Thursday, March 29, 2007

Because I'm tired of evaluating freshman papers...

"Romney lists potential running mates." "Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney on Thursday dropped some names of potential running mates in the 2008 race, but added such speculation is a bit premature. Among those Romney mentioned for the second slot on the Republican ticket were three Southerners: South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush."

Because apparently 12 years of the Bush dynasty just isn't enough! Ugh!

"FDA advisers OK prostate cancer vaccine." "Federal health advisers have endorsed an experimental vaccine to treat advanced prostate cancer as safe and effective."

Why do I have the sneaking suspicion that there won't be nearly the windfall about this vaccine as there has been about the HPV vaccine? Men's sexual health and lives threatened--Vaccine okay. Women's sexual health and lives threaten--Vaccine sparks all kinds of debate.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Larry King and MLA

Larry King Live had a special on autism a couple days ago. It's supposed to repeat on Sunday. I'll check it out and let you know...

And, I'm submitting a proposal on autism (I think disability and "personhood," especially as it relates to language and speech) for the regional MLA conference in Atlanta in November. I figure I could use the opportunity to write the paper as part of a chapter (hopefully) in my dissertation. Thanks, Alison, for the head's up.

Any other tips or leads are always welcome.

Burke's Agency and Identification

I've been thinking more about the means of rhetorical agency as it relates to autism representation and the rhetoric of autism online, particularly in youtube and online blogs. In one comment on autismvox, anonimouse comments in regard to the representation of parents of autistics as martyrs ready and waiting for their pity party. The commenter is specifically discussing how such representations make it seem okay to harm one's autistic child:

…The big problem is that some parents have convinced themselves that they are martyrs at the throne of something they can’t control. (or in many cases, was thrust upon them by evil drug companies) And once you get that thought in your head, you can justify all sorts of questionable things to do to your kid…

I found this statement particularly interesting in regard to the rhetoric of agency--or in this case, the (perceived) lack thereof. Again, someone/thing has to be blamed for a person's autism. Either the drug companies, the government, the environment, or the parents who just "accept" autism without fighting to do something about it. Without agency, there's despair and despondency. No hope because there's nothing that can be done. No one to be held accountable. All of which leads, unfortunately, some parents to murder (Katherine McCarron, Brandon Williams, Marcus Fiesel, Ulysses Stable are just a few autistic children--all under 10--who were murdered by their caregivers because they were autistic).

I also think this lack of agency is represented in the Autism Speaks video, in which mothers of autistic children discuss the hopelessness and challenges of raising an autistic child. Aside from the obvious financial motivations for the video, the video does illustrate the despair that comes from lack of agency, as in the case of the mother talking about driving herself and her daughter off of the George Washington Bridge. It's interesting the importance of doing something. Act.

Just some thoughts...

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Rhetorical Agency and Metaphor

One of my favorite websites,, is having a great conversation on the use of metaphors to describe autism. Autistic individuals and autistics talking about the metaphors used in regard to autism--war, combat, toxicity, waste... Rhetoric in use. By "non" rhetoric scholars. Isn't this a great discipline or what?

I see these kinds of blogs as so interesting in terms of rhetorical agency. Doing something to help the way they see autism, the way autism is treated, and the way the world sees autism in return.

It's a fascinating read and so interesting...

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Mozart and the Whale

Well, I just finished watching Mozart and the Whale (2005), a film starring Josh Hartnett and Rhada Mitchell as a couple with Asperger's syndrome struggling to overcome the difficulties that come with just being a couple and a couple with Asperger's syndrome. The two meet at a support group Hartnett's character, Donald Morton, runs and soon fall in love. Mitchell's character, Isabelle Sorenson, while autistic, does not seem to be as impaired emotionally or economically because of her condition as Donald is. However, Isabelle does suffer from emotional disturbances that culminate in her suicide attempt when she and Donald break up. The two eventually decide to take things slow and eventually marry by the end of the film.

And, the film is actually not that bad. I actually enjoyed it quite a bit. Namely, because the film doesn't fall into the stereotypical autism-movie cliches that Anthony Baker identifies in his article, "Recognizing Jake: Contending with Specularized Representations of Autism." In Mozart and the Whale, the autistic character is overly cute and endearing, while being placed in mortal danger, and being threatened to be taken away from their caregivers. In fact, Isabelle and Donald both do not have any family aside from their friends at the support group. The movie is about adults on the spectrum trying to negotiate the conflicts that come with any relationship and conflicts that might be more pronounced with two individuals who have difficulty with relationships of all kinds.

