here.

“Spastic” has NEVER been an “innocuous” term over here. published on 3 Comments on “Spastic” has NEVER been an “innocuous” term over here.

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!

This entry was originally posted at You can comment here, but I’d prefer it if you’d comment on my DW using OpenID.

ASL music videos

ASL music videos published on No Comments on ASL music videos

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.

This entry was originally posted at You can comment here, but I’d prefer it if you’d comment on my DW using OpenID.

How not to write, part seven zillion and two in an infinitely extensible series

How not to write, part seven zillion and two in an infinitely extensible series published on No Comments on How not to write, part seven zillion and two in an infinitely extensible series

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.

This entry was originally posted at You can comment here, but I’d prefer it if you’d comment on my DW using OpenID.

Reeva Steenkamp, 29, is dead.

Reeva Steenkamp, 29, is dead. published on No Comments on Reeva Steenkamp, 29, is dead.

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?

This entry was originally posted at You can comment here, but I’d prefer it if you’d comment on my DW using OpenID.

How not to write, part seven zillion and one in an infinitely extensible series

How not to write, part seven zillion and one in an infinitely extensible series published on No Comments on How not to write, part seven zillion and one in an infinitely extensible series

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.Continue reading How not to write, part seven zillion and one in an infinitely extensible series

How not to write, part seven zillion in a neverending series

How not to write, part seven zillion in a neverending series published on No Comments on How not to write, part seven zillion in a neverending series

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.

1. Perpetuate the very racism you’re clearly attempting to avoid. Bray strains so hard to be modern and non-racist by making Memphis, an African-American kid who wants to be a poet in the Harlem Renaissance, a point-of-view character. Furthermore, she takes pains to demonstrate that Will is enlightened enough to disapprove of the Ku Klux Klan and that Jericho is liberal enough to detect the racist and classist subtexts of the eugenics movement. In her occasional overview vignettes, in which Bray tries to capture a cross-section of the country in its anxious modernity, she even regularly mentions Native Americans. See? See? She’s progressive!

Actually, she’s not really. Memphis’ world, while convincingly realized, also comes across as an info-dump truck that the author uses to haul in and show off all the research she did about Jazz Age Harlem. [See my note on the perils of research below.] Furthermore, for all her direct engagement with some of the racist currents of the day, Bray uses an offensively coy, glancing euphemism — “a name he didn’t like” — for “n****r,” without even trying to evoke the rage, shame and vulnerability that Memphis might feel upon hearing himself called that. This omission that makes it clear that she doesn’t really care about her characters of color.

Bray’s treatment of New York City’s Chinatown also demonstrates racism. Evie and Will go there for unknown reasons, and Evie, the terminally ignorant, sees what the denizens are doing — worshipping, placing protective charms, etc. — and asks Will what’s going on. Will answers her with textbook-worthy, objectifying explanations that make the practices in Chinatown seem like inscrutable, laughable superstitions. Apparently Bray spent all her empathy on her depiction of Harlem and had none left over to make Chinatown as robust and sympathetic.

To add to the dehumanization, a young Chinatown woman who can see the future appears at least three times in the book. Given the fact that Naughty John’s victims are named, biographically sketched and given interior monologues before being bumped off, I assumed that this prophetic woman would rate the same treatment. Nope. She doesn’t even get a name. In fact, she suffers the indignity of being referred to only as “the girl with the green eyes,” a fetishization of her mixed-race heritage. We never learn what’s going on in her head either, though I’m sure it’s much interesting than what’s going on in Evie’s.

2. Perpetuate the very anti-gay bias you’re trying so hard to avoid. Theta’s best friend Henry is also a struggling artist. He plays the piano, writes show tunes and serves as Theta’s Best Gay Friend [TM], providing moral support when she has relationship difficulties. Could he be any more stereotypical? In a truly unrealistic display of acceptance, Theta has no problems whatsoever with Henry’s being gay. Bray loses the chance to accurately portray the rich and secretive gay subculture of Jazz Age New York City by shoehorning a modern stereotype into the 1920s and leaving him at that.

In another example of homophobia, Bray introduces one of Naughty John’s victims as a gay Mason who lovingly thinks of giving his partner cufflinks for his birthday. Then he’s killed. What’s the point of taking pains to establish a character as gay if he’s just going to die two pages later? This comes across less as a bit of humanizing characterization and more as yet another tired example of The Queer Character Bites It.

