Saturday, February 10, 2007

"My Lobotomy" First-person Documentary

Radio blogging here.

Over the last few weeks the local public radio station (WABE, Atlanta) has broadcast winning entries from The Third Coast International Audio Festival (TCIAF). All the entries that I heard were excellent, but this was selected for the top prize. After you listen to it you will know why.

The Third Coast International Audio Festival (TCIAF) was created by Chicago Public Radio in 2000 to support producers and other artists creating audio documentary and feature work of all styles and to bring this fresh and vital work to audiences throughout the world. Inspired by the popularity of documentary film festivals in the U.S., and motivated by the lack of attention given to outstanding audio work, the organizers of the TCIAF created their own blueprint for a radio festival. The TCIAF is made up of seven distinct yet complementary elements that both radiomakers and the general public can enjoy.

This twenty-four minute audio stream will take half an hour of your day, but it will be worth the time. It's not for the feint of heart if you let the images become too real in your imaginatin. My wife refuses to listen to it because of my description. But I blog it with the assurance to the reader/listener that this is a superior piece of journalism worthy of the prize awarded. Compared with television or movie themes that seem to me far worse, this is pretty tame stuff. Indeed, the daily news reports more gruesome stories than this, and without anything resembling an upside. In this piece a well-informed 56 year old man tells a personal story of how he was lobotomized at the age of twelve by the man who conceived and practiced trans-orbital lobotomies. He was not physically damaged as others were, but his story reveals a lifetime of emotional scar tissue that cannot be measured.

We know of lobotomies from the movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, but few people today have any idea that at one time it was a widely-practiced procedure, typically the final resort in an otherwise fruitless attempt to remediate severe psychiatric disorders not responsive to any other therapy. The European procedure involved drilling holes in the skull to disable the pre-frontal lobe of the brain. Dr. Walter Freeman refined the procedure to be performed through the orbital opening of the skull, passing an ice-pick shaped instrument into the brain by going past the eyeball. The appearance of Thorazine and other psychoactive drugs in 1954 rendered the procedure obsolete, but Dr. Freeman, the man who refined the procedure, continued to perform trans-orbital lobotomies for years afterward. He died in 1972.

Set aside half an hour.

You can find a link at the TCIAF site above, or listen to the NPR stream at All Things Considered, November, two years ago. The NPR site has additional commentary and pictures of the principals.

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