A Shorter Stooge Post

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Jimmy and his sister search for their hidden savings.

After my last post, I decided to read the synopses of the other Stooges episodes to see if I could find any other with representations of people with disabilities… and indeed, I did. The 1937 short, “Cash and Carry” is summarized by “Larry, Moe, and Curly blat into the U.S. Treasury in order to help a poor girl’s disabled brother” (taken from The Three Stooges Collection Volume 2: 1937-1939). When the Stooges return to their home in the junkyard, they find a little boy doing homework at their kitchen table. After telling him to get out of their apartment, he apologizes for him and his sister (they didn’t know the home belonged to anyone) and gets up to walk away. The shot then cuts to the other side of the kitchen table where we see the boy stand up and begin to limp out the door with the aide of a crutch. Moe takes over the situation by stopping the boy and telling him that they made a mistake calling this place their house because “they didn’t have any curtains,” so they couldn’t lay any claim to it. After he sits back down to do his homework, Larry, Moe, and Curly go outside to look for a new tire in the garbage heap outside their door.

Instead of finding a tire for their jalopy, they find a can filled with bills and coins totaling $62. This find sets them off searching the junkyard for other cans with money thrown away in it. Meanwhile, the little boy and his gorgeous older sister go outside to add some more money to their secret coin can, only to find it missing. After a short debacle, The Stooges return the money to the sister who explains that they’re “saving up $500 so we can get Jimmy’s leg fixed up so that he can walk like the other boys.” The Stooges decide to lend a helping hand by “investing” the money in a fallen down property, tunnel through the basement wall and find themselves accidentally in the U.S. Treasury (though they think they’ve stumbled upon buried treasure).

“Mr. President” personally sees to Jimmy’s procedure.

While the initial portrayal of Jimmy is certainly an interesting one, he’s young, innocent, and just wants to fit in with his peers, the last thirty seconds of the episode seem to be the most prescriptive in terms of disability rights and models. Because those “knuckleheads” broke into The Treasury, the President of the United States hears about it and lets them tell their story. At the end of this tale the President tells Jimmy that he “shall arrange personally for you to have your operation” and lets Moe, Larry, and Curly off scot-free. Such an ending encourages the view that personal charity is the solution for disability (as opposed to the social model that stresses equal access and rights), encourages individuals to find a medical “cure” for whatever sets them apart from the masses, and allows the expensive procedure to remain unquestioned because Jimmy now has a wealthy donor to sponsor him.

Like I acknowledged in my previous post… this short is obviously made for its comedic insights, but there is still much to be said about the type of message it propagates to viewers and the type of socio/political climate it is reflective of.

Hokus Pokus: Now You See It, Now You Don’t

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The Stooges prepare Mary her breakfast and deliver it to her home.

All right, time to talk about those loveable wise guys: The Three Stooges. Due in a large part to my father’s influence on me as a child, I have a fondness for The Three Stooges that would likely rival any fan. I own every episode and have watched them countless times. I liken them to my television “soul food.” So, with the stress of my impending graduation mounting, I’ve turned to Moe, Larry, Curley (occasionally Shemp—Joe is avoided at all costs because I don’t consider him a “real stooge”) to calm my nerves. Enter “Hokus Pokus” a 1949 episode where “a neighbor’s plan to use the unwitting stooges to her scam to defraud an insurance company backfires” (taken from The Three Stooges Collection Volume 6: 1949-1951).

The short opens with The Three Stooges’ neighbor, Mary, inviting a caller to come in. After she sees that it’s her boyfriend, Cliff, she jumps up out of the chair, throws her arms around him and kisses him. After setting the scene by having Cliff ask Mary how long she’s going to “keep up this act with the wheelchair; when’s the insurance company going to pay ya off?” (if you listen to their dialogue, you’ll understand why I italicized wheelchair). Mary then obligingly explains to us that she’s going to get the money today, after she meets with the insurance adjuster one more time and her three neighbors vouch as witnesses of her condition. She describes them as “three saps who live downstairs and wait on me hand and foot and will swear that I’m a hopeless cripple.”