Also there are no lesbians.

3. Perpetuate ableism. Jericho’s backstory is rank with it. Jericho got polio at an early age and had to be put in an iron lung. His parents abandoned him in the hospital [Tragic Cripple stereotype]. Then some secret government project recruited him with the promise that he could escape the iron lung and walk once more [Obsession with Ambulation stereotype]. Jericho joined other men, including veterans of the Great War, in becoming cyborgs, but he was the project’s only success. The other test subjects had mental and physical breakdowns. In fact, Jericho’s friend, a veteran with no legs and one arm [described as “less than half a man” — the Disabled Person as Less than Human stereotype], asked Jericho to help him commit suicide [Mercy Killing of the Tragic Cripple stereotype], which Jericho did. Jericho now hides his cyborg innards and his dependence on an unidentified blue serum from everyone except Will [Disability as Shameful Weakness stereotype]. The reader falls asleep from the sheer unoriginality of it all.

4. Make your protagonist a) exceptionally obnoxious and b) dull compared to everyone else.
As I mentioned, protagonist Evie spends much of the book getting drunk, having hangovers and using every single piece of Roaring Twenties slang that Bray could possibly scrape up. Evie’s also a self-centered, manipulative, whiny person who requires being the center of attention. Her momentary insights that she probably parties too much and that she regularly steamrolls her supposed best friend do not redeem her because they do not prompt any lasting change in her actions. I think Bray means for readers to be attracted to Evie’s insouciance, but she comes across as an insensitive brat who doesn’t know when to keep her mouth shut.

Furthermore, Evie has the least interesting backstory and interior monologue of nearly all the main characters. Her parents send her to Will’s house because she scandalizes her small Ohio town when she reads an object and learns that the village’s golden boy had sex with a servant of his. I’m actually much more interested in her relationship with her brother, who died in the Great War, and why she keeps having vivid dreams of being on the front, watching charges ignite and people’s faces melt. These points are not really enlarged upon, except insofar as the dead brother gives Evie a Tragic Past [TM] that activates a key plot point during the climax.

Compared to most of the other cast members, Evie’s pretty flat. I care much more about Memphis, who runs numbers during the day and, by night, hangs out in cemeteries writing about his mom, who he failed to bring back from the dead. I’m also very curious about Theta, an orphan who escaped an abusive adoptive stage mom by tumbling into an abusive marriage with a handsome guy, who she may have inadvertently killed with her pyrokinesis, after which she escaped, had an abortion [?!] and moved in with Henry. Heck, I’m even more invested in the smarmy Sam, the name-changed kid of Russian immigrants, on a search for his missing psychic mom that led him to run away and join the circus. I just don’t care about Evie, and her complete lack of insightful interior monologue just adds to my apathy.

5. Never use a single detail when 85 will do. Bray, as she informs us in the acknowledgements, did copious research in preparation for this series. Unfortunately, it shows, and not in a good way. Her idea of evoking Jazz Age New York City involves hitting the best-known highlights of the period and hitting them repeatedly. A typical chapter in The Diviners includes flappers, bee’s knees, a hot tomato, the berries, the cat’s pajamas, Bolsheviks, Wobblies, Sacco and Vanzetti, the Klan, Langston Hughes, Lost Generation malaise, speakeasies, police raids, Zeigfield girls, Rudolph Valentino, etc., etc., and then all of these elements mentioned again at least five times elsewhere in the book. Bray does not write with parsimony or suggestiveness. She writes with anvilicious brute force, and it’s painful.

Bray’s worst offense appears in her use of 1920s slang. Evie cannot say a sentence without at least two period terms. I’m not talking about period terms that remain intelligible today, like “baby” for “sweetheart,” “heebie jeebies” for “goose bumps” or “nifty” for “great.” I’m talking “cheaters” for “glasses,” “chin music” for gossip and “giggle water” for “booze.” Bray seems to go out of her way to toss about terms that do not remain intelligible today, thus giving the impression that the 1920s were a strange place where people spoke a foreign language. The indiscriminate slang slinging does not impede my understanding, but it’s certainly distracting. It’s also a huge irritation. I positutely swear — if Evie says, “You betski” one more time, I’m going to beat it and get ossified, since that’s much niftier than this baloney. I’m under the distinct impression that Bray set The Diviners in the 1920s merely because she thought it was cool.

