Skull Kissing in the Age of Twitter

In The Revenger’s Tragedy by Christopher Middleton, Vindice avenges the murder of Gloriana by the Duke who’s tricked into kissing Gloriana’s skull which has been treated with poison.

Jacobean theatrics offer an excellent example of what’s come to be called “cancel culture” since love, lust, advantage, politics, and poison are in plain view, center stage, and one fairly wonders if social media “posters” recognize tragic irony as it requires knowing everyone sins and understanding what love requires of citizens.

There is no such thing as an unpolitical cry. And we must cry. But to cry for justice requires love not skull kissing. Any Jacobean viewer would get the point. Try explaining this to the trolls for whom single issue politics and resentments are the tinctures de jour.

Anne Sexton wrote: “live or die, but don’t poison everything.” One can only imagine what she’d say about Twitter. I say its often the kissing of skulls.

I know disabled people who believe all non-disabled people are disability bigots or guilty of ableism. Since this cannot be true its just a poisoned prop. All poisoned props are falsehoods but they’re irresistible. Most people would rather believe in toxicity than see beyond it. In identity politics anyone who’s not like you must surely have bad motives.

Watching last night’s democratic debate I saw the variant toxicities on display. There was a lot of skull kissing going on. If you like Mayor Pete you’re a heartless shill for billionaires; if you like Bernie you have to believe that the rich are un-American. Each candidate has his or her variant of this. You can say this is politics as usual and yet the code switching and winks to singular toxicities is everywhere apparent which means the democrats will likely fail to unite. Skull kissing is never the art of winners.

Channel Surfing

Geraldo Rivera; Donald Trump;

Charles Colson; Forest Gump;

Ibuprofen; foaming goo;

Sunday sermon; tar shampoo;

Dagwood Bumstead; W. Bush;

Mystery meats; baby’s tush;

Higher Ed; window shade;

Rainbow trout; Dennis Quaid;

Dental Hygiene; Je m’appelle "Joe";

Alka Seltzer; Edgar Poe;

Ersatz Shakespeare; "fungal toe!"


Why We Need TV and Movies That Include People with Disabilities: Part 104

So there I was today on NPR’s “On Point” program with two terrific blind professionals and I was feeling like the school kid who has to use the bathroom and can’t wait any longer to announce the matter. I needed to say that the reason blind people are so woefully unemployed and the reason that the public marvels at the accomplishments of exemplary blind professionals like Gordon Gund or David A. Paterson is that the film and TV industries continue to make blindness look horrible.  Who wouldn’t imagine, after seeing that dreadful movie “At First Sight” (with Val Kilmer and Mira Sorvino) that being blind isn’t  a minimal life? That movie came out at the same time as my memoir “Planet of the Blind” and it reinforced every cliché about blindness that I was trying to conquer. If the human resources professionals saw a prime time television show in which a blind person confidently uses state of the art assistive technology—heck, even showing the non-disabled characters a thing or two about the gizmos, well that would be as big a step toward changing the climate of unemployment for the blind as our well intentioned celebration of Governor Paterson’s oath of office. Let’s face it: the public thinks that blind people are scarcely able to navigate their living rooms. How could they possibly serve as good employees? That Ph.D. or Master’s degree must be some kind of a trick. That’s it! The “brainiac” blind woman or man is probably “faking it” just like those guys you see  begging for money with the phony sunglasses. Yep! That’s gotta be it! How do I know this at (insert company name here)? Because I just saw Disney’s film version of Mr. Magoo. Now there’s a blind guy for you! Ha! I laughed til  I dropped my popcorn on my plaid shorts. Boy Oh Boy  was that ever a good movie!

In case anybody’s wondering, I was once interviewed by a producer of ABC’s television program “20/20”about the possibility of an interview associated with the publication of “Planet of the Blind”. What did I do to ruin the deal? I mentioned that ABC is owned by Disney and that the new film of Mr. Magoo was a disgrace. They were very nice as they showed me to the door.


Professor Stephen Kuusisto
Department of English
The University of Iowa
308 EPB
Iowa City, IA 52242


Remembering Mr. Magoo

Cross-posted on Blog [with]tv

Dog Food for Everyone!

When I was around ten years old I used to play a game with my cousin Jim (who was just a couple of years younger)—a game we called "Guess the Taste" which required a blindfold and a can opener. Occasionally my sister would also join us. The person wearing the blindfold would have to eat whatever combination of "goodies" the director provided, and as you can imagine this meant that one or the other of us would wind up eating canned dog food with spicy mustard or peanut butter with garden slugs. It was a dreadful game but what made it endurable was that it was democratic. If I gave Jim a pickle dipped in kitty litter he would get revenge by handing me an Oreo cookie with a housefly inside. You couldn’t refuse to eat "the thing" as we called it. In for a penny, in for a pound.