To make a short story shorter, Moe, Larry, and Shemp painstakingly/painfully make breakfast for Mary, bring it to her apartment, set her up, meet the insurance adjuster and go off to work to hang advertisements. While at work, they meet a hypnotist, Svengarlic, who hypnotizes them into walking out onto a flagpole of the building Mary is in. When Svengarlic is knocked unconscious, The Stooges awaken from the trance, hop into the nearest window and frighten Mary so badly that she jumps out of her wheelchair in shock, just before the insurance agent hands her the check for $25,000.

While this episode isn’t necessarily the “be all, end all” in representation of disability in pop culture (is it still pop culture if the “pop” in reference was 63 years ago?) it does highlight some very interesting cultural conceptions and anxieties regarding people with disabilities that were relevant at the time and certainly relevant contemporarily.

This short episode highlights a cultural anxiety of people with disabilities being a drain on societal resources ($25,000 was a good chunk of change back then). The fact that Mary is faking her disability also contributes to the notion that people with disabilities aren’t trying hard enough, are complainers, are only looking for a handout, and could be “productive” members of society if they just tried hard enough. Despite the fact that the episode is made with comedic intentions, it utilizes tired and true cultural scripts regarding the representation of people with disabilities nonetheless. One reason the audience could find the episode amusing is because of the way it encourages viewers not only to set themselves apart from those “cheaters/drains” on “the system” but also that the good guys win and the deceivers get what’s coming to them. In it’s most basic sense the brief storyline could be boiled down to “good trumps evil”—in this case the “good”=the (able-bodied) Three Stooges and the “evil”=the deceitful wheelchair user.

Food for thought? I think so.

The Strawberry Shortcake Murder: *Le Sigh*

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Ok, another audiobook-related post. I rather enjoy these relatively shallow murder mystery books called “The Hannah Swensen Mysteries” by Joanne Fluke. (In case you’re wondering, the books are centered around Hannah Swensen, who owns a cookie shop/bakery and somehow gets mixed up in murders that occur in her small town of Lake Eden, Minnesota.)  I’ve read a few of them (not in order) and have recently been listening to the audiobooks to fill in the gaps of the ones I’ve missed.

Just this morning I was listening to the second installment in the series, The Strawberry Shortcake Murder, while in the shower. In this particular scene of interest, Hannah and a friend of hers are developing some film (that is a crucial piece of evidence in a murder investigation!) in a darkroom. Her friend, Norman, needs to turn off the lights to submerge the film rolls and warns Hannah that it’ll be dark. The lights go off and the narrator reflects: “Sounds seemed to be magnified in the darkness… She felt a bit disoriented now that she could no longer judge the dimensions of the room by sight. She reminded herself that this must be how blind people felt and gave thanks that she wasn’t sightless” (112). Really Hannah? Or should I ask, “really Joanne?” It’s exhausting how disability (and sensory impairment in particular) are portrayed in such a one-dimensional manner. Obviously Hannah can’t comprehend the experiences of the blind/vision-impaired by just turning out the lights, but she thinks she can. What does this say about our social and political environment? It’s strange to think that blindness is thought of as the inability to see anything—like walking around in a darkroom. And it’s equally strange to think of someone using it in such a cursory manner. She mentions it, gives thanks she’s not “one of those people” and goes about living her able-bodied life. The ways that the complexities of human experience are simply glossed over in many books and films is disheartening. This one-liner left me feeling frustrated and let down. It’s such a small line but is symptomatic of such a larger issue.

Citation: Fluke, Joanne. The Strawberry Shortcake Murder. New York: Kensington Publishing Corp, 2002.

Feminist Disability Studies ♥

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I just wrote my M.A. exams this past weekend, so please excuse the recent wane in my blogging. I feel like I’ve dedicated nearly every moment of “free time” I’ve had in recent weeks preparing for them by reading new material, organizing notes, etc. Now that it’s over I feel a huge sense of accomplishment. I’m proud of the work I produced and my examination of feminist disability studies (my “specialty”).

So here’s what I wanted to say after going through this process and writing four essays in three days. I love feminist disability studies. I think if I can go through this process and emerge from it feeling not only “whole” as a scholar, but reinvigorated about the work that I’m doing is very telling. I loved braiding together not only the concepts offered by different contributors to the field, but also developing my arguments based upon their groundbreaking contributions.

I’m completely exhausted right now and am going to grab a quick coffee (which I never drink because caffeine makes me extremely jiggery, but I’m going to put up with the side effects to stay awake for a few more hours) because I have to teach a class in an hour and a half… but I wanted to quickly reassert my commitment to this fabulous burgeoning field. After teaching, I’m planning to sleep for the next 18 hours or so, but then it’s back to reading, writing, and doing what I can to contribute to academic, political, and social change.

