hazelk: (vidding)
Reading the impassioned debates currently surrounding the Vividcon policy statement I’m reminded of previous discussion about whether a person’s online journal should be considered public or private space. I think the faultline creating some (but not all) of this VVC related discord is similar. Vividcon is a conference, anyone can register, as of now it has a policy statement. In those ways it looks like a public space but in many others and to many others I think it feels more like, not private space maybe but a homely one. Not family homely, at least not biological family homely but created family maybe. Like Scooby space for lack of an existing word and because, to a child of the seventies, Scooby is a prefix that makes things sound friendly.

Since much of the anger began around issues of disability and access, I’ll use a disability related analogy. My kids go to a special school. It’s a good special school that for the last three years is housed in a purpose-built building (of the kind the current Lib-Con government is busy removing funding for the construction of). The building makes things easier for ASD and learning disabled children. The classrooms can be easily sub-divided to allow small group or one-on-one teaching. There are special rooms where students can go to chill out, there are visual timetables everywhere. For those with physical difficulties all parts of the school are fully wheelchair accessible. The space, all by itself, does a lot to make the world an easier, more navigable place for the children there.

Our house is not purpose built. We don’t have visual timetables or a chill out room or many of the other facilities they have at the school but our house is not an institution, it’s a home and where the space can’t do the work needed to make things good the people do it instead. We do it or at least we try. Similarly when visiting places if they’re public places, zoos, museums, parks, amusement parks we read the information and the policies and if they sound like there might be a problem or it’s expensive and there’s no disabled discount we don’t go. We could contact the people in charge and make personal enquires but often it’s simpler just to go somewhere else. If we’re visiting someone else’s home for a party or a barbecue or a dinner, however, we don’t research its accessibility on the internet or ask to see their policies, we talk to the hosts with the straight forward expectation that they will be hospitable. Again, in Scooby spaces people do the work that buildings and best practice recommendations do in public spaces.

So what of Vividcon, public or Scooby? I think the problem is that the answer very much depends on who’s asking. From all I’ve read of the history it began (and not so long ago, 2004?) as a very “let’s put this show on in our barn” operation, in other words totally Scooby (Mickey and Judy = Shaggy and Velma or Fred and Daffny. Dicusss). But it grew and grew and vidding has grown and grown and while some people come to Vividcon the old way, through getting to know other vidders others get to hear of its reputation long before they (virtually) meet the people. It’s become an institution without maybe feeling like one and for those who don’t feel it being judged as an institution is as discomforting and hurtful as if the OFSTED inspector were to arrive on your doorstep to tell you you were a failing home. Meanwhile the response to that probably makes those who read the policy and quite reasonably judged it on its institutional merits feel like they’re being excluded from High Table or the Senior Common Room because their face (or body) doesn’t fit and they don’t know the right people and the right people don't want to know them, which is equally hurtful and discomforting.
hazelk: (Default)
There’s a post I’ve thought about making several times but my thoughts on the issues always start out chaotic and unfocused and by the time I’ve thought them into line the moment has passed. It’s a post about ablism/disablism and language, about the rights and wrongs of using words like blind and deaf and retarded and lame and autistic (the one I have a personal stake in) and crazy and crippled for anything other than as value-neutral descriptions of the literal condition.

Obviously using these words as playground taunts is wrong. It’s all too easy when first coming across the issue to feel spuriously virtuous that one would never dream of using ‘retard’ or ‘cripple’ as personal insults. One is too nice for that. Equally spuriously, some of the words are part of other people’s vernacular. I wouldn’t say something was lame without major irony tags because I’m not an American teenager. Which I suppose brings up one of the reasons there is resistance to being made to reconsider the use of such words. Vernaculars are part of how people, particularly marginalized people, define themselves and being told to redefine yourself never goes well.

But it’s not only the young or the less privileged who cling to their vernaculars. Metaphorical language, which can act as a vernacular of erudition, includes formulations such as “He was blind to the consequences and deaf to protesting voices.” Or “the economy is crippled, the situation is crazy, Gordon Brown’s behaviour is quasi-autistic.” The argument is that these metaphors and comparisons are intended as pejoratives and, particularly to someone with the non-metaphorical condition, carry the strong implication that the condition itself is a sign of moral failing. I get that and also that these phrases are clichés, used to give an impression of style but not specific enough to add anything meaningful to the description. I get it. But then I get confused by my actual response to the one example that ought to trouble me personally.

“Gordon Brown’s behaviour is quasi-autistic” is annoying but not because it feels like my children are being insulted. Possibly because despite his failings as a party leader I still have a fondness for Brown (for not being Blair), it might be different if I’d seen the description applied to Bush. Also because I find it hard to think of “autistic” as an insult. Autistic is a word for my children and the other children at their school, it’s a word that conjures faces. It’s not a bogeyman word or a “there but for the grace of god” word but something familiar and embraced. And if anyone uses it as insult in their hearing, I will kill them with my brain.

No, Gordon Brown’s alleged autism is annoying because it’s obviously inaccurate and betrays a basic ignorance of the condition on the part of the alleger. It comes back to the niceness thing in a way. I don’t want journalists to stop calling politicians autistic or bipolar or schizophrenic because they don’t want to hurt my feelings or other people’s feelings (although I can’t really speak for other people, not even for my own children). I want them to stop casually throwing out such labels because they recognize that they’re misleading. I want those words to have faces. When it comes down to it, I think it’s a very good thing to make people think about language but I think it’s a means to an end and not an end in itself.

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hazelk

May 2012

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