This illness fascinates me because of its continuity with the 17th century. Most of the experts and journalists covering the event stress the perceived role of social media in spreading the illness. These same people then note the illness’ long history and its famous role in nunneries and possessions. While there’s a definite 21st century twist on the illness, the illness seems little unchanged since the 17th century when possessions and this sort of mass hysteria began to be widely documented. Our society likes to believe it has changed tremendously since then, but if women still experience a similar illness caused by societal pressures, the difference in the social situation of rural women must be somewhat similar. To put it differently, modern science argues that this disease is caused by stress upon the ill. If this is true, then some unique stress upon women remains despite all our progress. Now, this is only true if we believe modern science’s claims regarding the origin of this illness, but isn’t modern science the main distinction between our society and the 17th century? Perhaps our advances in understanding the world have not been mirrored by advances in societal organization—this may be a ‘duh’ thought for some, but how transparent the lack of change is in this situation is remarkable to me.
The following are the notes I used to get to that paragraph; they may not be coherent or readable, so don’t read them.
What’s interesting to me about the illness is the differing perspectives: there’s a definite comparison to witch hunts and the accompanying hysteria and a line of thought regarding the role of media in spreading fear. Both have intellectual inspirations. The witch hunt mindset can be attributed to something like Michel de Certeau’s the Possession at Loudun and the media fear is reminiscent of Don DeLillo’s White Noise.
continuity with the 17th century alarming
Area neurologist Dr Mechtler, diagnosing conversion disorder:
"This is not something people want to hear…" after a "conversion disorder" diagnosis.
"This isn’t a sexist observation; it’s just a fact. These girls in this case are under an enormous amount of stress and that has surfaced in this difficult way. The attention, the cameras, all the social media, it has made things much worse."
"maybe this will give some of the girls a way to get better without shame." on the possibility that the disease is caused by a rare infection which they recently began treatment for.
Newsweek reporter Nancy Hass’s take on the proceedings:
"In the past few weeks, producers…have swooped in, offering anxious moms a chance to go on air with their daughters to beg for answers."
'Could it be toxins…Seepage from a 1970 cyanide spill…Or maybe all these folks on the internet are right with their rants…what about PANDAS…surely if Erin Brockovich, the environmental crusader…”
"Amid all the soundbites from contentious public meetings and the bustle of production assistants ushering red-eyed mothers to the makeup chair lies a very inconvenient truth: the cluster in Le Roy is, by all reasonable judgement, a mass hallucination. Aided by media of all sorts, what the girls are suffering from is perhaps the ultimate disease of our era."
Another expert, Timothy Jones —“When it does strike it is almost always confined to a group of girls, often in rural areas. During the early 20th century it struck all-female factories; before that, nunneries.”
"I want an answer—a straight answer." One of the afflicted.
"Give me one reason why I’d want to fake this" after her friends left her out of fear of illness or fear of deceit.
mass hysteria=conversion disorder
"If the press would just go away maybe this would all pass" area man on Main Street quoted in a separate block quote in newsweek because newsweek doesn’t understand irony
gender issues, society’s programmed reaction, saturation-who cares anymore, the danger of programming, the problem of comparison and the willingness to compare to witchhunts
The Airborne Toxic Event in White Noise
"Society is set up in such a way that it’s the poor and the uneducated who suffer the main impact of natural and man-made disasters"
"Terrifying data is now an industry in itself. Different firms compete to see how badly they can scare us"
Michel de Certeau’s Possession at Loudun
"Is this the outbreak of something new, or the repetition of a past?"
"Normally, strange things circulate discreetly below our streets…This lurking force infiltrates the lines of tension with the society it threatens. Suddenly it magnifies them; using the means, the circuitry already in place, but reemploying them in the service of an anciety that comes from afar, unanticipated. It…will leave behind a different landscape and a different order."
"The order of stage entrances appears to be determined by rank…to the unbiased observer it would seem to be regulated by an etiquette of ascending social categories. At the very least, it reflects the spatial and hierarchical organization of the city."
"For the possession at Loudun strips the learned of their dignity…Hence they must reclaim their knowledge and see their titles are recognized…"