xkcd

So, today’s xkcd (comic transcript below the fold. Warning: ablism).

First thought: Huh, that’s really linguistically interesting.

Second thought: Y’know, that’s actually some really shitty ablism.

Linguistically, that most “random” things are trochees is an interesting thing that I hadn’t noticed before. Every part of The Llama Song that I broke down has a trochaic meter or only breaks it for a syllable or two, and I didn’t even think to check for that until I saw this in xkcd. So, that’s an interesting quirk of language.

Now, let’s move on to the ablism in how the author presents this interesting quirk. It starts in the first panel, where they (the character in the comic and the author she seems to be acting as a mouthpiece for) terms the use of this meme family as “brain damage”. That is, he labels a behavior he finds annoying as brain damage to de-legitimize it by association with disabled people, which by extension others disabled people by labelling them as “annoying” to the presumed-TAB audience.

It then proceeds to get worse. The comic characters decide that the best way to deal with an “annoying” disabled person (under the premise of the comic that the use of these memes is a disability) is to modify her mind as an experiment using a magic vocabulary-altering machine. I can’t express how not OK that is. I even skipped over the part where one of the characters advocates surgically removing her ability to speak as a way of “fixing” her “problem”. There is no indication in the comic that the person they’re doing this to consents, or even is capable of consenting. Let me repeat that, they deal with a person they find annoying who has done no actual harm to anyone through nonconsensual mind control, which the comic doesn’t comment on the ethics of, and conveys a general tone of approval.

Clinching their (incredibly ablist) point, when their nonconsensual vocabulary alteration doesn’t make the person behave normatively, when the active characters are still annoyed by their victim even after nonconsensually altering her mind, they switch to an ominous alternate plan that involves a brick.

So, here we have a character being labelled as “disabled” for having a habit that privileged people find annoying (which does actually happen), being nonconsensually subject to mind-altering “medical” treatments after the suggestion of surgically rendering her mute is dismissed, and, when they still find her annoying afterwards, implied physical violence. This is (presumably) justified by the person’s “annoyingness” being the product of a disability. In other words, it’s the familiar story of a difference being pathologized because it makes the people in power uncomfortable, that pathologization being used to justify non-consensual “treatments” to attempt to render them normative, and physical violence being done against them.

This kind of violence and abuse against people with non-normative neurologies (especially) actually happens, often, and it doesn’t happen in a void. If this abuse is normalized “everyone” thinks that abusing people who are identifyably non-normative until they are normative or silent, then it will continue. Anything treating this abuse as neutral or desirable contributes to a culture where it is normalized, a culture that actively injures, starves, and kills neurologically non-normative people.


Comic Transcript:
The first panel is split with an inset panel nearly filling the left half. Some dialogue is above it.
Woman (A stick figure with visible shoulder-length hair, facing the inset panel, presumably to the man behind her, a taller stick figure with no visible hair*): We’d been seeing this brain damage for years, but only recently did our linguists identify the pattern behind it.

The inset panel contains a shorter stick figure, with visible curly hair (Girl)
Girl: Robot ninja! Pirate doctor laser monkey! Narwhal zombie badger hobo bacon kitty captain penguin raptor jesus!

Second Panel is a closeup on the woman, who is now facing to the right
Woman: The patients fixate on animals and types of people whose names are trochees (two syllables, with the accent on the first).

Third panel has narration (presumably the woman) over a diagram.
Narration: The malfunction causes a rush of dopamine whenever these trochees are heard or spoken.
The diagram has the word “Internet” in a cloud on the left, and a labelled picture of a brain on the right. The two are connected by arrows going from the internet to the brain on the top, and in the reverse direction on the bottom. The arrows are broken by the word “trochees”. To the right of the brain is a circular arrow coming from and leading back into the brain, broken by the word “dopamine”.

The fourth panel has narration above and below an inset panel
Narration: The warning signs appear in childhood:
Inset panel contains a small hairless stick figure (boy) facing a television
Boy: Yeah! Mighty Teenage Morphin’ Ninja Power Mutant Turtle Rangers!
Narration: Social reinforcement focuses the fixation on a few dozen words.
Voice from off-panel (presumably the man from before): “Is there a cure?”

The fifth panel has the girl from above lying on an operating table with a large machine pointed at her from above in the background, and the woman from above in the foreground.
Woman: We’re about to try a radical trocheeotomy
Voice from off-panel: Rip out her vocal cords? I’m in favor.
Woman: No, we’re modifying her vocabulary* to erase the words she’s fixated on
*Digitoneurolinguistic hacking! It’s totally real! Ask Neal Stephenson.

In the sixth panel, the woman is standing on the right facing a wall with a control panel of some kind on it, with the man on the left behind her watching.
Woman: Either the gap will be filled by normal words, or she’ll just generate a new set of trochees. Here goes.
Sound Effects: (small) kachunk. (growing larger) BZZZZZZZ

The seventh panel has the girl holding her head with one hand while lifting herself up off the table with the other.
Girl: . . . gzzhrmph. . .
. . . Banjo Turtle!
Jetpack ferret pizza lawyer! Dentist hamster wombat plumber turkey jester Hindu cowboy hooker bobcat scrapple!
Off-panel 1: Sigh.
Time for plan B.
Off-panel 2: Someone get a brick

Mouseover text: If you Huffman-coded all the ‘random’ things everyone on the internet has said over the years, you’d wind up with 30 or 40 bytes, *tops*.

*Visible hair is the primary gender cue used in xkcd, and I am following the convention set in previous strips by gendering the characters with visible hair female and those without male.

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