Category Archives: disability

Ghostfacemas 2020: the conservative discourse of the Ghostface Killah

Some decades ago I began celebrating December 26th as Ghostfacemas – at the time it seemed like a good pun on Boxing day.

But the annual return to the emblematic and lyrically gifted emcee is a good chance to think about Ghostface Killah in the current moment. It seems as though the hip hop of Wu-Tang golden era through the 2000s offered creativity and unlimited opporunities for growth. If you were talented, relentless and willing to match the moment then the world was your oyster. Cue the Wu Wear documentary.

Artists could make a living by spitting aggressive disrespectful bars spotlighted in videos of New York backstreets and bodegas made by friends, cousins and sycophants. I watched the RZA centered Wu-Tang: An American Saga which offers up the early years of the Wu-Tang conglomorate in glacial formation. The series has ended with the crew on the verge of what we know is industry-wide revolution.

In this series the Ghostface character comes across as heartfelt and desperate. A debonaire loyal friend with the need to earn money to support disabled siblings and a drunk mom. For those of us who spent years trying to decode Wu-Tang slang by rewinding the CD, the show was a revelation – background characters and stories come into visibility through memorized Wu-Tang lyrics. And then it all stops.

Amazing emcees with historic catalog of genre-defining tunes who get the veteran musician documentary treatment can still disappear (Ghostface Killah’s most recent album Ghostface Killahs charted at 25 on Billboard top 100, this video has a little more than 100,000 views).

I think that this experience of being squeezed out has guided Ghostface Killah to a more conservative discourse. The rhymes are crisp with clever inventive word choice (“My moms never knew she was nursin’ a wolf/And I wrote this on 9/11 covered in soot”) and the now-pattented rhymeflow that can only be Ghostface Killah (or Action Bronson).

But the subject matter is old. Guns, home invasions, objectification of women, liquor brands, fashion label, and the relentless juxtaposition of upper class symbiology brought to lower class contexts. I loved this from Ghostface Killah in the 1990s, but today it seems nostalgic and out-of-date. The fact that Ghostface created some of the most significant home-invasion fables of all hip hop history probably leads him to lean on this genre when it comes to 2019 recordings, but I find myself longing for a little more from Ghostface.

The other part that seems old is the use of the anti-gay slur “faggot” in a 2019 record. The last 30 years have been a significant period of culture change in hip hop. Hateful language and insulting slurs were the norm in hip hop and over the course of a few decades things have changed. The genre itself has opened, and the artists who record hip hop music select from a wider genre of symbols and narratives. There are quite a few hip hop artists who present a kind of repudiation of the traditional masculinity of hip hop (Lil Yaghty, Future, Young Thug).

The battle for the soul of hip hop can be understood as attempts of gender policing (Sean Price’s anger at emcees wearing tight pants). The small symbols and language of inclusion (and lessening of hateful language) should be understood as a genre discussing teaching, evolving and learning from itself. Careful observers of hip hop can map lyrical choices of emcees to understand how the discourse of the genre evolves over time.

Conservative hip hop vocalists might veer back into the gender policing of men in hip hop in order to dip into the well of hip hop authenticity. This is a tactic to identify who is real and who isn’t. But the cost is too great – the community of those who are comfortable with hateful slurs isn’t real hip hop – it is casual gate-keeping to create an artifical community that nurtures bigotry.

To understand the multiplicity of Ghostface Killer discourse should be a semester-long university course. The contributions of an artist who should be honored and critiqued in equal measure. Which is how we move forward into Ghostfacemas this year – critical, optimistic and savvy about the possibility that the next year might disappoint.

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Rhetoric, sports and ability

Sporting events are exceptionally significant in human culture.  In every corner of the planet kids kick a ball around.  While sports are ever present, we also have to navigate the stories that define what that play means.  Competition, fair play, hard work, hierarchy, teamwork — we are steeped in the narratives that permeates sports stories.  These stories invite participation, and they also exclude.  It is worth considering what happens when the desire to play a sport doesn’t conform to the bodily requirements of that sport.

One punchline for these stories ends with Rudy Ruettiger, the pint-sized Notre Dame football player whose hard work eventually leads the coach to put him in the game.  Another possible ending is for accommodation through the development of a new sport.  Wheelchair rugby comes to mind.

Recent convert to wheelchair racing, Victoria Stagg Elliott wonders why more  people don’t get involved in adaptive sports in an essay at The Rumpus.

