Friday, January 20, 2006

No Role Models?

I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon on the internet and elsewhere…one that ultimately prompted me to start my own blog on stuttering: There are very little community resources online for stutterers. You can find blog after blog on alcoholism…on drug addiction…gambling addiction. But few on stuttering. You can find many Yahoo Groups on all kinds of disabilities and afflictions…but few on stuttering.

Even on the boards I did find, there were few participants and most of the messages were very few and far between, even years in some cases. In short, there seems to be very few communities online for people wanting to meet and talk to other stutterers. I wonder why this is?

Could it be that most stutterers don’t like to talk about their affliction? Could it be that many of the world’s stutterers are closeted and don’t really want to deal with it? Might there be many stutterers who fool themselves into believing they are not actually stutterers and they just mostly ignore the problem? I suppose their could be any number of reasons.

Even more strange, some stuttering sites give you a list of famous people who are or were stutterers: James Earl Jones, Carly Simon, Mel Tillis, etc…but where are the endorsements by these celebrities? Where is the support? Every day you hear about some celebrity in Hollywood or some politician in Washington who has either “come out of the closet” as a gay individual…or who is coming clean about their prescription or illegal drug/alcohol problem. Yet, despite all the celebrities we know who either stutter now or once struggled with it…none come out in the open to help other stutterers or to at least give the stuttering community a focal point…someone to look up to besides Porky Pig.

James Earl Jones apparently had a very debilitating stutter most of his childhood…but then through some wonderful procedure, either on his own or through a doctor, he was able to overcome it and wind up in Hollywood with a successful film and voice-over career. Hey, James, mind telling us what you did? I’m sure Mel Tillis would like to know, at least!

How many times have you seen a television film about stuttering? How many times has Oprah or Ellen Degeneres featured guests who were stutterers in order to educate the general public about stuttering? Which 60 Minutes episode feature stuttering? When did Mike Wallace say anything about stuttering? Where is the Dateline coverage of the phenomenon of stuttering? Have you ever seen any show or documentary or feature on the phenomenon of stuttering? I haven’t.

55 million people in the world stutter. And some of them stutter so badly, they can barely navigate a few sentences…much less hold a conversation of reasonable length. It’s one of the most mysterious and frustrating afflictions one can face…yet we hear almost zero about it except in thin books down dark aisles in the library or obscure websites on the internet. I hope all of this will change eventually.


MarvThroneberryII said...

Those celebrities listed have found the end-around stuttering - even Mel through his lilting singing voice.If he stuttered when he sings, we would had never heard of him. If Churchill stuttered during his Cato like speeches, likewise.

Fact is that those who still chronically stutter aren't going to be on the upper tier of society where stuttering in itself is what got them to *celebrity* status - unless to have their stuttering being used for entertainment purposes such as that individual who is Howard Stern's sidekick, but you never see him on the society pages, and not a major player in the Bread n' Circuses Pop culture.

There is a great deal of self-hatred with those that stutter so this maybe the focal point why these role-models are absent.

John MacIntyre said...

You know, I've thought about this myself. ... kind of.

What I was thinking is for the next ISAD (International Stuttering Awareness Day), maybe these people should be asked to speak publicly about it.

Why not ask Bruce Willis to talk about it while he's doing an interview on what ever movie he's doing at the time?

On my blog, I mentioned getting involved in ISAD at some level this year. And this is something I was planning to suggest. Asking stuttering celebrities or polititions to talk about it in an interview.


Law Student said...

Steppendaft, I know exactly what you mean about the took me years to feel comfortable enough to talk about my stutter openly. Even now, I hate talking about myself much to other people. There are so many more interesting topics *laugh*


That's a darn good idea. I may attempt an email to a few of these stutterers and see if we can at least let them know we are here...and would appreciate some support. They could do a lot of good by simply telling other stutterers the methods they used. I love to read about how others deal with the problem.

I'm going to do a search on the International Stuttering Awareness Day. Never heard of it. Thanks. :)

MarvThroneberryII said...

Law: a good analogy is when a feeble elderly person doesn't want to reside in a Resthome because - "there are too many old people there!".

Humans as a whole do not wish to be reminded of their infirmities, disabilities, what have you. Have noticed that this is paramount in stuttering people, and I myself am not fit to cast the first stone: Recall one job site that I was on that had one individual from another trade who had a more pronounced stammer than even me. Instead of feeling solidarity, I felt annoyance and self-satisfaction that I was not 'that bad' with dysfluency, and I was relieved when the project was completed and I was away from this fellow stutterer. Ethically this was an error on my part, but ever so natural and 'all-too-human?

Law Student said...


I know the situation well. When I was onboard an aircraft carrier in the Navy, there was this guy who stuttered so severely that to even listen to one sentence...took long minutes. He literally stuttered like this:

"I.....I.....I......ho.....ho....hope tha....tha....tha....tha...that the duh...duh...duh...docks ssssssssssssssssssooon"

I avoided him like the plague. He didn't know I stuttered...and I didn't want him to find out.

I felt bad about it, as you indicated, but I couldn't help the way I felt, you know? It was all a part of that self-loathing many of us feel about our stutter.

MarvThroneberryII said...

At the same time, what is the 'proper' way to act in the situation where a fellow-traveler in stuttering is encountered?

Walking up to one and saying -"I feel your pain, man."- would not only be more embarassing but patronizing. Speaking for myself here, if someone did this to me, I wouldn't like it. And when non-stuttering humans elect to tell the verbally challenged about their sympathy for the stuttering bipeds worldwide is especially enriching. That's like a prized marathon runner giving a pep talk to the legless ones in wheelchairs.

The virtual waves seem to be the best way to encounter those who stutter given that we can all type and do not have to 'hear' one another to be reminded of our dillema. Personally, I never wanted to get near this subject before the PC Age.

Law Student said...

On rare occassions, I've met a stutterer and brought up the subject...but only rarely because you never know how one feels about it. You might run into one who is in total denial...and wind up offending the person.

Like you, I was never inclined to address it before. Online where you can talk freely without conducive for productive discussions.

MarvThroneberryII said...

Excellent insights, Law. I didn't think about those poor souls that are in 'denial' as you put it.

It's like what will I do next time if in a position where I encounter someone else who stutters worse or better or on the same level as me? To not mention to the person that you and he shares the same fluency problem, the risk is run where Stammerer A. starts stuttering and Stammerer B. hears and takes offense thinking that A. is mocking. Knowing the luck that I have, I'll run into a certified psycho in this hypothesis who's packing heat;-)

Law Student said...

Yep...I actually posted a joke about that happening. Mostly when I meet other stutterers, I pull out all of my tricks to be fluent...and they never know. Some kind of reverse psychology kicks in because I have an easier time talking around other stutterers...sometimes no tricks are even necessary. I have a client who calls me often...about once a week...and I turn into the most fluent guy when he calls. Yikes, I bet he wishes he could be fluent like me. I'm suck a fake. *laugh*

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