“His voice can be heard above the noise, please welcome Bruce McCall!” As a self-taught polymath and current humorist for The New Yorker, McCall indulges in nonsense. For example, a Scottish castle where people are playing golf indoors with the goal to bang the golf balls off the armor. McCall’s work is so personal, so strange that he’s invented his own lexicon:
Retrofuturism: looking back to see how yesterday will view tomorrow, as they are always optimistically wrong
Technoarchaeology: digging back and finding past miracles that never happened
Faux-nostalgia: the ickingly sentimental yearning for times that never happened
Hyperobloic overkill: taking exaggeration to the ultimate limit just for the fun of it
Urban absurdism: what The New Yorker is really all about; I make life in New York look weirder than it is.
Perhaps ironically, authenticity is a major part of McCall’s seriousness. His Ascent of Man, the only three page cover of The New Yorker, traces the evolution and history of man — ending in an awful escalator accident. Look forward to McCall’s upcoming children’s book, available at fine street tables near you.
Our next speaker had a quality of fashion that Hockenberry could only begin to imitate: Aimee Mullins.
“Maybe I’m a real life avatar? I kind of do that by changing legs, like disability as a gateway to potential. Yes, I’m a girl with a dozen pairs of limbs, so you can imagine the kinds of reactions I get from people who meet me. The experiences must be so very different. We get uncomfortable when we’re unsure about our common grounds, the glaring differences, and people tend to pull back from that. We have all been that proverbial odd man out, the person where some unique factor made us feel separate from the group, which is why we first learn to mask our differences. The idea of being different [is often viewed] as a negative, or as a challenge we must overcome. But - in this crowd - we know it’s inherently powerful. Diversity leads to diversity of ideas and problem solving, collaboration to help us to connect. It’s actually in each other’s differences that we see ourselves. We’re more alike than we are different. For me, I wake up every morning and strap on prosthetic legs – like putting on glasses before you can see. The idea of prosthetic is everywhere right now. The lines are being blurred between able bodied or disabled. Arnold Palmer comes out with a titanium hip, Tiger Woods with two lasik surgeries. And Pamela Anderson, [well] she has more prosthetic in her body than mine, and no one calls her disabled.
“I was amputated at the age of one, I learned to walk and tie my shoes at a much younger age than most. I learned at a young age that I was going to be the person who changed my identity, [the doctors] were wrong all the time. It was always my heart and my spirit and not theirs. [One reason was] the internal. I spent a lot of time in the hospital as a kid and when you’re stuck in a hospital bed, you develop a great imagination and I saw myself as almost super-able, flying off in the pyramids or with the knights of the round table. [And the second reason is] the external. I come from a huge family. Getting dirty, playing musical instruments and being well rounded, I was expected to all the things other kids did.
“I became unique psychologically, realizing that being different had its benefits. I learned what I could do with those wooden legs, I realized I could turn my feet around. Once I got a music teacher to faint. I had these white waterproof swimming legs, like milk jug white, with the Caucasian peach rubber feet, with no toes (they broke off within 2 days). My father was just horrified [at their appearance]. We found out at the community pool that [the legs] were actually buoyant, and I’d come up feet first after diving off the diving board. I was the white flash trying to get to the ocean. “What was that mass of a thing?” [people must have thought]. But I learned not to overlook the benefits of what happens when you go through public humiliation. I once got swept out in an under toe, and I gave out. So I took the legs off and stuck them under each arm until some poor lifeguard found me. But that saved my life. I raced skiing in high school (I clearly have this obsession with speed). I don’t have ankles, and you don’t have ankles when you’re skiing. But my feet weren’t freezing. I could stay out all day long, racking up wind.
“I can be as tall as I want to be. Today I am 6’ 1,” I’m normally 5’ 8”. Why be restrained by genetic code when genetic code didn’t work for you? So what does this mean, choosing your own identity? As Americans, we’re raised with being special and unique, but how many people live their life according to that idea? If we already start off as seeing ourselves as different, to see it rather as a foundation of strength and a jumping off point for deciding who you are and who you want to be. Technology is rapidly affecting the landscape of identity. This idea of disability is so interesting because a lot of technological development has come from outside the realm of the medical world – wax museum people, Nasa, engineers. Working with people who don’t view the negative space as need for replacement, but as a blank slate, completely alters this idea of disability. Everyone is disabled in some way. But when viewed as a limitation, it’s like a yolk, [and] that’s something I’ve always refused to accept. We’re no more our hardships than we are our successes. We’re what we become from facing those hardships and living through those successes.