6. Use the wrong word. As I wrote above, the antagonist of the book is referred to as Naughty John. To me, “naughty” means “bratty” or “mischievous,” sometimes “risque.” It is entirely too mild a word to describe a creepy, merciless weirdo who kills people and eats their selected body parts in a bid to gain immortality and rule the world. Wicked John, Evil John, Creepy John, Cannibal John, even the rather generic Bad John — all of these would work. Naughty John just makes the guy sound less evil and more silly.

7. End abruptly, in the middle of a scene, without resolving anything. I know about the narrative requirements of trilogies, as well as the narrative requirements of cliffhangers. In trilogies, the first book almost always sets up the major players and storylines, resolving some important B plots by the end, while leaving the larger A plots for future development. In cliffhangers, the story builds up enough tension to draw the reader in, then frustrates their expectations by cutting off at or just before the climax, thus forcing the reader to wait for the next installment.

All of this is to say that the end of The Diviners is neither appropriate for a first book of a trilogy or a cliffhanger. It resolves no significant B plots, thus depriving readers of any intermediary satisfaction and sense of reward that would propel us to continue with the series. It also does not cut off at a moment charged with suspense. It ends when Evie kisses Jericho in an attempt to forget for a moment the impending doom of unresolved plotlines. I have to assume that this passes for a conclusion since Bray, exhausted from larding her doorstop with 1920s slang, had no energy left for an actual ending.

I blame the Knights of Columbus.

I blame the Knights of Columbus. published on No Comments on I blame the Knights of Columbus.

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.


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.

Followup on Tiger Lily’s death toll

Followup on Tiger Lily’s death toll published on No Comments on Followup on Tiger Lily’s death toll

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.

No! You can’t use that word!

No! You can’t use that word! published on 2 Comments on No! You can’t use that word!

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.]

“Very special,” indeed!: Maxine Aston and authority in discussing Asperger’s syndrome

“Very special,” indeed!: Maxine Aston and authority in discussing Asperger’s syndrome published on 2 Comments on “Very special,” indeed!: Maxine Aston and authority in discussing Asperger’s syndrome

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?"

Ableist child murderer gets only 9 years

Ableist child murderer gets only 9 years published on No Comments on Ableist child murderer gets only 9 years

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.

“Tale of Love and Illness Ends in Death” or “Long Marriage Ends in Ableist Murder”?

“Tale of Love and Illness Ends in Death” or “Long Marriage Ends in Ableist Murder”? published on No Comments on “Tale of Love and Illness Ends in Death” or “Long Marriage Ends in Ableist Murder”?

"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?


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.

Law and Order: SVU hates people with disabilities, part III!

Law and Order: SVU hates people with disabilities, part III! published on 2 Comments on Law and Order: SVU hates people with disabilities, part III!

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.

Law and Order: SVU hates people with disabilities, part II!

Law and Order: SVU hates people with disabilities, part II! published on No Comments on Law and Order: SVU hates people with disabilities, part II!

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. And here’s the first part of my discussion of the depiction of people with disabilities in the ep. ] Here are some more wretched stereotypes that the show supports:

Continue reading Law and Order: SVU hates people with disabilities, part II!

Law and Order: SVU hates people with disabilities!

Law and Order: SVU hates people with disabilities! published on No Comments on Law and Order: SVU hates people with disabilities!

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…

Continue reading Law and Order: SVU hates people with disabilities!

Law and Order: SVU on the subject of “crazy” people with disabilities

Law and Order: SVU on the subject of “crazy” people with disabilities published on No Comments on Law and Order: SVU on the subject of “crazy” people with disabilities

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:

Continue reading Law and Order: SVU on the subject of “crazy” people with disabilities

Identifying as disabled

Identifying as disabled published on 2 Comments on Identifying as disabled

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.

I really dislike most characters with disabilities in pop culture.

I really dislike most characters with disabilities in pop culture. published on 4 Comments on I really dislike most characters with disabilities in pop culture.

You know why? Because, all too often, characters with disabilities appear in pop media as one-dimensional fictional entities, lazily "developed" by having what I call compensatory strengths. Such compensatory strengths are supposed to sort of narratively cancel out the characters’ disabilities, but this never happens. In fact, the compensatory gifts just highlight the characters’ disabilities even more so that the characters, instead of being well-rounded, interesting individuals, end up being portrayed solely in terms of their disabilities.