Perhaps what was more frustrating for me were the reviewers comments on the movie at IMD,, and Rotten Tomatoes. Most notable: the characters were either too "retarded" as at Rotten Tomatoes (autism is not a form of mental retardation, fyi) or they weren't "autistic" enough, as at Specifically, "Stephanie O." recommends Rainman for a more accurate and compelling representation of autism. She also recommends a website on Temple Grandin, to learn more about autism.

As I'm reading these reviews, I'm reminded of conversations on autism, particularly the challenges some individuals considered "high-functioning" and Asperger's face. Namely, that they are not autistic enough for services, patience, and compassion, but aren't "normal" enough to keep from standing out and from being ostracized in society. While the film does an excellent job showing the different manifestations of Asperger's syndrome and the different ways in which Asperger's manifests itself in the individual, it seems that, in this instance, it's cinematic failures occur because it doesn't comply with the stereotypical, autistic experience. I find it enormously frustrating to hear that Rainman is the more typical autistic experience--especially considering that the man to which the film is based, Kim Peek, isn't autistic and the character is institutionalized.

How many times have I heard, "Autism. Oh, like Rainman?" Well, no autism is nothing like Rainman. In fact, in South Asia, an autistic person is referred to as "Rainman."

Saturday, March 10, 2007

More thoughts on vaccines and autism

Donna touched upon this in her comment to my earlier blog, but I think Caplan's examination is pretty interesting from an autism-mom's perspective. I have never had the "you shouldn't have gotten your son vaccinated" line thrown at me, but it's pretty common among some autism circles. In fact, while Caplan notes that scientific research has "put the nail in the coffin" on the connections between autism and vaccinations, I would venture that if he were to lurk long at many autism blogs written by parents, he would see that this connection is *much* more common and disputed than he might like to think. It actually gets down right ugly. Vicious.

I think, like Donna noted, that the mistrust of the government is partially to blame. Something I find a little interesting, if I can go on for a second off topic. The American people seemed to have put 100% faith in a president who had no verifiable truth that WMD existed in Iraq, but when we have 100% no verifiable truth that autism is connected to vaccines--then people begin to mistrust the government?

There is also the fear of the "intelligencia" that I think is going on, also. Of course, this is just an observation of mine, but many of the autism advocates that I've met online who hold degrees higher than the BA level do not adhere to this "vaccine" theory of causation in regard to autism. It's not that I think those with more education are more likely to read the literature than those without, but I have to wonder whether those of us who are more "on the inside" of government bureaucracy are more likely to know the chains of command, so to speak. We're more likely to believe that credible research is going on at research universities and institutions and at the CDC; such that, we don't tend to fall into the "I don't trust the scientists who work for the government." Because as of late, much of the criticisms I read regarding the CDC and the research into autism and vaccinations isn't that the research doesn't exist to disprove the links. Many of the vaccine and autism advocates acknowledge that the research exists. But, that the research is tainted, faulty, or part of a larger government conspiracy.

So, how might this come back to rhetoric? Well, first, I think this goes to show more of the rhetoric of autism as a "white, affluent, Western" condition. Many academia people have autistic children, read autistic literature, and fight the good fight for neuro-diversity (as it's called in my circles). And, I could go on here for a while... for a later post, I suppose.

But, the seemingly popularity of the autism-vaccination causation theory stems, I believe, partly in the dissemination of the autism literature. Specifically, many of the opponents of vaccine theories are within academia and the government. The discourses are one, already suspect, and two, probably not written for a wide enough audience. As a discourse, it's too specific to a smaller discourse community. However, some of the more widely distributed materials regarding autism come from the Autism Society of America, Autism Speaks (or as it's called in neuro-diversity circles, Autism Weeps--it's the organization responsible for the "Autism Everyday" video in which a mother discusses killing herself and her autistic child), and Cure Autism Now (this is the organization responsible for those corny "puzzle" car magnets).

These national organizations, honestly, do a much better job of getting their agendas across. They've held countless charity events with celebrity sponsors (Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert to name two) and are accessible to parents of autistic children. Type in "autism" in google and the first listing, I will bet you a dollar, is from either of the three organizations I listed above.

Interestingly, I just picked up a book for a general audience (I was getting it for my ex-husband who is having a difficult time adjusting to the diagnosis still) regarding autism spectrum disorders, and the author is on the board of directors for the Autism Society of America. In the book, she lists the various theories as to the causes of autism, from environmental heavy metals to vaccines to brain abnormality. She also lists many of the biological and chemical treatments available to parents (chelation, vitamin B injections, gluten and dairy-free diets, just to name a few) encouraging parents to try those that they believe might help their children. Because, of course, it couldn't hurt, right?

What's funny is that in her discussion on behavioral treatments, such as behavior modification therapy (practice desired behaviors and reward, ignore negative) and sunrise therapy (shadowing the autistic child, repeating whatever they do as if a mirrored reflection), she cautions parents to use their discretion that these techniques haven't been proven effective for large populations of autistic children.