Physical Atypicalities in The Poisonwood Bible

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“God’s love – Evol’s dog” – Adah.

Recently, I’ve been “rereading” The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (as I’ve mentioned before, this means listening to it on audiobook while I go about my daily activities) and was struck by the way it explores disability-related issues.

The story is told by the wife (Orleanna) and four daughters (Rachel, Leah, Adah, and Ruth May) of Nathan Price, an evangelical Baptist minister who takes his family to the Belgian Congo in 1959.  Adah has “hemiplegia” – which she explains breaks into “Hemi – is half, hemisphere, hemmed-in, hemlock, hem and haw. Plegia is the cessation of motion” (34). So it is, she says, that her “right side drags. [She] was born with half [her] brain dried up like a prune, deprived of blood by an unfortunate fetal mishap” (33). While she and her family describe her as working with half her body, as well as half her brain, it is clear throughout the book, that she has extreme insight and intelligence. Aware of this fact, she closes her first chapter of the book by writing, “It is true that I do not speak as well as I can think. But that is true of most people, as nearly as I can tell” (34).

But once Adah and her family arrive in the Congo, the Congolese stare at all of them, particularly Rachel, who is nicknamed the “white rabbit” because she is so extremely blonde and pale, or “mvula” – the Congolese word for termite (52). Six-year-old Ruth May writes, “Adah was the only one of us in our family with something wrong with her. But here nobody stares at Adah except just a little because she’s white. Nobody cares that she’s bad on one whole side because they’ve all got their own handicap children or a mama with no feet, or their eye put out… they’ll wave a stump at you if they’ve got one, in a friendly way” (53). In an interesting paradigm shift, it isn’t physical “abnormality” that sets any one member of the Price family apart, but the whiteness of their skin that “otherizes” them all.

The way that disability is described as an accepted part of the human experience in Kilanga is striking. The varying body types and physical attributes aren’t even considered on a spectrum of disability/ability; instead, diverse body types are simply accepted. When Nathan remarks to Orleanna that the body should be treated as a temple, she responds by saying, “Why, Nathan, here they have to use their body like we use things at home—like your clothes or your garden tools or something. Where you’d be wearing out the knees of your trousers, sir, they just have to go ahead and wear out their knees!” (51). And so it is, that the people of Kilanga all seem to have varying types of bodies for one reason or another. Mama Mwanza, the closest neighbor of the Price’s became a double amputee after her house caught fire and part of her roof fell on her legs. But, as Ruth May writes, “she goes right on tending after her husband and seven or eight children. They don’t care one bit about her not having any legs to speak of. To them she’s just their mama and where’s dinner? To all the other Congo people, too. Why, they just don’t let on, like she was a regular person. Nobody bats their eye when she scoots by on her hands and goes on down to her field or the river to wash clothes with the other ladies” (52).

I appreciate the way Mama Mwanza’s physical difference is described in sincerity by Ruth May and the way that the Congolese in the story do not take particular heed to the way that Mama Mwanze (or numerous other members of the village) is physically diverse. Indeed, not only is Mama Mwanza a steady character throughout the book, but she takes special care of the Price family in several instances, such as by secretly putting eggs under their chickens so they do not starve and showing them which plants are dangerous. Her character is written in a way that does not evoke feelings of sympathy and she and her family are not portrayed as charity cases. Also, she is not shown as “the brave victim” or as a “supercrip” who valiantly overcomes or overcompensates for her condition. Instead, she is depicted as all of the other Congolese people are: trying as best they can to get along and sharing/caring for those who are less fortunate (which, at times, means the Price family).

But then the issue of disability gets more complicated. Jump ahead about 400 pages and Orleanna and Adah are back in the United States. Adah is attending medical school at Emory and has befriended an “upstart neurologist” who insists that “there should have been complete compensation in the undamaged part of [her] cerebral cortex, and that [her] dragging right side is merely holding on to a habit it learned in infancy” (439). Adah is thus convinced to clear her “nervous pathways of so-called bad habits” and stops walking entirely for six months in order to do so (439). While skeptical at first, Adah soon feels “the snap like a rubber band that drew [her] right leg up under [her] as [her] left arm moved forward” (440). After many years apart, Rachel and Adah meet in person and Rachel is amazed how Adah “has truly had a miracle recovery” (476).

