Oh, all right
While I’m hard at work on
other stuff structural repairs to this old and creaky blog, I might as well put up an old thing I found in the tubes. It’s an appearance on WPSU’s “Pennsylvania Inside Out,” and it was taped on January 30, 2007—just after my very first retirement from blogging. I learned two things from watching this: one, I was apparently very very tired and rumpled after all that blogging and then all that straightening out my mother’s place after she broke her hip; two, I talk way too quickly for television or other forms of human communication. Well, I knew # 2 already. Recently Jamie told me of one of his classmates who “has a disability,” as he put it, “and he also talks really fast, like you.”
And speaking of disability! This humble but attentive blog has learned that we were mentioned in this thread over at Basket of Kisses, the Lipp sisters’ fine Mad Men blog. That’s cracking the big time, folks. (Their razor-sharp commenters have some words of praise for my razor-sharp commenters, too. Thanks!) The subject was the show’s treatment of Danny Farrell’s epilepsy in episode 10, about which I’d wanted to blog last week—if only to remind (or, perhaps, inform) people just how intensely stigmatized epilepsy was, back in the day. It keeps coming up in the literature on eugenics and involuntary sterilization, for instance, which kinda surprises my students. To take an almost-random example, here’s a snippet from Steven Noll’s Feeble-Minded in Our Midst: Institutions for the Mentally Retarded in the South, 1900-1940:
[Aubrey] Strode and [A. S.] Pridday formulated the Virginia sterilization law on both economic and scientific bases. The statute stated that sterilization would aid those “many defective persons who if now discharged or paroled would likely become by the propagation of their kind a menace to society, but who if incapable of procreating might properly and safely be discharged or paroled and become self-supporting with benefits to themselves and society.” It also invoked the scientific rationale for sterilization by emphasizing, “Human experience has demonstrated that heredity plays an important part in the transmission of insanity, idiocy, epilepsy, and crime.” The law empowered superintendents of Virginia’s four mental institutions and its Lynchburg State Colony for the Feeble-Minded to sterilize any resident “affected with hereditary forms of insanity, idiocy, imbecility, feeble-mindedness, or epilepsy.”
This was in the 1920s; Virginia governor E. Lee Trinkle (real name!) signed the state’s sterilization bill into law on March 20, 1924. And yes, you read that right, epilepsy was grounds for involuntary sterilization. Granted, in 1963, Danny Farrell isn’t about to be sterilized. But he certainly is going to be institutionalized at that “broom-pushing” job, and he knows it. Don’s decision to let him get out of the car before he gets to Massachusetts, in a bizarre act of repentance for his role in the suicide of his own brother Adam, is one of the most interesting “minor” moments of the season.
...would likely become by the propagation of their kind a menace to society
Yikes! That argument could be applied to all my friends and loved ones.
How does it do that?Posted by on 10/29 at 08:16 AM
Great interview. What kind of world are you living in there in Pennsylvania where they have shows that allow this kind of extended thoughtful conversation about interesting subjects? We dont’ have it in Boston. Shocked and surprised by the host, too. Seemed to be aware of your work and asked pertinent questions, then let you talk. The best part, though, was the subtle “Levi Stubbs’ Tears” lyrical paraphrase when talking about Jamie. This is why you get paid the big bucks, right?Posted by on 10/29 at 09:14 AM
Have you considered getting in on the Stimulus windfall to fund your infrastructural maintenance? I’d say this “weblog” is “shovel ready.”Posted by on 10/29 at 10:08 AM
What kind of world are you living in there in Pennsylvania where they have shows that allow this kind of extended thoughtful conversation about interesting subjects?
This is why they call it Happy Valley.
Shocked and surprised by the host, too. Seemed to be aware of your work and asked pertinent questions, then let you talk.
Patty Satalia is renowned for this. Whip-smart and totally professional—and I knew I’d have enough time to give real answers, so I backed up a bit on a couple of her questions to get a running start.