To get an idea of what I’m talking about with compensatory gifts, look at a few characters from comics and movies. The X-Men’s Professor Xavier, who has mobility impairments requiring the use of an electric wheelchair, "compensates" by having a mutation that allows him to basically move mentally among all the mutants on the globe. Another comic superhero, Daredevil, gets blinded by radioactive waste, but conveniently compensates by developing his non-sight senses to superhuman levels. Another character with blindness, from the movies this time, is Ivy, protagonist of M. Night Shyamalan’s 2004 movie The Village, who is blind, but somehow sees the goodness in people instead. As you can see, in each of these cases, the characters’ super abilities are directly tied to their disabilities. In fact, their super abilities all offer workarounds for their disabilities, effectively canceling out the characters’ disabilities.

In an especially egregious example of compensatory endowment, Daphne from Heroes has the power of superspeed. Somehow her zippiness  "compensates for" and overrides her cerebral palsy, which is a disability so shameful that, when she loses her speed and has to go back to wearing leg braces [THE HORROR!] and using crutches [OH WOE!] in 3.10, "The Eclipse, Part I," she hides from the entire world in ignominy.  In Heroes, Daphne’s CP is equated with tragedy, limitation, reclusivity, sadness and rejection. Her compensatory gift, super speed, provides her with glamour, adventure, riches and happiness. Yet, though she may seem to have some interesting contrast between her past, disabled self and her current, speedy self, she really doesn’t. Heroes, like all other lazy pieces of pop culture artwork that use the trope of compensatory strengths, shows no interest in exploring the psychological flux that might realistically go along with great strengths in one area and great deficits in another. Nope, Heroes just wants to make a dramatically compelling character, so it gives Daphne a tragically crippled [I’m using this word because you can see the show thinking it] past. Wow. That’s so deep.

What the lazy shorthand of compensatory endowment ignores is the simple reality of actual people with actual disabilities, to wit: Amazingly enough, people with disabilities don’t necessarily go around bemoaning the fact that they have disabilities. In fact, people with disabilities are much more likely to bemoan the ignorance, stupidity and inaccessibility of people and institutions. Some people with disabilities even accept that they have disabilities and, instead of "overcoming" them or "compensating" for them, accept their disabilities as a fact of life and go on about their business. And, stupendously enough, when you take a look at the types of lives that people with disabilities are living, they’re not, at base, fundamentally different from the lives of people without disabilities [although people with disabilities do daily battle with ableist people and institutions that may not be apparent to people without disabilities].

Ya know — sometimes characters with disabilities are just your average, normal, run-of-the-mill people who DON’T feel the need for pity-based super-endowments given to them by lazy, paternalistic, condescending creators to soothe the supposed horrid angst that characters with disabilities have over not being people without disabilities. Newsflash to dipshits: Creating a disabled character with a "compensatory" ability is not inspiring, unusual, original or desirable. By making a character’s notable traits the narrative inverse of his or her disability, you still end up defining the character by his or her disability, and that is a dehumanizing, reductionist simplification demonstrating only your limited, shallow imagination and your inability to see people with disabilities as people first.

Wheelchairs keep you from EVER having fun.

Wheelchairs keep you from EVER having fun. published on No Comments on Wheelchairs keep you from EVER having fun.

So implies this ad for Goodyear Tires from the August 2, 1937 issue of Life. Everyone looks depressed about the fact that the boy’s in a wheelchair, from the boy himself to his sister and even the dog. I’d be kind of depressed too if I were teetering on the edge of a porch [notice that Sis has one leg up on a step] without a freakin’ guard rail.

Besides the equation of wheelchair use and complete cessation of enjoyable life, also note ad’s use to guilt to sell you tires: "Buy these tires or your son will end up CRIPPLED and MISERABLE because YOU didn’t by blow-out-proof tires."

Thank you, Gallery of Graphic Design, for this ad, along with an endless bounty of other 20th-century ads.
Continue reading Wheelchairs keep you from EVER having fun.

Visible disability encoded as “culturally feminine??”

Visible disability encoded as “culturally feminine??” published on No Comments on Visible disability encoded as “culturally feminine??”

