Stories from the brainreels guest Mike Turner of “The Way We Talk”

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Here’s some local film goodness! Director Mike Turner joins me on this month’s podcast to chat about his new documentary “The Way We Talk.” The film explores the very recent time when Mike first began openly talking to people about his lifelong stuttering and investigating where stuttering comes from.

Nina G. Comedian has often joked that as a child who stuttered, her only role model in the media was Porky Pig, a pig who didn’t wear pants. The joke always gets a laugh. But in reality, it’s not funny. I knew a theater actor who took great pride in herself for giving one of her characters a stutter because the character had been written to be “intellectually slow.” I recently saw a play where the playwright wanted a male character to be shy and bumbling to be a contrast to another male character who was bullish. Instead of having him, say, behave like a shy person and bumble, the playwright gave him a stutter. (I know because I asked the director. I’m ready for us to stop using outward signs of disability or disorder to show inner turmoil or character flaws!)

This easy way non-stutterers have of equating stuttering with slow or stupid, with laughable, and with lacking in good character or social graces is extraordinarily hurtful. It’s outright mockery. In reality, there’s no scientific proof that stuttering must be viewed as a defect, a character flaw, a sign of weakness, or anything negative in particular. I’m not saying, “Buck up, stutterers. It’s not that hard to talk!” I’m not saying that at all. What I’m saying is that cultures choose what to value, and ours does not value dysfluent speech or the people who use it. Better, honest, genuine portrayals of stuttering and people who stutter in the media is utterly critical so that non-stutterers can come to see the full, complex humanity of stutterers. When is the day coming when I can stop having to write blogs where I say that certain types of people are just as valid and valuable as any other kind of person? Argh.

“The Way We Talk” is a lingering, meditative documentary film. It doesn’t concern itself with media representations. That was me above, doing my social critique for the moment. Instead, it’s deeply personal and filled with the complicated and sometimes contradictory way the people in the film view their speech and themselves. You meet the subjects of the film in speech therapy sessions, in peer support groups, at home, and hiking in the snow. Showing this range of settings helps to reinforce the idea that stuttering is not this one thing that happens to everyone the same way, nor does everyone respond to it the same. And get ready: there is an incredible tree-felling scene you won’t want to miss.

Podcast audio and transcript are below.

Here’s the Facebook event page for the upcoming screening and details:

Friday, October 23rd, 2015
7:00 pm
Taylor-Meade Performing Arts Center
2014 Cedar St.
Forest Grove, OR 97116
On TriMet #57 bus line

Click here for an accessible transcript of podcast episode #042.