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Thursday, October 29, 2009

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.

Posted by Michael on 10/29 at 06:38 AM
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