The best part, though, was the subtle “Levi Stubbs’ Tears” lyrical paraphrase when talking about Jamie.
Oh, you caught the “hole in his body where no hole should be” allusion! Praise be to Moloch—now I can die happy. Mr. Bragg’s best song, imho.Posted by Michael on 10/29 at 10:15 AM
I just listened to this as I assembled my dissertation to be mailed out and didn’t find your delivery too fast at all. A very good interview, made even better by your having that rare thing nowadays: a very good interviewer. I look forward to the sequel that you and Jamie plan to write.Posted by on 10/29 at 11:19 AM
If Pennsylvania=Happy Valley, I only hope for PSU’s sake that this doesn’t make you a latter day Rasselas. See below.
“These sorrowful meditations fastened upon his mind; he passed four months in resolving to lose no more time in idle resolves, and was awakened to more vigorous exertion by hearing a maid, who had broken a porcelain cup, remark that what cannot be repaired is not to be regretted.
This was obvious; and Rasselas reproached himself that he had not discovered it, having not known, or not considered, how many useful hints are obtained by chance....He, for a few hours, regretted his regret, and from that time bent his whole mind upon the means of escaping the Valley of Happiness.”Posted by on 10/29 at 11:26 AM
"Oh, you caught the “hole in his body where no hole should be” allusion! Praise be to Moloch—now I can die happy. Mr. Bragg’s best song, imho.”
How many opportunities can there be in life to deploy the perfect allusion in a natural, non-pedantic way? If you didn’t know the song, it would pass right by without notice. But if not, you spend the rest of the morning happily humming, in awe of Berube’s uncanny combination of cultural omnivorousness and quick wit. Bravo!
And it is certainly his best song, which his high praise indeed.Posted by on 10/29 at 01:12 PM
That should read “But if you did...” Oops.Posted by on 10/29 at 01:13 PM
my razor-sharp commenters
They came for the embarrassingly juvenile humor and stayed for the hockey blogging.Posted by on 10/29 at 02:39 PM
Finally got to listen to the interview, and I loved it. Here in Texas, state law mandates that all students have their knowledge measured via “on grade level” standardized tests. Taken to the extreme, this law requires pre-verbal students to be measured on their knowledge of subjects such as geometry or writing. Naturally, special education teachers initially resisted and derided the law and the standardized tests that accompanied it. However, many of the same educators now praise the law and the tests, saying they are forced to focus on “what the students can do.” So I think your point about including students with disabilities as a means of finding out what they are capable of is a good one, and I agree with it.
I know I’ve mentioned that Mrs. Ed is a special education teacher, and nothing makes her angrier than when the regular education teachers send her students out of the classroom during instruction time. There is one circumstance where she understands why they do it, though. One complicating factor of inclusion, Mrs. Ed admits, is that some of her students behave disruptively. As a result, she occasionally worries about the rights of non-disabled students to not have their lessons disrupted. If public school teachers grumble about inclusion, they typically grumble about not being able to address the needs of the “average students.” So if there is ever a backlash or resistance to including people with disabilities, I suspect this is the direction it will come from.Posted by on 10/29 at 03:40 PM
"while I’m hard at work on structural repairs”....
If you replace the Putin head with Derek Jeter, I’m gone.Posted by on 10/29 at 03:57 PM
Fantastic interview. I might have to watch it again, as it caused me to reflect a bit too often, causing me to miss parts.
Plus, I’m pretty sure I’m putting together a country-punk band just so I can call it “Guilty Twang.”Posted by Jason B. on 10/29 at 07:58 PM
Michael, thanks so much for posting this! What a great interview, and you’re right, a great interviewer, who let you finish every paragraph, let alone sentence.Posted by on 10/29 at 09:28 PM
In the early 1980s, my, by then, second ex-wife had to sue the County of LA and the State of California to be reinstated as a Social Worker (she held an MSW); she had been terminated because she had epilepsy and the State refused to renew her the driver’s license which was required to work for the County. She ended up with developing a class action case and was successful. She is retired now living in upstate New York. We (proverbial national zeal) also used to lock up (well into the 1950s) “hysterical” adolescent women who had violated various sexual taboos (pretty much everything having to do with sex).
