By day, I conduct occupational safety and health research at NIOSH. But on Tuesday nights, I join my friends from NIOSH and the outside world as we head for one of Cincinnati’s local art cinema houses to watch and then discuss movies. Most the time we seek out smaller foreign or independent films. But we made an exception when we recently saw Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland. We were drawn, not only to the promise of sumptuously creative visuals and evaporating cats, but also, in a small way, a reference to our vocation in the movie.
Why is the Mad Hatter mad? His erratic agitated behavior in this classic story refers to a real industrial hazard in Lewis Carroll’s Britain of 1865 (hat-making was the main trade in Stockport, near where Carroll grew up). In those days, hatters commonly exhibited slurred speech, tremors, irritability, shyness, depression, and other neurological symptoms; ergo the expression “mad as a hatter.”