I was reminded of "Guess the Taste" last evening while channel surfing. Suddenly, there appeared on my screen two overgrown ten year olds and wouldn’t you know it—they were playing with a can opener and a blindfold though of course they didn’t know .

The gassy, superannuated, and undifferentiated ten year olds were none other than right wing commentator Glen Beck and Harvard professor of law, Alan Dershowitz.

Glen Beck was saying that he counts as one of his friends a university president who reports that college professors are terrible people. Dershowitz jumped right in by saying that there is no more cowardly class of people than tenured college faculty and then he went on to say that most of them are aging liberals who harangue today’s students with political demagoguery left over from the sixties and these people will defend the rights of the very people who want to destroy our nation, etc. etc.. I think he also said something about how scandalous it is that the salaries of these professors are paid for by the taxpayers. (You’ve always got to make a bad taste even worse so the one with the blindfold won’t know what the original thing might be. But I digress.)

Heck. I’m not prey to the pretense that my views about the world are legion. My sense of humor alone assures that I’m mostly a lonely man. (For instance I think it’s funny that "Episcopal" and "Pepsi-cola" are composed from the same letters.)

I’ve been teaching in higher education for close to thirty years. My father was a highly successful college president. I think I can say with assurance that I’ve lived most of my life in the vicinity of American colleges and universities.

I have absolutely no idea what Glen Beck and Dershowitz are carrying on about. Professors are in my experience as uncategorizable as New York City cab drivers. Some are right wingers. Some are lefties. Some are drunks. Some are not. Some (like myself) love John Wayne movies. Some think "the Duke" was a fascist.

Beating up on "the professoriate" is as stupid and pointless as playing "Guess the Taste" except it’s even stupider since real ten year olds don’t pretend to moral or political superiority.

Colleges remain this nation’s leading forum for the free expression of ideas. Some ideas are better than others. Today, for instance, they don’t burn women at the stake in Salem, Massachusetts. Alright, I’m spray painting the lily.

Glen Beck is a smart fella. But really, c’mon. There are right wing professors who helped George W. Bush prattle on and on about the idea that global warming is a fiction.

As for Dershowitz: we know he will put anything on a fork if he thinks you can’t see.


TV Land Strikes Again

TV Land Redux Redux

So last night Connie and I were channel surfing while eating dinner and between the game show where the husband and wife are asked to disclose the kind of sound their bed springs make and the prison show where we’re asked to become complicit "gazers" as underprivileged and undereducated people are incarcerated—between these shows we found ABC’s program 20/20 (their version of Dateline) and lo and behold they were doing a segment on people who have serious genetically transmitted birth deformities and neurological illnesses. What caught my attention was the "framing language" that the producers were using: one woman’s illness was introduced with a sinister analogy: "Like a poisoned apple from a tree, (insert patient’s name) this illness befell her, etc." The implication is of course layered with cultural meanings. Like Eve this woman ate the taboo apple? Like Snow White she ate the poisoned fruit? I couldn’t believe my ears! Genetically inherited diseases do not manifest themselves like the fruits of superstitions or biblical narratives. The uncomprehending television viewer, hearing this without analysis would be inclined to think that genetic misfortune may be a kind of divine punishment. Doesn’t this sound familiar? Tobit, in the Old Testament is blinded by the Lord. Tiresias is blinded by Hera in Greek mythology. Certainly if you have a disability you’ve done something wrong where the gods are concerned. I was absolutely dismayed to see ABC using this kind of nonsense as a framing device for their story about real people. Thank God the phone rang! Perhaps the phone rang like a poisoned apple falling from the tree of life?


Monica Moshenko Interviews Howard Renensland, Founder & CEO, [with]tv

Monica Moshenko, host of Disability News & Views Radio Show has interviewed [with]tv Founder and CEO, Howard Renensland.  On her website she introduced Howard by writing this:

Howard Renensland, Father, Advocate, Actor and CEO & Founder, [with]tv

is a start-up corporation devoted to providing television and Internet
programming of, by, and for people with disabilities. Driven by his own
experiences the past 22 years advocating for his own daughter Victoria,
Howard found the single most debilitating factor limiting people with
disabilities is not their disability, but their image in mainstream
media. There is no mainstream television channel in the world
addressing the needs of and targeting people with disabilities as
viewers, consumers and participants. Howard resolved to change that by
creating , an inclusive media outlet that defines all people by their
talents and the quality of their stories, rather than by disability; a
place where his daughter Victoria and everyone else can work in a
universally designed workplace with a welcoming, inclusive workforce –
with-tv is born. Listen to this compelling interview with Mr.
Renensland to learn more about with-tv and how you can get involved
now! Television of, by and for people with
disabilities…..and everyone else.