“I often get questions of bravery, [but] I do not have any special powers. I am equipped with the same magical powers that you are, and it’s your thoughts. At some point you have to recognize the amazing engine that is the way you think. Whether you think you can or can’t, you’re right. I’ve met so many more people who are so much more disabled in their heads than I ever was by having to put prosthetics on. I think you should set wild and improbable goals.
“Wild and improbable goals. You have to see your potential as an absolute positive. It’s rejecting the practical and pragmatic and embracing the fantastical. This has to do with putting you ego aside, start with what you want. Holding onto childlike thinking was of utmost importance to me. I knew from a young age that I, and I alone, knew what the potential and limitations were and that they’re [ever] changing. And that real trust in myself, ignorance and arrogance about my own prognosis from the medical community, profoundly impacted me as that artifice of identity. The idea of never stop thinking like a challenge. You have to practice your curiosity like it’s a sport. Curiosity, imagination and trust in yourself – childlike qualities that are enormous. Children are open to all the possibilities, they don’t have preconceived ideas of what is and what isn’t possible.
(Photo © Matthew Barney; Gladstone Gallery)
“Most amputees are missing one thing and their goal is symmetry, but not for me. If I didn’t have to have human legs, why aren’t we looking at [others kinds of legs]. So these [running] legs were modeled after the hind legs of a cheetah, which ended up revolutionizing the model. I had a display like this [one here] at the Boston Children’s Museum. I said ‘look, I want to be able to jump over a house, what kind of legs would you build me?’ [And without hesitation the children ran off with ideas:] Go-Go-Gadget [legs], frog [legs], [but] why wouldn’t you want to fly too? Amazing. Here I am already limiting the options in my head and I had to be checked by a six year old. You can’t be open to the world and opportunities if you stay in a little box.
“I remember telling Alexander McQueen, ‘why can’t I have glass legs?’ He said I want to make you wooden ones, all hand carved, modeled after a sixteenth century boot. I later opened his runway show [much to the jealousy and chagrin of Naomi Campbell]. There’s nothing here you’re not seeing. These prosthetics are really part of my body, imbued with my soul.”
On his passport, John Oliver’s occupation is listed as “comedian,” and as he points out, “passports never lie.” As a finale to Serious Play, we were treated to a hilarious tirade from Oliver. He moved from democracy to red cabbage, from politics to ‘voting while drunk.’ From Armageddon to Colorado, which claims to be the least obese state. “Is that something to be proud of? It’s like a Klansman claiming to not be quite as racist as the others at the rally.”
Oliver also got into the dynamic and changing roles of the world’s super powers. “I’ll be speaking to you with a British accent, you’ll get used to things sounding like they have more authority. It’s not easy being British,” he recounts, “it’s impossible for me to go into any museum without feeling guilty after five minutes, ‘one day all this shame will be yours my American friends.’ And sure enough, fifty years later, China will be waiting with a baton in their hand ready to run into Armageddon.”
[The Brits] destroyed the world with a gentleman’s swagger. “Oh, was that your infrastructure, sorry about that. I’m embarrassed, I can only imagine how you feel! Hmmm, well we’ve got some great jobs for you four thousand miles away.” Throughout the hilarity, Oliver drove home the key point: “everyone’s first moment of civil disobedience comes from when you look at your parents in the eyes and say ‘I’m not eating that,’” as he raised his hand with a radical fist. “‘That’s going nowhere near my little face.’ [And so] when you think like a child, problems get smaller. We never got served red cabbage again. We can do great things when we think like a child.”
As an exhausted Hockenberry then directed (who wouldn’t be exhausted by all this play?), “Martini’s are being mixed in the Google/MediaTemple Tent.” On that note, it’s time for these bloggers to wrap it up and raise the most dirty martini they can find.
Stay playful friends!
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