What if more runners, when faced with having to hang up their shoes for whatever reason, switched to wheelchair racing rather than cycling or swimming or giving up physical activity completely?

Here’s what I think would happen:

So-called disabled athletes would have more opportunities to participate in able-bodied sports and vice-versa. We would all realize that we are more alike than different, and that playing alone really isn’t very much fun.

via What If Wheelchair Racing Were Just Another Sport? – The

I like Elliot’s take on adaptive sports, and the encouragement for people to simply play.  It seems like sports and play are worthwhile fundamental human desires — it is worth crafting a world where people who wanted to participate in any activity would get the chance.

It also takes a certain amount of work to change sports stories.  With sports the concept of fairness can help to persuade some people to make sports inclusive, but the Title IX separate-but-equal is a predictable pressure release valve.  It seems valuable to push forward on all intellectual fronts to bring forward inclusion.  To support adaptive sports, to fund and celebrate sports communities who become more inclusive, and to engage in sporting play ourselves — regardless of our level of ability.

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Andrew W.K. and different ability

What a nice quote from a fascinating party monster/charming lout.

Was it hard to play in a wheelchair?

It was actually easy to play. I was on crutches during the day but I couldn’t stand with the mic, play keyboard and do my headbanging on the crutches. So the wheelchair became this amazing tool that let me spin, roll around and completely isolate my leg so I could keep all the energy into my playing and singing. I had so much fun at those shows because it was a different way to use my body. It was interesting to experience how it felt to be in a wheelchair. Some people were freaked out by it and didn’t want me to play. We did a TV show performance and when they saw I was in a wheelchair they just wanted me to cancel. I said: “We’ve been playing this way, if anything I can play better. And I think people will find it interesting and exciting.” They said: “No it doesn’t look good, there’s a reason why you don’t see people in wheelchairs performing on telly!” I was just baffled by that and then I realised, holy smoke, you really don’t see people in wheelchairs on television! Why the fuck is that? Afterwards the guy apologised, he said he was wrong, the show was amazing and thanks for doing it. I realised if you’re injured it’s not just getting around that changes, it’s the whole way you’re treated.

via Andrew WK: ‘Music is a healing powerball of electric joy’ | Music |

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Changing culture about head injuries

The rapid pace of cultural transformation on some health issues has been pretty impressive.  Think about how quick major public conversations about health and safety have been about tobacco, seatbelts, and trans-fats.  In these cases it didn’t take long for laws to be changed based on health concerns.

I  think we are on the verge of a new way of thinking about head injuries and sports.  Probably one that will come with new laws and regulations.  As a marker of these changes let us note that several NFL players are suing the league for it’s antiquated approach to head injuries.

Furthermore, the court documents say the league concealed the dangers from coaches, trainers, players and the public until June 2010, when it publicly acknowledged the health threats and warned players and teams.

“While athletes in other professional sports who had suffered concussions were being effectively ‘shut down’ for long periods of time or full seasons, NFL protocol was to return players who had suffered concussions to the very game in which the injury occurred,” the lawsuit states.

via Ex-NFL Players Jamal Lewis, Dorsey Levens & Two Others Sue League Over Concussions |

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Capitalism visible: cosmetic surgery in Brazil

Interesting article about one of Brazil’s most famous plastic surgeons, who also a 2-bit philosopher.   I enjoyed the write up and noticed a few interesting moments.

1.  Capitalism is seldom visible.  But the cultivation of desires, and the normalizing of those desires can be noted.

When a good life is defined through the ability to buy goods then rights may be reinterpreted to mean not equality before the law, but equality in the market. One young man who lived in an area notorious for police violence said he longed to buy an imported car. While there is nothing unusual in this wish, what he said next surprised me: “That’s my dream. Rights for all.” This is perhaps a new idea of citizenship: social belonging depends on access to a particular standard of living.

via A ‘Philosophy’ of Plastic Surgery in Brazil –

2.  These changes are exceptionally fast.  Victorians believed cleft palette would ‘build character.’  To move from a normal space for a body to inhabit to an illness that needs remedy is pretty amazing.

Victorians saw a cleft palate as a defect that built character. For us it hinders self-realization and merits corrective surgery. This shift reflects a new attitude towards appearance and mental health: the notion that at least some defects cause unfair suffering and social stigma is now widely accepted.

via A ‘Philosophy’ of Plastic Surgery in Brazil –

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Eli Porter documentary

Eli Porter is a disabled emcee whose high school battle video has become a key hip hop trope.   Here is the documentary about the actual footage.  Complete with commentary from the internets celebrities.