Renensland, President and Founder of [with]tv, has been a professional
actor, writer, director, and teacher for thirty years. He is a member
of Screen Actors Guild, American Federation of Television and Radio
Artists, and Actors Equity Association. Mr. Renensland has appeared in
over 400 television commercials, numerous radio ads, and hundreds of
print ads as well.


Thank you, Monica!

Cross-posted on [with]tv 

Pink Men on Every Channel

So I was depressed. I ate a sub sandwich, you know: "Man World Prozac" and I sat down in front of the TV and did some serious channel surfing. It was the weekend. Outside the birds were bragging about their libidos and miscreant neighbors were playing with a radio controlled "all terrain vehicle" which sounded like a fiercely amplified zipper, and all I could think was "why in god’s name would someone play with a radio controlled ATV?" and then of course I knew the answer: "they didn’t have a sub sandwich; they didn’t have a TV". Or worse: they DID have those things; had "done them"; had concluded that radio controlled toys were a step up.

On TV I had some choices to make if I was planning to watch something. That’s the mind set of someone who grew up in the age of three channels: when a guy with a war limp showed up with the big box of spare tubes to fix the jiggling screen; when they had "test patterns" before seven in the morning…

I took a bite of my sub. It was a middle aged guy’s sub: turkey.

A quick survey of the TV revealed:

"The Hitler Channel" Hitler all day, all night, and forever. I wondered why the other dictators don’t have their own channels. Where’s the Augusto Pinochet channel with cameo appearances by Henry Kissinger? Note to self: must write to Cable Company.

"The Endless Cooking Show": People you wouldn’t invite to your home doing things to food. Where is the show that demonstrates how a good Welsh rarebit can be produced in seconds think even my "All Terrain Vehicle" neighbors could get excited about that.

"The Boob and Butt Makeover Info-mercial Channel": Suzanne Sommers is featured during prime time. Off hours you get more people you wouldn’t invite to your home. They are mostly women–but some men are featured too. All of them did unspeakable things at the Frat house just last year. Someone’s daddy knew someone’s daddy and now they’re parading around in lycra. Blow dried hair. And those "I never get diarrhea" smiles.

"The Terrifying Shouting Men Channel": Turns out there are lots of these channels. They are the same men in different costumes depending on the show. They are mostly white men. Big heads. Very pink. They shout about President Bush and how decent he really is; they shout about how there’s never been a basketball player like insert name here; they shout about automobiles; they shout and shout about how everything in the world that’s bad has to do with some kind of liberal conspiracy, but try as I might, I can’t find any of these liberals on my tv. Just lots of sneering and shouting pink guys. They look like overgrown infants: they shake rattles and wobble from place to place. Note to self: must suggest to one of the junior Kennedys that we need a bigger version of the Peace Corps…

"The Country Music Alimentary Canal Jamboree Channel": People singing through their noses about terrible things that seem to be happening to their "insides". Opera without plot. Sad really. Several of these people could move over to the Butt channel without strain.

"The Corporation T Shirt News Channel": Lots of graphics to package the war, complete with theme music. When CNN first did this during the first Bush’s Gulf War people were appalled by the crass commercialism of music and televised video game montages. Remember those days? It "is" funny in a dark way to see how they’re struggling with the reality principle: the war is going very badly. It’s the Pogo Principle for CNN: "We have met the enemy and they are us…" Or something like that. Now they’re bringing out Donald Trump to say that he thinks W. is the worst prez in history. No wonder the neighbors are outside with their radio toy.

I settle on the "Ancient Movie Channel" largely because people don’t talk as much. There’s silence and you can hear the hiss of the old film sound track. I like that sound of falling rain while the characters stare meaningfully at the carpet. Note to self: remember to live near water…

One last thing: In Ohio there are at least 8 religious fanatic channels available all the time. Again, no surprise:

Big pink men shouting…

Note to self: call Time Warner or WOW and tell them to rename basic cable plan "The Big Pink Men Who Remain Vaguely Infantile" Option. And in fairness to the public, they should point out that this is the only option…

Note to self: eat apple. Play with dogs. Visit website of Copper Canyon Press to read about amazing Arabic language poetry…