Am I Normal?: A series of three podcasts exploring the ideas and history of “normal’.

This is a guest post by Natalie Steed who is a freelance audio producer. You can follow her on Twitter and read more about her work on her website. Natalie has produced three podcasts for the Centre inspired by the Being Human event ‘The Museum of the Normal’. The Centre’s 2017 free-at-attend contribution to Being Human is called ‘Emotional Objects: From Lost Amulets to Found Photos’ and you can register online.

How do you measure up?

Where are you on the scale?

And what about your children?

One late Autumn night, on the third floor of Barts Pathology Museum, amongst the specimens pickled in their glass jars – the tight-lacer’s liver and the bound Chinese foot – researchers from the Living With Feeling project gathered together an exhibition of living exhibits

If you’d ascended the staircase, you’d have found yourself screened for anomalies, your scalp considered by phrenologists and your lapel sporting a badge proclaiming your abnormality, before you’d even set foot through the door of the of the Museum of the Normal.

Once inside, you might have taken part in a life drawing class where the models had modified their bodies, had your measurements mapped against Francis Galton’s databanks and refreshed your sense of disgust with mealworms washed down with a cocktail based on the four humours.

These three podcasts arise out of that evening, which was a kind of carnival of stalls and talks and experiences, curated by Sarah Chaney, Helen Stark and Emma Sutton, designed to challenge and change ideas of what “normal” might be.

I recorded interviews at the event with visitors who were keen to talk about their own perspectives and abnormalities, and followed up with more in depth interviews with some of the Living With Feeling researchers presenting their work at the event. You can read more about the visitor’s responses here.

In the podcast The Museum of the Normal, these encounters and interviews interlaced with conversations with parents of young children, a group least likely, perhaps, to attend such an event but who are encouraged to consider, week by week, month by month, milestone by milestone, what is “normal” for their children.

“Stop Thinking about Death… and Stop Shouting at People”

David Saunders  invited people to take part in a restaging of a “revolutionary” therapeutic exercise called Psychic Driving. In the 1950’s the increasingly alarming experiments of Dr Donald Ewan Cameron attracted both interest and finance from the CIA.

That evening, more than seventy people stepped into David’s booth to tell their hopes, fears and the things they wanted to change about themselves to a tape recorder. He used these recordings to create a kind of group self-help tape and in the first podcast you can hear the results and an interview with David about Psychic Driving and its continuing tantalising offer.

“Death to all daft and emotional neurotypicals who love soap operas!”

One of the things that visitors wanted to speak to me about most was Bonnie Evan’s talk about the history of the idea of autism and the emerging terms “neurotypical” and “neurodivergent” used within the autistic community to challenge the idea of their own “abnormality”.

Paul and Elizabeth Wady both have an autism diagnosis.

In his book, Guerilla Aspies, and show of the same name, Paul Wady offers a conversion course for neurotypicals, inviting them to join the “new normal”.

In this podcast, they talked to me about autism and emotion, neurotypicals and neurodivergents, Blade Runner, religion and the tyranny of the normal.

Register for this year’s event online and read more about the Museum of the Normal.