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Movement is essential

An animal needs more than just healthy food, clean water, and pure air. It needs to move, to oscillate naturally and gracefully and musically with the waveforms of life. If we repress the song and dance of life, we will die of loneliness and misery and frustration even before the radiation and toxic waste and global warming can kill us! Our society is trying to destroy the spirit as well as the body of life; both must be saved or none of us will survive.

via The Essential Teachings, Part One « Talkin’ Blues About The News.

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Pharoahe Monch & Asthma

Pharoahe Monch’s new album We Are Renegades is excellent.  Go buy  it.  If you’ve ever listened to Monch, then you know that he doesn’t fake his rhymes.   As is visible above, the back cover of his most recent album is littered with asthma inhalers.    Here is Pharoahe on the impact that his breathing struggles have had on his rhyming style.

“The asthma forced me to really go against the issue and push the envelope in terms of breath control and doing runs that I wouldn’t probably try if I didn’t have asthma,” he explained. “If I didn’t have asthma, I’d probably rhyme like the Hip Hop rock-the-spot [style]. But the fact that that shit is an element that I was fighting against, I was like, ‘Fuck that, let me make that battle, lyrically [speaking].'”

via Pharoahe Monch Talks Asthma and Rap Delivery | Get The Latest Hip Hop News, Rap News & Hip Hop Album Sales | HipHop DX.

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Roundup and toxins: Talking Blues about the News

Uncle Barry pointing out the foibles of modern society in his subtle and gentle exposition:

What else have the dumb Americans been persuaded to buy? Three or four wars and a bankrupt country. Enough corporations to pollute a thousand solar systems. A military big enough to conquer south China. Global warming, plus geoengineering to make it worse. A house full of air fresheners, air conditioners, oven cleaners, bug spray, chlorine bleach, scented candles, antimicrobial soap, water softeners, spray-on furniture polish, lawn mower exhaust, red dye #2, out-gassing plastic products by the hundreds, and some fragrant radon for dessert. And that’s before the exterminator comes for his monthly visit. Got to pay for that too, right?

via Talkin’ Blues About The News.

As usual, buttery-smooth prose and no corporate sponsors over there!

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Thinking ‘crazy’: DSM5 and women’s periods

I have been trying to get the word “crazy” out of my daily vocabulary.  I tend to use it to mean something surprised me, and that seems to be a little insensitive and it doesn’t actually convey what I’m trying to communicate.

But the American Psychiatric Association actually publish a book that defines mental illnesses/disorders in the US: the DSM.  This is the authority that creates new disorders that get wide-spread pharmaceutical advertisements.  This is where new diseases are constituted and where old disorders are reorganized.

It is the DSM’s that have first labelled gay sexual desire as being a mental illness later to change their mind after years of shock therapy.

We should be clear that the development of labels for mental illness come with material impacts.  When we name human beings as ill, we also submit them to treatment or scorn.  This is the development of societal exclusion and hierarchy in visible language.  Creating the category of treatment is itself a displacement of individual voice and experience.

According to the LA Times, a posse of psychiatrists are meeting in Hawaii and debating the creation of new categories of mental illness for addition into the fifth edition of the DSM.  In addition to deciding that gambling, obesity, and a few other clunky new categorizations of human behavior  are apparently driven by mental illness they are wondering whether:

• Is there a distinct mood disorder that occurs in some women prior to their periods?

• Is hoarding a brain-based illness?

• Can the sorrow accompanying bereavement swell into a certifiable mental disorder?

via Psychiatric disorders: Deadline nears for next edition of diagnostic manual –

Pretty interesting questions.  I wish folks could investigate these questions without the goal being to come up with a crisp ‘diagnosis’ for medication, treatment and ‘cure.’

Noting that the article says that the DSM5 draft is is visible, I swung by to see about the return of “Premenstrual dysphoric disorder” (the ‘mood disorder’ referred to by the LA Times) in the next draft of the DSM.   The draft has a handy rationale with some interesting ideas visible. Here is the bottom two paragraphs from their rationale.

It should also be mentioned that there is already some acceptance for PMDD as an independent category from Federal regulators in that several medications have received an indication for treatment of PMDD.

