Tag Archives: Disability

Faulting the Hollywood-ization of FIOS: A Critical FemCrip Perspective

Standard

Alright, here it is: The Fault in Our Stars is not only a very moving novel in which readers laugh, cry, and keep asking for more, but it’s also a narrative in which the characters actively confront and speak against traditional “disability tropes.” I’m completely aware that there has been (and still is) somewhat of a contentious relationship with the categories and experiences of “illness”/”disease” in relation to the category/identity of “disability.” Let’s just say that I know that… and I’m planning to leave that debate at the front door. While that discussion is hugely rich and can tease out a great number of nuanced experiences, I’m arguing for a *reading* of disability (i.e. reading through a disability “lens” or “framework”) of The Fault in Our Stars, both because I think such a reading will be hugely productive and because the characters themselves use words like “disability” to describe their experiences, so why not let them claim it?

Image reading: "We may not look like much (between the tree of us we have five legs, four eyes, and two and a half pairs of working lungs."

love this “claiming crip” graphic

Let me just say here that this book contains some great moments when the characters (particularly Hazel, Augustus, and Isaac) speak back to and/or are active agents in creating their own “disabled experience.” Here are a few of the (arguably) most poignant examples:

First, let’s start with Isaac, a faithful friend of both Augustus Waters and Hazel Grace. After the surgery that results in his blindness, he wryly tells Hazel, “people keep saying my other senses will improve to compensate, but CLEARLY NOT YET… Come over here so I can examine your face with my hands and see deeper into your soul than a sighted person ever could” (74). In not-so-many words, Isaac is critiquing the figure of the disabled “super-crip”—a person with a disability who has so far overcome their disability that they’ve surpassed both temporarily-able-bodied and disabled folks by developing something “extra special.” This is an unfortunate and problematic figure, because many people with disabilities do not, in fact, develop “extraordinary” abilities and are simply people.with.disabilities. full stop.

My second favorite comes from good ol’ Gus who is so moved by the injustice of the persecution of the innocent at the Anne Frank House that he tells Hazel they should “team up and be this disabled vigilante duo roaring through the world, righting wrongs, defending the weak, protecting the endangered” (202). She indulges his fantasy, quipping,” our fearlessness shall be our secret weapon” (202). Again, though Hazel and Augustus don’t articulate it as such, they’re calling upon time-honored tropes of “disability as super-power” (think, for example of Professor X, Batgirl, Daredevil, the Hulk, etc.) and turning it on its head by continuing, “ when the robots [of the future] recall the human absurdities of sacrifice and compassion, they will remember us” (202).

We’ve now gotten to my third, and final, critical disability example: The parallel between An Imperial Affliction and The Fault in Our Stars. Sidenote: what is with Hazel’s borderline-obsession with An Imperial Affliction (AIA) anyway? Is it a metaphor or parallel for all of the little obsessions of nondisabled American teenage girls? I don’t think so. Partly because Hazel does have a number of average-teenage-girl interests: she goes to the mall with her best gal friend, watches America’s Next Top Model religiously, fights with her parents, and enjoys sleeping in in the mornings. No, Hazel is infatuated with AIA for another reason altogether. Hazel explains that Peter Van Houten seems to “understand [her] in weird and impossible ways” (34), articulating the experience of a young person experiencing illness in a way completely antithetical to the traditional tropes of “disability as metaphor,” “disability as tragedy,” “disability as charity-case,” or “disability as overcoming/inspiring.” Indeed, Anna, the protagonist of AIA, is so hyper-aware of her of these tropes that she “decides that being a person with cancer who starts a cancer charity is a bit narcissistic, so she starts a charity called The Anna Foundation for People with Cancer Who Want to Cure Cholera” (49). Brilliant. This girl sounds like a bad-ass and a smart-ass. It’s no wonder Hazel finds such affinity in with her. Let’s pause here and think about this for a minute: A “cancer book” where the main character doesn’t start a charity, “overcome” some insurmountable obstacle to be an “inspiration” to others, and who’s illness isn’t portrayed as a “tragic” event; instead, simply a part of one’s life experience and a variation of human existence? Sounds a lot like The Fault in Our Stars, am I right? Very meta, John Green, very meta indeed. Which brings me to the actual point of this blog post (sorry, I know, if you’re still reading this you’re probably thinking: it’s about damn time!), but seriously if all of these breadcrumbs are sprinkled throughout the text for readers to follow and eventually wind up thinking at the end: well that was a moving story in which people did interesting and meaningful things, then why did the Hollywood-ization of the story erase these moments of “talking back?”