So, what gives? How does this incredible paradigm shift occur both in Adah and the book as a whole? We go from valuing human diversity to “fixing” it through the American medical institution? It’s proven that the only thing “wrong” with Adah is that she developed some “bad habits” as a child and never grew out of them? What a let down. In all honesty, I’m still completely shocked at the turn of events in the last portion of the story and can’t quite reconcile them with the ways that disability was originally introduced. I know I’m really asking more questions here than I’m providing answers for. I’m going to keep thinking about it, because right now, I feel like I’m missing the “bigger picture” for why the book and Kingsolver are editing the way that physical diversity is portrayed.

Citation: Kingsolver, Barbara. The Poisonwood Bible. New York: HarperCollins, 1998. Print.

A Super Good Day

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It’s been awhile since I’ve read Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, but I’ll be reading it again in a few weeks for my class, so look out for another post about the book itself then.

In the meantime, today’s been a rough day for me. It’s been one of those days where nothing seems to go my way and everything I’ve tried to do has been thwarted in some way. Nothing big, just a combination of things going on in my life that was making me feel like I was a pot ready to boil over.

As I walked to my car from campus I was grouchy and grumbly, and irritably responded to the few texts that had accumulated while I furtively attempted to catch up on some reading at the library, so as not to have completely wasted my time on campus. As I got in my car and headed toward the exit I noticed there were five red cars parked in a row. And I thought, “today is a Super Good Day.”

I can’t quite remember Christopher’s rationale from The Curious Incident about why the more red cars that are in a row, the better the day will be, but I did remember the “Black Day” rationale. Christopher didn’t like objects (cars, food, etc.) that were brown or yellow because that’s the color of excrement. And I agree.

So, in that moment when I was pulling out of the parking lot and saw all those red cars sitting together in a row I thought, “This is the turning point for the day. You can either let what’s done continue to shape the outcome of the rest of the day or you can get over it and let it be a Super Good Day despite the excrement that’s happened to you.” While it didn’t turn out to be a Super Good Day, it certainly didn’t continue as a Black Day, and that’s all you can really ask for, right?

Disability: Lost in the Translation of The Hunger Games?

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Yes folks, there’s now a Katniss Barbie.

Ok, I’m a Hunger Games fan. I was late to catch onto the trend, but once I did there was no stopping me. This past December a friend of mine briefly explained the plot to me and I was immediately enamored — I’m all for post-apocalyptic, survival stories. So, as with most “pleasure” books that I “read” during the school year, I got the audiobook versions and listened to them during every waking moment that was not spent doing work for my classes (which includes jogging, showering, driving, cooking, etc.).

I was out of town when the film version of the first installment came out, so most of my friends had already seen the movie by the time I got back and was ready to watch. Thankfully, one of my friends was even later coming to the series than myself and was waiting to see the movie until she had finished the last book — my movie buddy!

So, we went and saw it today and it was pretty good. My main cinematic objection was the extremely shaky camera style because it made me a bit woozy at times, but overall it was well done and lived up to the high expectations that I had for it. Except for one little aspect.

What happened to the elements of disability that existed in the book? They appear to have simply vanished. How is it possible that Katniss and Peeta could emerge from an arena, where the sole purpose is to kill or be killed, with nary a scratch on them? The book went into pretty good detail about the physical toll The Games took on the contestants (even relatively unglamorous physical effects, such as dehydration). At one point in the story, Katniss cleverly destroys the food and supply stockpile of the wile Careers by triggering some landmines they had rigged. The explosion in both the book and the movie is massive. So massive, in fact, that in the book Katniss looses her hearing in her left ear, the ear that was directed toward the explosion (223). For the rest of The Games she struggles to come to terms with her hearing loss (not wanting to appear “weak” in front of the cameras or her fellow tributes), while assessing how her deafness will affect her success in The Games because it makes her feel “off-balance and defenseless to [her] left… with her right ear trying to compensate” (229). In the film, however, there is some ringing onscreen, but her hearing appears to come back as good as new a few minutes later. This hearing loss (which is later remedied by The Capitol in the book) is a subject revisited in Catching Fire, so one wonders how the films will grapple with this issue in the next cinematic installment.