There may be concerns on the part of some stakeholders that this category is proposed as a new diagnosis. In particular, some groups have felt that a disorder that focuses on the perimenstrual phase of the menstrual cycle may “pathologize” normal reproductive functioning in women. Relatedly, only women are at risk for the condition and this may be of concern to some in that they feel women may be inappropriately stigmitized. Some women’s health advocates were concerned that designation of a category for PMDD would insinuate that women are not able to perform needed activities during the premenstrual phase of the cycle. Our group reviewed this literature. We felt that the prevalence statistics clearly indicate that PMDD is a condition that occurs in a minority of women. As such, it would be inappropriate to generalize any disability to women in general. In fact, a DSM diagnostic category for women who experience marked symptoms and impairment perimenstrually highlights the fact that most women do not experience such symptoms. Analogously, while most individuals experience the feeling of sadness at some point in their lives, not all individuals have experienced a mood disorder.

via APA DSM-5 | D 04 Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder.

1.  They are making the case to return this disorder to the mental illness book because “federal regulators” have already released drugs to treat this condition.   If there was ever a visible moment of the medicine before the disease, this is a pretty good one.

2.  The second paragraph is a stunningly avoidance of what seem to me to be some pretty good arguments.  If most women have periods and some of them come with discomfort, this official diagnosis expands the risk that women will think that their normal period is messed up.   In essence, these criticisms point to the difficulty in discovering whether you are experiencing “marked symptoms and impairment perimenstrually”or just having a rough period.

Now, I’m not a Psychiatrist.  But I looked at the list to see if I could distinguish what the “bright-line” was between having a period and having “premenstrual dysphoric disorder.   Well, you are supposed to have five or more of the symptoms a week before menstruation and then they clear up after your period is over.

As near as I can tell, five of them are vague descriptions of moods rather than physiological experiences. If you felt bummed, blue, depressed, alienated, sad, or frustrated at the patriarchy during your period and your boobs hurt, you’d easily trigger a diagnosis of this “disorder.”

(1) marked affective liability (e.g., mood swings; feeling suddenly sad or teaful or increased sensitivity to rejection)

(2) marked irritability or anger or increased interpersonal conflicts

(3) markedly depressed mood, feelings of hopelessness, or self-deprecating thoughts

(4) marked anxiety, tension, feelings of being “keyed up” or “on edge”

(5) decreased interest in usual activities (e.g., work, school, friends, hobbies)

(6) subjective sense of difficulty in concentration

(7) lethargy, easy fatigability, or marked lack of energy

(8) marked change in appetite, overeating, or specific food cravings

(9) hypersomnia or insomnia

(10) a subjective sense of being overwhelmed or out of control

(11) other physical symptoms such as breast tenderness or swelling, joint or muscle pain, a sensation of “bloating,” weight gain

via APA DSM-5 | D 04 Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder.

(Please note the typo of what I assume is supposed to read “tearful” in the first symptom description from the original site.  I wonder if someone who needs Earl Grey to get moving in the morning might mistakenly be diagnosed with this disorder because they were too “teaful.” )

Like horoscopes which are written with such vagueness as to apply to almost everyone, these descriptions can only help to lock in a sexist understanding of women themselves.  Like the phrase “she’s PMSing” used as a way to dismiss criticisms from women, if women cede the ground to the psychiatrists to define that their very cycle itself makes women sick, then the cultural impact will be massive.

Now, lets be super clear — I think that menstruation is a different experience for different women.  And I don’t mean for this discussion to suggest that some women don’t really hurt during their periods.  Many women find that their periods are enormously painful.  Inga Muscio’s wonderful book Cunt provided me with some thoughtful perspective on menstruation and the relationship between the labelled women’s body and that pain.   She notes that she appreciated the medical research discovering that women actually hurt during menstruation.

After all those days I vomited because the mid-section of my body was clenched in a fist of throbbing excruciation; when I sat in the bathtub crying for five hours straight; when I couldn’t get out of bed or leave the house for fear of fainting in public; suddenly, because a group of men took the time to study a group of women and found there was indeed a rational reason for these symptoms to wrack our bodies once a month, I was allotted the pale comfort of knowing this pain actually existed!

Oh Joy.

Cynic that I am in such arenas of contemplation, I wonder if perhaps this generous allotment wasn’t bestowed upon womankind because pharmaceutical companies came to the magnanimous conclusion that sales for pain relievers would skyrocket if only they invested in a little “research” to counter the “in her mind” myth and re-condition the general public into believing there was a veritable malady at hand.

– Inga Muscio, Cunt. p. 20

And of course, here is Prozac maker Eli Lilly pulling the PMDD description from UK prozac because “. . . it is not a well-established disease entitity across Europe.”


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