This is a general book on autism. One that looks like any other. But, it's based on biomedical causations and treatments. Sponsored by the Autism Society of America. Had I known this author worked for them, I would have never ordered the book. Like I said, the vaccines cause autism people have much better resources and have been able to reach the general audience much more effectively.

Still, I think the tides are changing and this is where I think my dissertation comes in. Specifically, the use of blogs (not just blogs like this but professional blogs or web communities) to create a grassroots effort to encourage neuro-diversity. It's actually called PosAutive and there are videos, sort of like PSA's available on youtube. Parents attempting, without the money or resources, to counter the big spenders of the national organizations. This is the rhetoric of autism that I find amazing. The civic discourse that is challenging those typically who spoke the loudest. God bless the Internet.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Autism and the HPV Vaccine

On, the latest conversation is on how the fear of autism has fueled some of the fury against the HPV vaccine. Authur Caplan's article in the Philadelphia Inquirer discusses how this fear of autism shapes public health policy. Another instance of the myth of autism... (I still don't understand how people can be so afraid of having a child like Tobey?)

Anyways, I think the rhetoric of fear and blame and its latest manifestations in the HPV debate are interesting. There's so much rhetoric to look at here... I guess that's what I can do after I get some papers evaluated.

That and I believe the HPV debate also centers on the notion that women should not have sex and if they do, they deserve to die from cancer. "I don't want to give my daughter the wrong message: sex is okay." Translation: You should never have sex because if you do, you can die. From cancer. Of the Cervix.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

While we're on the topic of giving credit where credit is due...

...I, yes--me, I was cited in a paper at CCTE this weekend. I, unfortunately, was presenting my own paper at the time (which wasn't really all that necessary since the guy before me presented pretty much the same thing I did--only he did it better) and didn't get to hear the speakers read their paper and note, "According to Rochelle Gregory's article 'Popken's Tarleton Writer..." although Marc did hear it and was kind of enough to tell me.

Yes, I'm famous. I'm bringing sexy back.

I will be available for autographs later this week.

Some thoughts I'm bouncing around

Last Wednesday, I submitted a fellowship application for two prospectus writing workshops in May and September. Regardless of whether I get the fellowship or not, the experience was beneficial because it, one, gave me some experience applying for fellowships, and two, because it forced me to start thinking more specifically on the direction I would like to go in my dissertation. Specifically, I want to look at the rhetoric of the representation of autism in Western media (television, film, internet blogs, and youtube).

So, without further adieu, some thoughts on the rhetoric of autism that I think I'm going to blog around on over the next couple weeks/months:
  • The complexities and difficulties of representing invisible disabilities, like autism, in our "visual culture"
  • The connection b/t autism and the supernatural (i.e., Autism and the God Connection), particularly as it relates to representation in film and television (i.e., The Boy Who Could Fly, Bless the Child). Also, the connection between autism and the supernatural as it relates to pre-20th century "stolen" and feral children. (Nymphs were believed to have stolen healthy babies and replaced them with demon or possessed--autistic--children. Church leaders believed that these demons did not possess a soul and many are believed to have been killed by their parents or abandoned in the wilderness.)
  • The differences between (and subsequent representations of) autism as a mental illness (i.e., schizophrenia) and developmental disorders
  • Rhetoric of blame in regard to developmental disorders (i.e., mothers, vaccines, mercury, cell phones)
  • Autism blogging and youtube broadcasts as rhetorical agency (someone is doing something)
  • Autism as a white, educated, affluent Western disorder--disorder of Industrialized societies
  • The "suffering" of autism and the connections between autism and pain
  • Representations of autism in online blogs--parents blogging about autistic children, autistic adults blogging about themselves--means of advocacy
  • Advocacy and awareness of autism through home videos posted on youtube
  • Autism and the superhuman (i.e., savant syndrome)
So, these are just some of the thoughts I've been bouncing around in my ginormous nogin. I'd love to hear any ideas or suggestions or thoughts.

I'm also planning on submitting to SAMLA's panel on Autism Texts (4/15/07), thanks to Allison for the head's up. I'd love to hear any thoughts on which idea might be most appropriate for MLA...

Background noise tonight: Wonderpets Save the Cow... (in case you were curious)

Monday, March 5, 2007

Welcome to Your Dissertation

This is my first post on my new, private blog space for my dissertation. I'm going to post thoughts, ideas, ramblings, and general musings on my dissertation to help me get some thoughts bouncing around in this ginormous head of mine.

I'm going to keep my other blog up and running but post only theories or ideas that I don't want to share with the world here.

Can't have anyone stealing my dissertation before I get to write it.