If you replace the Putin head with Derek Jeter, I’m gone.
I am hoping we get these new big floating head(s): “And now I want to start a faux-wingnut blog called Big Academia.”Posted by on 10/29 at 09:45 PM
Great interview. I love the idea of a “guilty twang.” Lots of those down where I’m from.Posted by on 10/30 at 01:18 AM
Long time lurker, first time commenting. That was a wonderful interview. I am a legal services attorney and it raises issues I have long struggled with in thinking of ways to address disability related issues in a systemic manner. For a short period of my career I did SSI advocacy and I found it quite depressing. With clients with cognitive disabilities, you end up spending most of your time convincing the court that your client is incapable of working and therefore eligible for SSI. Having some income is, of course, better than not having any but it far from an ideal outcome. As you correctly note, most ADA employment cases are not successful in court and the small minority that do succeed are more likely to be based on physical impairment and not cognitive or psychological.Posted by on 10/30 at 07:25 AM
My mother has worked at the “Lynchburg State Colony for the Feeble-Minded,” now called “Central Virginia Training Center” since the early 80s. She says you can still see the rooms they used for sterilizations, and she has some very elderly clients that were involuntarily sterilized.Posted by on 10/30 at 08:41 AM
Good interview, but why are you both sitting behind 1960s-era Sylvania televisions?Posted by Chris Clarke on 10/30 at 04:09 PM
Great interview, Michael. I enjoyed your comments about Dumbo. Yes! Here’s a little essay in which I argue that Dumbo is one of Disney’s best and most sophisticated feature-length cartoons.
captcha = zebraPosted by Bill Benzon on 10/30 at 04:15 PM
OK, now I’m glad I posted it. I remember thinking at the time that it didn’t go all that well, and that I was kinda rambling and unfocused. But two-plus years and a bunch of encouraging comments later, it seems OK after all.Posted by Michael on 10/30 at 05:22 PM
Maybe that’s ‘cause your head is anchored and regular size, not ginormous and floating.
& I do recall the terrible stigma that used to be attached to epilepsy.Posted by Bill Benzon on 10/30 at 07:16 PM
that I was kinda rambling and unfocused.
Eh, one man’s “rambling and unfocused” would be another man’s extemporaneous miracle. There may have been a place or two where you drifted, but they were eloquent drifts and you always got back on point.Posted by on 10/30 at 09:52 PM
Having just watched the Rome episode where Caesar has a seizure, I’m trying to recreate my childhood sense of epilepsy - I recall when I first learned about Caesar, and being surprised, but at the same time I don’t feel like epilepsy was stigmatized - at least not like mental disabilities (I’m talking the early 80s). Maybe my memory is wrong - certainly could be - but I feel as if epilepsy was understood as being primarily physical, whereas Down’s and the like were obviously mental, and therefore indicated real shortcomings. Mostly I’m surprised that it would have been viewed so harshly (suitable for sterilization) in this century.Posted by JRoth on 10/30 at 10:18 PM
"Secret English court seizes billions in assets from the mentally impaired”Posted by Josh Fulton on 10/31 at 02:55 PM
If you could assign one book/collection on the American history of eugenics, forced sterilization, and the like to bright but entirely uninformed undergraduates, what would it be?Posted by on 11/02 at 11:07 PM
I think it would be The Unfit: A History of a Bad Idea. Though I’ll always be a fan of The Mismeasure of Man, as well.Posted by Michael on 11/02 at 11:49 PM
Thanks. Maybe I can fit them both in, as the latter was on my short-list.Posted by on 11/02 at 11:52 PM
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