A Healthy Dissension

Internet publication URL: www.independentliving.org/column/stone1_00.html

 

by Karen Stone

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photo of K. Stone

Born and raised in San Francisco, Karen Stone, now 53, studied photography, and later obtained a B.A. in Communications from Antioch College. She then worked as a professional photographer for over twelve years in California. Later, upon entering the marketing field, Ms. Stone made use of her photography, writing, and business skills. After relocating to Albuquerque, New Mexico (USA), she worked in marketing architectural/engineering services until slowed down by Multiple Sclerosis.

 

Recently, an interesting phenomenon occurred to me for the first time ever in over a decade of writing.

Because I reported the results of Paul Cannady's informal "straw poll," as he calls it, where the names of those individuals who were interpreted to do the most damage to the disability movement included both Adolf Hitler and Christopher Reeve, I was asked to no longer write for a particular website, my being "an embarrassment" to them.

When later reflecting upon this incident and its sequelae of events, I later realized I was a probably another victim of corporate censorship more than anything.

You see, when initially submitting the article, the editor questioned the above results. I stipulated that this was merely a report of some findings, not my opinion - I personally find the above connections a bit far-fetched, but more on that later - and that he, as editor, was free to delete that part.

This part was not deleted - the article ran in full for three weeks - and then I was asked to no longer write for them because of my being too embarrassing. I believe an advertiser on this advertising-heavy site either complained and/or withdrew its financial support.

This incident brought back to memory the magnificent essay written by Gloria Steinem, often called "the pin-up girl of the intelligensia" for her astute thinking, aptly titled, "Sex, Lies, and Advertising." It was about why MS magazine decided to withdraw all advertising support.

In this essay, Ms. Steinem points out the co-dependent, but dictatorial, relationship and say big business advertisers have over the editorial content of any publication - and/or website when you consider today's latest media form - in which they may advertise.

In "Sex, Lies, and Advertising," the article now a must-read in many women study courses, journalism, and/or communication classes taught at university level, Ms. Steinem wrote the following.

Goodbye to cigarette ads where poems should be.
Goodbye to celebrity covers and too litle space.
Goodbye to cleaning up language so Ms. advertisers won't be boycotted by the Moral Majority.
In fact, goodbye to advertisers and the Moral Majority.
Goodbye to short articles and short thinking.
Goodbye to national boundaries and hello to the world.
Welcome to the magazine of the post-patriarchal age.
The turn of the century is our turn!

In this classic manifesto she continues to exclaim:

That was my celebratory mood in the summer of 1990 when I finished the original version of the expose you are about to read. I felt as if I'd put on paper the ad policies that had punished Ms. for all the years of its nonconforming life and still were turning more conventional media, especially (but not only) those directed at women, into a dumping ground for fluff.
(Moving Beyond Words by Gloria Steinem, 1994, Simon & Schuster)

Undoubtedly, this scary trend of editorial control is happening all over the world today regardless of whether you write for a hard-copy publication or for a website. These publications realize substantial income through advertising. And sadly, many times, it is this very income that keeps the written word afloat before our eyes.

Whether on the web or in print, a most revealing indicator of just how much the enclosed articles are controlled by its advertisers will be the number of advertisers on hand. You can probably surmise the more advertising there is in that particular publication, that many more voices will have a say in controlling the editorial content of that publication, and so, freedom of the press is likewise hampered.

Simply stated, the equation is very straightforward: the less advertising, the more editorially-free and honest the enclosed articles will be.

Friends and associates had voiced their opinions as to why I was asked not to write for the website anymore.

Renown pinup person of the intelligensia within the disability community, Marta Russell writes:

Karen, I've noticed there is a tendency in these mainstream kinds of groups to protect Chris Reeve as though he were so fragile he could be broken. Like they have a duty or something. That is probably where their "embarrassment" came from. I am not justifying them. I think what you describe here is censorship in the worst form - editorial censorship. Too bad.

