Disabilities in Fiction

I read an article about movie tropes the other day, and one of the things that it mentioned is that movies and TV shows make it seem like anything is better than being disabled. As a side note, they also mentioned that they make disabilities seem worse than they really are. While “normal” blind people can get around smoothly and gracefully, “on screen” blind people are slow-moving and in constant need of help.

 

When I think about it, it seems like their solution is just to not portray people with disabilities of any kind in any kind of fiction. But… I’m not for committing genocide or creating a world where eugenics is implied and anyone outside of the ideal is killed at birth (or traumatic incident), even in fiction. Unless it’s science fiction and a major plot point. (As it is in something I wrote, so… I guess I am all for it in special cases… I’m getting off track.)

The point is, if the fiction takes place in the real world, then it needs to be stocked with real world people.

Sometimes the guy in a wheelchair is a jerk. When I was a young teenager I was walking down the street with my friend when a disabled veteran in a decked out wheelchair approached us and asked us to buy flags from him (a much more common sight then than it is now I think). When we declined (we were 13 and had no money), he started to shout all kinds of profanities at us and chased us away. Now, we were 13 but we weren’t staring, or saying anything, or blocking the sidewalk path. We were two kids who were used to people in wheelchairs being completely normal and beyond a few minor physical limitations, being totally normal functioning humans. We were behaving ourselves. He was crazy, or a jerk and he scared us. He was the bad guy.

I had a friend who I took dance with who had a hilarious story about a teacher’s reaction when she told him “my leg fell off”. She was in the process of getting fitted for a new prosthetic since she was in high school and had grown and the one she had was very heavy compared to newer kinds. The problem was as real as being self-conscious about needing a new bra. Should I not have laughed at her story?

Should we only see disabled people as extra-strong warriors who are making it day to day “against all odds”? Isn’t that what we’re all doing?

Does it make me sound selfish to think of life that way? You have problems that are real to you and I have problems that are real to me. Just because one is worse doesn’t discount the other or make it less real. It doesn’t mean that it’s not a struggle. But I can’t stand the guilt that some people try to make others feel for being upset. These are the “get over it, people have it way worse in ______” people. “Stop complaining that you broke your toe, some people DON’T HAVE LEGS.”

 

So I read articles like that, that complain that “lots of disabled people complain about” disabled people in fiction. Should Daredevil not be blind? Should Million Dollar Baby have sucked it up and lived? Should the Avatar guy have left his newfound lover and community behind for a life he hated in the first place?

 

Then I think about the blind woman in Nip/Tuck, who was just as smart, capable and hot as any other person. I think of the kid in a wheelchair in Glee, who is as interesting and complex as any other person. I think of many other examples of completely balanced and interesting characters who happen to have a disability of some kind.

 

So what’s the deal?

Do we really think that kids are growing up with no exposure to blind people, deaf people, wheelchair bound people, people with missing parts, under-formed or deformed parts, or any other disability?

Do the people who don’t live with disabilities themselves raise a big stink “just in case” someone might actually get offended?

Am I reading all the fringe minority articles and thinking that other people do too?

What are your thoughts on the issue (or non-issue)? Should we ban all mention of disabled people, colored people, and women “just in case” one of those groups might get offended at the way they’re being depicted? Do you see that there is an imbalanced proportion of disabled + evil in fiction? Do you think that audiences reflect how much they’d rather see or not see disabled main characters? What do you consider a disability?

Let me know.

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