Katniss isn’t the only one to incur a disability after emerging victorious from the arena. In the book Peeta’s leg is so mauled by the mutated wolf-like animals, that it is later amputated. It is Katniss who decides to tie a tight tourniquet around his injured calf, even thought she knows “it’s risky business –[because] Peeta may end up losing his leg” (338). Indeed, after victory, the The Capitol amputates it and replaces it with a high-tech steel one, much to her chagrin. Again, the subject of his prosthetic leg emerges in the subsequent books (particularly when a group is trying to outrun some foes and he struggles to keep up), so one wonders how that will be dealt with cinematicly. Like the film’s portrayal of Katniss’ hearing loss, Peeta’s leg injury is shown on screen. Due to an earlier leg injury, he is unable to outrun the mutts as easily as Katniss and can’t climb to safety as smoothly as she can. As Katniss pulls him to safety, the mutts bite and claw at his leg… but miraculously his clothing isn’t even torn in the next shot.

It’s not that the erasure of these plot points drastically changes the entire tone of the film, but it does contribute to the general way that society views adversity, ability, and victory. In all seriousness, how is it possible that both Katniss and Peeta have left the Hunger Games without any major injury or long-lasting bodily effects? By glossing over the physical tolls that are oftentimes the result of conflict and war, the “reality” of the situation is lost. If the point of the book/film is to encourage us to think critically about our willingness to mindlessly follow authority to the point that the most innocent members of society become victims, how is this message upheld by allowing for Katniss and Peeta to barely emerge from the games with their lives, but with no physical demarcation of the emotional alterations that they have sustained? It’s not that I think disability needs to be utilized in the film as some sort of metaphor for the ways that they have been “changed” by the games, but I do think that by allowing them to have the physical alterations that they have in the book, we would be able to more accurately appreciate the gravity of the message of The Games.

The victors of previous games are introduced to us in books two and three – all of which deal with some sort of resulting physical or mental trauma (Haymitch become an alcoholic because it is the only way he can conceive of to dull the pain of The Games, Annie is in some sort of perpetual post-traumatic stress disorder, Wiress can communicate coherently only with the male victor of her District, etc.) So what makes Katniss and Peeta so special? Perhaps nothing really. As Nancy Mairs (and quite a few other disability scholars/theorists) points out, “when it comes to sexuality in the disabled, dismissal is apt to turn into outright repression. Made uncomfortable, even to the point of excruciation, by the thought of maimed bodies engaged in erotic fantasy or action, many deny the very possibility” (235). Perhaps, then, it is not that the producers of the film didn’t want to show the physical realities of battle, but felt that they had to choose between the romantic plot line between Katniss and Peeta or their experiences with disability. As Maris says, “this repulsion [stemming from the idea of people with disability’s sexuality] lies buried so deeply in consciousness as to seem natural rather than constructed” (236).

Right before the release of the film (and during its first few weeks in the theater) there was a lot of controversy surrounding the “violent” premise of the film – children “fighting to the death” – and the intended audience – teens/young adults. While Collins likely felt that she could go into some detail, however brief, regarding the deaths of tributes and the physical toll The Games have on Katniss and Peeta, the producers of the film likely anticipated some of the “backlash” – largely from those who self-proclaim not to have read the books, but who disagree with them on principle – and attempted to mitigate it. While minimizing the physical dangers of The Games may theoretically broaden the appeal of the film to a larger audience, it ultimately seems to diminish the value of people with disabilities, their involvement in all aspects of society (post-apocalyptic or contemporary) and their potential for future contributions (hint, hint, nudge, nudge, Catching Fire and Mocking Jay).

In any case, I’ll be eagerly awaiting the release of Catching Fire and Mocking Jay to see the further development of this interesting cinematic move.

For a little Hunger Games fun check out these comics. They’re just so cleverly done!

Of course, I absolutely love how Saturday Night Live has re-envisioned the stories!

And, finally, The Muppets are always my favorite.

‘Till next time, Happy Hunger Games; may the odds be ever in your favor.

Citations:

  • Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. New York: Scholastic Press, 2008. Print.
  • Mairs, Nancy. “From Sex and Death and the Crippled Body: A Mediation.” Disability and the Teaching of Writing. Eds. Cynthia Lewiecki-Wilson and Brenda Jo Brueggemann. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin, 2008. Print.