Friend, doctor, fellow human rights advocate, Stan Handmaker, says:

Karen, I'm sorry to hear about what happened, but I have to say that I'm not surprised. Unfortunately, your reporting of what was being said was interpreted as support for that idea. Since you were perceived as advocating for an "unacceptable" position, you were, therefore, punished. Regrettably, the disability movement is quite intolerant of any dissent from whatever happens to be the dominant position. The ARC of the U.S. recently expelled two chapters in California because they were advocating consumer choice to include institutional settings.

And Adolf Ratzka responds:

What??? This can't be true! Personally, I don't think Reeve is as bad a guy as Hitler. Both are a bit heavy on the medical model, but Hitler was with definitely farther reaching consequences. Why should anybody want to squelch such a great debate!

Important issues are brought up by these responses, issues that members of the disability community - or any community for that matter - should not only acknowledge, but should also make an effort to understand. In other words, we, too, should make an effort "to see the light."

Let's face it: Expressed differences, and the freedom to express these very differences, are vital components to the growth of any community.

As a participant in the disability community, I always try to look at the larger picture whenever involved in advocacy issues. Of course, there is much work involved in understanding things, and we round our shoulders in carrying the load of learning, grappling, struggling, and hopefully, understanding.

Susan Nussbaum, an actor, playwright and a disability rights activist described the importance of such over a decade ago when she said the following.

The peace movement, sexism, rights for the disabled - none of these are isolated issues. They're not glitches, they're part of a pattern. Some of the most progressive political work that's happening in this country is in the area of disability rights. It cuts across ideology, age and race differences and inspires such raw, all-out courage from people who figure they've got nothing left to lose.

Adolf Ratzka's questioning statement, "Why should anybody want to squelch such a great debate!" further supports the importance of our exploring - and coming to respect - differences, differences that I call a "healthy dissension." It is precisely in doing such that we find rise to our understandings.

As movers and shakers in this vital disability rights movement, it is crucial that we not only have open minds, but are equally open to investigating, and accepting, differences, even those within our very own community. Doing such vastly increases our learning curve, sensitivity, and tolerance.

And, unfortunately, to teach others about these qualities, we have to have it within ourselves...you know, "The practice makes perfect" stuff.

I say "unfortunately" because dealing with a disability is awesome enough in itself, and yet, we still have to teach others despite our already overwhelming loads. "When does it ever end?" we ask ourselves.

I think when Christopher Reeve finally realizes a cure will not put an end to human indignities, he will better understand the answer to the above question is "Never."

Face it, because of Reeve's paralysis and his so-called difference from the walkies, he may be that much closer to recognizing the implications and incredible importance of our movement, disability regardless.

Though his wealth, and perhaps his desire to be free of his condition, leaves much to be desired, we need to show a tolerance for his naivety if we are to expect others to equally express a tolerance for us.

Likewise, it is up to me to understand the naivety of the publisher of the website I was asked to leave in order for a continued growth to take place on my part.

And isn't that why we are doing such with our movement: growing, both figuratively and symbolically?


Copyright© by Karen G. Stone, March 2000

 

History
Born and raised in San Francisco, Karen Stone, now 53, studied photography, and later obtained a B.A. in Communications from Antioch College. She then worked as a professional photographer for over twelve years in California. Later, upon entering the marketing field, Ms. Stone made use of her photography, writing, and business skills. After relocating to Albuquerque, New Mexico (USA), she worked in marketing architectural/engineering services until slowed down by Multiple Sclerosis.

Currently
Ms. Stone has produced an award-winning, bimonthly column for the Albuquerque Journal newspaper (Meeting the Challenge) for 10 years, and currently continues to write pieces for national magazines and additional publications overseas. She has authored the non-fiction book, Awakening to Disability: Nothing About Us Without Us (1997, Volcano Press). She lectures frequently on disability issues, and continues to photograph unassigned work.

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