I’m not a conspiracy theorist (I don’t think?) but I do think that Hollywood has a very specific idea about what sells, which in turn creates very specific ideas in the minds of the generally able-bodied public about “the real” experience of disability. Why might the lines about Hazel and Augustus being disabled vigilantes be left out? Yes, it cleans up the dialogue a bit, but it also makes their portrayal as star-crossed teenage lovers more direct. If they aren’t articulating agency in their roles as cancer patient/amputee, then their passive acceptance of the tragically fated love is all the more palatable to audiences. If Isaac doesn’t make a snarky comment about his other senses making up for his blindness, then his character is much more easily read as a sympathetic one that requires the sympathy and charity of Augustus and Hazel.

This isn’t the first time a Hollywood rendition of a novel has erased some of the most critical representation and articulation of disability (for another example, see Disability: Lost in the Translation of the Hunger Games), but it is a particularly unfortunate erasure because the very nature of the novel itself. Much like the nature of An Imperial Affliction that Hazel idolizes so much is wrapped up with the critical reflection of the main characters. By skipping these moments of critique and hyper-awareness of the ways in which disability is often represented in popular culture, Hollywood is not doing the general public (disabled and non-disabled alike) any favors.

Green, J. (2012). The Fault in Our Stars. New York, NY: Penguin Books.

Advertisements

RoboCop 2014 — A Life Not Worth Living?

Standard
Transition of Alex Murphy to RoboCop

Transition of Alex Murphy to RoboCop

While I was personally a bit disappointed by the 2014 reboot of the 1987 “classic” RoboCop, I’m willing to hold my tongue on the laborious dialogue and frankly uninspired storyline. What simply must be mentioned, however, is the clear articulation of the kind of life worth living.

While I have to give the film its due and recognize that there was a gesture toward larger social and philosophical questions, such as what constitutes a human, where do the boundaries between human and machine lie, and to what lengths will society go to protect the “safety and security” of its people (albeit this gesture was not made very strongly), I can’t help but get hung up on this issue of ability.  While there were many forces at play, what it boils down to is that after a car bomb explosion, Alex Murphey’s wife is told that her husband sustained burns over 80% of his body and, if left in fully human form (as in, not transformed into “RoboCop”), will be blind in one eye, have an arm and a leg amputated, and “likely be deaf.” This grim prognosis is enough to convince her to acquiesce to the RoboCop transformation. Full stop.

Let’s back up a minute here. I’m not sure of the exact number, but I’m fairly certain that a large number of people sustain burns and have lifelong disabilities as a result of car explosions, house fires, grenade detonation, and the like… every single day in our modern world. Instead of restoring Murphey’s body as much as possible, providing him with rehab, and allowing him to adjust to his new life (as is usually done for survivors of the aforementioned incidents), the doctors in the film remove even the parts of his body that were undamaged to turn him into a robotic man. Yes, this is all precipitated as part of a capitalistic and extreme nationalist agenda, but the quick decision of his wife to approve such a procedure is clearly indicative of the types of lives society sanctions as “worth living.” Instead of living with skin burns (which I concede can certainly be a cause of extreme discomfort and pain), loss of eyesight in one eye, and potential deafness, the most morally righteous character of the film allows her husband to be mutilated by doctors (really people, a screen shot of his “after” effects is included in this post) and turned into a machine, rather than allow him to live with lifelong disabilities.

Is this a case of the “cure” or “remedy” being worse than the “affliction?” I think so. Obviously the film is an exploration of what can happen if we as a society (or even a rogue group of corporate CEOs) start making decisions about human life and surveillance without the proper checks in place, but at the same time, the film is also about what it means to be human and the various ways of maintaining and reclaiming our humanity. In that case, it seems important that we consider the implications of the types of human variety that are sanctioned and the potentially devastating results when assuming all that glitters is robot gold.

Disability: Lost in the Translation of The Hunger Games?

Standard

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.