Gauge, proprietor of the Radical Masculinity blog, muses on the struggles of those who have identities both as butch persons and persons with disabilities. Gauge observes that visible disability simultaneously highlights and erases those who have it. Visible disability highlights its possessors because the obvious physical symptoms and/or implements of physical disability catch viewers’ eyes rather than the people themselves. Relatedly, Gauge explains, visible disability erases the people who have it because viewers tend to concentrate on the manifestations of disability, the superficial signs, rather than the character of the people who have the disabilities. I think this is a great explanation for how stereotypes work; they HIGHLIGHT or emphasize certain traits of people in a stereotyped group, then ERASE the individuality of particular persons within the group because the perps of the stereotypes are too busy seeing the stereotype, not the people upon which they are projecting the stereotype.

Butch-wise, Gauge observes that butch identity has its roots in a working-class conception of strong, independent persons engaged in physical labor, those who protected, repressed their feelings and evinced strength both mental and physical. The brute fact of having a disability and experiencing physical weakness, dysfunction and/or need for assistance often conflicts with the conception of butch identity as physically strong. In lieu of such a limiting definition, Gauge argues for a definition of butch identity that focuses on the characters of those who evince it:

Being butch is about honor, pride, being a nurturer and protector of the community, about helping others, and many other qualities of character and identity both able-bodied and disabled butches share. 

It is possible to do that through the force of character, not necessarily through the force of muscles. Gauge boils down masculinity to its positive, helpful traits and demonstrates that one can be constructively masculine, something I don’t think many people, no matter what their gender identity, know how to do!

“Did my accident paralyze my love life?” — a Disaboom ad

“Did my accident paralyze my love life?” — a Disaboom ad published on 4 Comments on “Did my accident paralyze my love life?” — a Disaboom ad

Have you seen the banner ad below, featuring a wiry, muscular and thoroughly cool-looking guy in a wheelchair? This ad [my copy comes from, a dating site for people with disabilities] promotes Disaboom, a site of news, networking and such for people with disabilities and their hangers-on. 

I’ve been wanting to address this ad for a while because I feel ambivalent about it.  I really like the concept of Disaboom, right down to the name, which contains enough association with the familiar term “disability” so that viewers know what it’s about, but adds the “boom” so that the result sounds like a magical exclamation or an energetic comic-book sound effect. A quick glance at the sight, which divides into Health, Living, Community and Jobs, shows that Disaboom confronts the major concerns of people with disabilities [i.e., notice that Health is one of the primary ones!], but does not emphasize the limitations of disabilities. Instead, with categories like Community and Jobs, Disaboom highlights that the concerns of people with disabilities are universally human ones for a productive existence and companionship. So I’m all for Disaboom as a site.

However, I feel that this ad has both positive and negative points. On the plus side, the man in the ad contradicts the prevailing stereotype that people with disabilities, especially people who have paralyzed lower extremities, completely lack sexual interest, experience and desire. The man is presented as a sexually active person who doesn’t have any time or patience for stupid misconceptions about people with disabilities. Since the ad is aimed presumably at people with disabilities, the audience will probably not put themselves in the place of “people who have stupid misconceptions about the sexuality of disabled people,” but will instead identify with the man, saying to themselves, “Yeah, I have romantic and/or sexual interests and, like this guy, am sick of being seen as asexual!” This appeal to the audience members’ frustration and intelligence will likely motivate them to click through and see what’s going on. I also appreciate that the man is portrayed as confident, active and independent.

On the negative side, the subject of the ad is, as far as I can tell, a hard-bodied Caucasian guy. In other words, he fits many of the current bourgeois American standards for attractiveness [white, muscular, male]. Needless to say, people with disabilities come in all colors and genders, so I think that the ad would be more effective if it were a series, each with a different character with a different race, sex and disability. [That would be kind of hot, actually. Off the subject a bit, I’m picturing a poster showing a grid of photos with all types of people, all types of romantic encounters, all types of disabilities, and the legend LOVE KNOWS NO BOUNDARIES.] The fact that there’s only a muscular white guy representing “sexual activity” glosses over the fact that people of other races, genders and disabilities have interests in sex and romance too.

Also on the negative side, not only is this guy the picture of modern white bourgeois hegemonic masculinity, but I can’t shake the feeling that he’s also passing as non-disabled. Tattoos aside, he looks like a non-disabled guy sitting down in a chair that just happens to have wheels. While some people indeed use wheelchairs with no back and no handlebars and a low-slung profile, other people with disabilities have much more obvious tools that they use; an electric wheelchair, for example, can have six wheels, headlights and tail lights, a control box with joystick and horn, storage pouches on either side, footrests, leg braces, head rest, reclining seat, adjustable cushions and posture support, a backpack on the back and an obvious computer on board, all of which are much more obvious than a discreet little set of wheels under your butt. Here’s a randomly selected six-wheeler, the Invacare Pronto M94, just for your information, the likes of which I see much more regularly than the chair shown in the Disaboom ad. I feel that the Disaboom ad downplays the unavoidable obviousness of some mobility aids in its attempt to make the guy in the picture seem more stereotypically “non-disabled.”

