Attitudes to disability in the media

“Disabled people rarely appear in popular culture. When they do, their disability must be a continuous preoccupation overshadowing all other areas of their character. Disabled people are disabled. That is what they “do.” That is what they “are.”” (King 1993, p 72)

I think that a good way to start researching for my project is to look at how disabled people are portrayed in the media; this will give me some ideas of how to approach and how not to approach my subject matter. It is important that I do not evoke feelings of horror or pity; I wish to challenge stereotypes, not to reinforce them. Continue reading “Attitudes to disability in the media”

Freakery: Cultural Spectacles of the Extraordinary Body

This anthology looks at how humans, particularly those with ‘physical anomalies’, have been publicly exhibited for entertainment and profit throughout history. Apparently even in pharaonic Egypt dwarfs resided in the households of statesmen to provide entertainment and distraction from the burdensome duties of office. In ancient Greece birth defects were viewed as divine warnings of the future or past transgressions, while in the Middle Ages they were seen as examples of the wrath of God – “forms of divine punishment meted out to individuals, communities, or even nations” (Grosz 1996, p 57). Continue reading “Freakery: Cultural Spectacles of the Extraordinary Body”

Disability, charity images and stereotypes

Walter Lippmann’s idea about stereotypes and why we have recourse to them:

THERE is another reason, besides economy of effort, why we so often hold to our stereotypes when we might pursue a more disinterested vision. The systems of stereotypes may be the core of our personal tradition, the defenses of our position in society. They are an ordered, more or less consistent picture of the world, to which our habits, our tastes, our capacities, our comforts and our hopes have adjusted themselves. They may not be a complete picture of the world, but they are a picture of a possible world to which we are adapted. In that world people and things have their well-known places, and do certain expected things. We feel at home there. We fit in. We are members. We know the way around. There we find the charm of the familiar, the normal, the dependable; its grooves and shapes are where we are accustomed to find them. And though we have abandoned much that might have tempted us before we creased ourselves into that mould, once we are firmly in, it fits as snugly as an old shoe.” (Lippmann 1922, p 95) Continue reading “Disability, charity images and stereotypes”

Common media stereotypes

“Studies of the representation of disabled people have shown that disabled people are habitually screened out of television fiction and documentary programmes or else occur in a limited number of roles. It is as if having a physical or mental impairment is the defining feature of a person to such an extent that it makes a character less than a whole character: it subtracts from personhood and undercuts one’s status as a bearer of culture.” (Evans 1999, p 275)

As Barnes (1992) has pointed out, most people form their ideas about disability from the mass media – in particular TV and film – which tend to reproduce “superstitions, myths and beliefs from earlier less enlightened times.” He lists a number of stereotypes that are maintained and disseminated through mass media channels. Continue reading “Common media stereotypes”

Overcoming disability – the ‘supercrip’

“one must either be a creature of the disability, or have transcended it entirely” (King 1993, p 72)

One of the dangers of doing work with disabled people is a tendency to make them into heroes, to portray them as not giving up, overcoming the odds, and being real fighting spirits – indeed, an inspiration to other disabled persons and able-bodied alike (the Nike ad springs to mind). This kind of mythology is defined as the ‘supercrip’ story by Eli Clare, who describes himself on his website as “White, disabled, and genderqueer.” Continue reading “Overcoming disability – the ‘supercrip’”

Inspiration Porn

The term inspiration porn was coined by disability activist and comedian Stella Young in an article for ABC’s magazine Ramp Up. Her definition is as follows:

Inspiration porn is an image of a person with a disability, often a kid, doing something completely ordinary – like playing, or talking, or running, or drawing a picture, or hitting a tennis ball – carrying a caption like “your excuse is invalid” or “before you quit, try“.” (Young, 2012) Continue reading “Inspiration Porn”

Inclusion – Mainstream Media

Disability scholars cite the lack of disability appearing in mainstream advertising as one of the ways that disabled people are discriminated against, since it clearly denies their role as consumers. Although it could be argued that this is justifiable on the grounds that they have less purchasing power, Barnes (1991) contends that disabled people still do participate in the market, regardless of their financial circumstances. Continue reading “Inclusion – Mainstream Media”

Disability inclusion as parody of mainstream

In contrast to normalising disability by including it in the mainstream fashion industry, some artists are using mainstream tropes to make statements about disability and the portrayal of women in the media. Such imagery, Garland-Thomson (2005) claims, forces viewers to reconsider their notions of beauty, desirability and other life values. In such images the ‘mark of disability’ acts as punctum, refuting hitherto stereotypical images of disabled people as worthless victims, freaks or objects of pity and shame. Continue reading “Disability inclusion as parody of mainstream”