All in all, though, I think this ad is a great start, provocative and well done. I’d just like to see it as the first in a series, though, featuring a wide array of colors, shapes, sizes and disabilities.

Are sexy people with 1.5 legs “bizarre?” [NSFW]

Are sexy people with 1.5 legs “bizarre?” [NSFW] published on 2 Comments on Are sexy people with 1.5 legs “bizarre?” [NSFW]

Sociological Images drew my attention to Viktoria [interview and photos here], the May 2008 cover model for Bizarre, a British glossy about fetish activities and style. Viktoria is a woman in her early 20s who designs and models fetishwear. Her left leg is amputated below the knee. As Lisa asks in SocIm:

What makes Viktoria “bizarre”?  Is it her amputated leg?  Is it the fact that she has an amputated leg and is still incredibly sexy?  Or is it that she has an amputated leg and still considers herself a sexual person?

The comments also got me thinking about the ways in which Viktoria is presented. To me it seems that Bizarre thinks that Viktoria is bizarre because she has 1.5 legs, but she can easily conform to modern bourgeois stereotypes of what white, attractive, sexy, young women with 2 legs are supposed to look like. As the rest of the post points out, though, and as some commenters observe, there’s really nothing bizarre, unusual, original or subversive about this shoot. Viktoria is just being objectified like all the other cover models. 

I do not think it is helpful and subversive and interesting and, above all, feminist and pro-accessibility, if a woman with 1.5 legs ends up treated just as misogynistically as women with 2 legs. A feminist and pro-accessibility view of Viktoria would neither dismiss nor fetishize her 1.5 legs, but instead talk about how being a WOMAN with 1.5 LEGS informs her unique experience of being a sexual person. We get an interesting glimpse into her self-perception, assuming that the interview is true, when she says of her post-amputation reactions, “[My amputated leg] was so cute. It was the biggest release you could imagine.” The article, which would rather profess wide-eyed amazement that a person with 1.5 legs actually has sexuality, does not really investigate the content thereof, contenting itself instead with the facile conclusion that Viktoria is so awesome because she can be airbrushed and Photoshopped just to look as “sexy” as models with 2 legs!!

P.S. I included this particular picture because Viktoria’s outfit in this part of the shoot is hot.

“Get outta the accessible spot, douchebag!”

“Get outta the accessible spot, douchebag!” published on 1 Comment on “Get outta the accessible spot, douchebag!”

Welcome to my new tag, “accessibility,” where I cover the ways in which society does or does not accommodate citizens with differing abilities. Check out this wheelchair with flamethrower. Good for clearing accessible parking spaces from people who have no license to use them.

Dancing on 6 limbs

Dancing on 6 limbs published on No Comments on Dancing on 6 limbs

Check out these two ballet dancers. I am not linking to this because it’s an inspirational example of disabled people overcoming their limitations. That’s a load of tripe. I’m linking to this because their dance plays perfectly to their strengths and to their disabilities in such a way that their performance tells a pretty cool story about disability acceptance. I also like the choreography, which incorporates the idiom of modern dance [like tumbling!]. Special props also to the choreography for designing such a fluid, graceful movement for the male dancer so that his character can embody for the uncertain female character the joy of living in one’s body, no matter what the shape.

BBC’s Ouch! podcast

BBC’s Ouch! podcast published on No Comments on BBC’s Ouch! podcast

For 30 or 40 minutes every month, you can crack up over the BBC’s Ouch! podcast, which features actor Mat Fraser and comedian Liz Carr hosting a talk and comedy show about disabilities. The two interview celebrities, banter sarcastically together and run a hysterical quiz show called Vegetable, Vegetable or Vegetable?, where they try to guess a caller’s disability based on yes/no questions. All archives are available on the site, not only sound files, but also transcripts, so you can read them if you wish. Go to the general Ouch! Web site to find columnists, blogs, Q&As and other fun stuff. Thanks to  melopoeia  for the rec.  

Primary Sidebar