Disability & Cinema
'Nature, Mr Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above.'
Rose Sayer (Katharine Hepburn) in The African Queen (John Huston, GB, 1951)
'I feel that life is divided up into the horrible and the miserable; those are the two categories, you know: the horrible would be like - um - I don't know, terminal cases, blind people, cripples. I don't know how they get through life, it's amazing to me. The miserable is everybody else. So when you go through life you should be grateful that you're miserable; you're very lucky to be miserable.'
Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) in Annie Hall (Woody Allen, US, 1977)
In this introduction it is essential that I clarify certain things: the meaning of 'disability' as I have used the term in the thesis; what films are at the core of the study, and why I have chosen those films in particular. Most importantly, though, is that I outline the methodological approach to be used and the way it is to be applied. I start by giving a brief introduction into what constitutes 'disability'.
What is Disability?
In any discussion of disability, let alone disability imagery, terminology and definitions are key factors in determining how it is seen and then 'interpreted'. Most Western states employ a definition advanced by the World Health Organisation (WHO), in order to carry out their social policy (Barnes, 1992). It has three distinctions: impairment, disability and handicap, encapsulated by Barnes (1992) as follows:
'[i]mpairment' refer[s] to a defective limb, organ or mechanism of the body, 'disability' as the resulting lack of function, and 'handicap' denotes the limitations on daily life which ensue from disability. (p.6)
Consequently, from this definition a 'handicapped' person has an 'impairment' which produces the 'disability' and, as such, is 'handicapped' by that 'disability' and 'impairment'; the whole definition rests upon the body of the individual who has the impairment. Thus, disability, according to this definition, is based on a pathological and individualised model commonly known as the Medical Model. The Medical Model has a philosophy and interpretation that has their foundation in the Enlightenment (Davis, 1995), the rise of the medical profession (Foucault, 1977[a]), and industrial capitalism - workers had to be classified as those who could work, who could not and who would not (Oliver, 1990). Also, around the time of the Industrial Revolution, organised charity and philanthropy started to employ the Medical Model of impairment as the main definition of disability (Stone, 1984); the medical definition helped to define those who should receive charity, or state aid, and those who should not. People with impairments started to be named 'disabled people'; i.e., their up-until-then irrelevant impairments were made significant in the social construction of abnormality and normality (cf. Foucault, 1977[a]; Oliver, 1990; Oliver, 1996; Davis, 1995).
Disability is, thus, in the Medical Model, a 'personal tragedy' rather than anything to do with society or its social processes. It is pathological. Many disabled people, and the organisations that they have founded, are highly critical of such a definition as it de-socialises a condition that they perceived as being socially constructed. For the disability movement (cf. Campbell and Oliver, 1996) people with physical impairments are disabled not by their physical impairments (pathological realities) but by socially constructed barriers (their social disablement) placed upon and around them by society. It is a society that is built to exclude them physically from such entities as buses, buildings, education, employment and leisure facilities, thus bearing out a theory that is, in essence, the Social Model of disability (Oliver, 1990; and Oliver, 1991). The Social Model I am using has been developed, defined and refined predominantly by Michael Oliver (1990; 1996; Oliver and Barnes, 1998). It is a materialistic model and one that adheres to basic Marxian concepts of ideology and hegemony (coming from a Gramscian development of Marxist philosophy). The definition of disability that organisations of (rather than for) disabled people's use takes into account the social exclusion of people with impairments by a world (socio-politically, economically and culturally) created and maintained by able-bodied norms rooted in a capitalist means of production, one which has various ideologies that are either in the superstructure and / or support the capitalist structures that exist in Western capitalist countries (Gleeson, 1999; Shakespeare, 1998). For Hevey (1992) disability is entirely a political issue:
[D]isability: the disadvantage or restriction of activity caused by a contemporary social organisation which takes no or little account of people who have physical (or mental) impairments and thus excludes them from the mainstream of social activities. (Hevey, 1992. p.9)
The Social Model’s definition of disability is based on the fact of discrimination and the social exclusion of people with impairments, grounded in the assumption that the disabled are socially constructed as abject and not the natural results of a physical limitation or difference within any given individual. The Social Model challenges the WHO model by having 'disability' as being that which they label 'handicap'; the Social Model of disability amalgamates WHO's definitions of 'disability' and 'impairment' whilst also making them irrelevant to issues of 'disability'. The Social Model definition is often broken down into three main categories of discrimination (cf.Barnes 1991). It offers categories emphasising three types of barriers that are used to exclude and discriminate against people with impairments: the attitudinal, the institutional and the environmental. Disabled critics are beginning to reveal the processes of disablement – from a Social Model perspective - in all aspects of society. This trend has been demonstrated, for example, by many writers in relation to disability and the State (Oliver, all references; Stone, 1984), the law (Gooding, 1994; 1996) and the media (Barnes, 1992; Norden, 1994; Kimpton-Nye, 1994; Kimpton-Nye, 1997). Such writing is also now appearing in the fields of medicine (Armstrong, 1983; Bogdan, 1988; Turner, 1992), charities (Hevey, 1992), and housing and education (Barnes, 1991; Barton, 1989).
The Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation (UPIAS), in 1975, defined disability, using an early form of the Social Model, as:
the loss or limitation of opportunities to take part in the normal life of the community on an equal level with others due to physical and social barriers. (Barnes, 1992. p.7)
The UPIAS definition emphasises the exclusions placed upon people with impairments in relation to normal activities, but such definitions call for equality with normal others, assuming that this is all that disabled people (as a socially constructed group) want. Significantly, its weakness for academics such as Oliver and Barnes (1998) is that the UPIAS definition assumes, at least in theory, a normal capability for all disabled people along with the notion that normal is an actual and comparable reality.
The above criticism is based upon the assumption that by aligning issues of disability with normality, one both degrades impairment as a lived experience and participates in the further segregation of those with extreme or multiple impairments that cannot be brought under any definition of normality, no matter how wide. Some disabled people (Barnes, 1990; Liggett, 1988) acknowledge the Social Model as a step forward from the Medical Model but fear its appropriation by those who wish to put the emphasis on something that the disabled (or anybody else) are not, i.e., normal people.
Goffman (1990; 1991), for example, falls into this category as he posits a theory that places the management of impairment on the disabled individual. Goffman argues that the impaired individual must cope with his / her own spoilt identity as it is his / her own problem. Although Goffman acknowledges a degree of social construction in deviancy and abnormality, he nevertheless suggests that it is the individual 'deviant's' responsibility either to change or to ameliorate its effects. Perhaps the problem with Goffman's approach is that while it acknowledges a Social Model perspective, in the abstract, it is trapped into seeing society as having no role in the subsequent 'management' of impairment or abnormality; that is left to the individual. Goffman thereby validates an individualised definition of disability because, although the individual is subject to social construction and / or internalisation of what is placed by society at large upon that individual's identity, the responsibility for the amelioration of that 'crisis' is still primarily the task of the individual.
Other writers, primarily Liggett (1988), Abberley (1987) and, in relation to the Deaf community (a capital ‘D’ specifically denotes those who use sign language and identify themselves as part of a Deaf culture), Davis (1995), view disability through what they call an interpretative methodology based on Foucauldian ideas. This approach discusses disability genealogically, placing it in its historical perspective and trying to draw conclusions regarding who benefits from the creation of the disabled and what power relations exist as a consequence. Such writers conclude that capitalism is the principal beneficiary of an established status quo (Oliver and Barnes, 1998), however biased. Liggett argues that as capitalism has evolved within a shifting base of employment conditions and practices, the definition and scope of disability have shifted in order to deal with its own crises (of capitalism). This indicates, for Liggett, disability’s arbitrariness and implicit link to social processes, rather than its being some scientific or immutable definition.
Equally, Stone, in The Disabled State (1984), identifies the medical profession as the gatekeepers to non-medical state and charity benefits, thereby making the medical profession, intrinsically linked to capitalist modes of production, one of the key groups in the modern construction of disability. This view is based upon the assumption of the profession’s ability to cure (normalise) the abnormal or care for (discipline) the impaired. Significantly, though, Stone argues that as the number of disabled people has increased, other professions have been brought in to interpret and construct disability in their own way: social workers; welfare professionals; charity workers; the 'disability industries' (Hevey, 1992) making prostheses and normalising aids; and professionals to train the 'disability industry' professionals. Concomitantly, as ever-increasing numbers of the disabled have needed to be managed, corresponding new class(es) of managers has been created to manage that increase. For a critique of the historical perspective utilised by Stone see Gleeson (1999).
Interestingly, the political Right are beginning to accept disabled people's demands for equality, arguing that they are 'normal people really', in order to subvert a benefit system which renders disabled people dependent. The benefit system forces many disabled people to stay on those benefits because if they obtained work or participated in other activities the benefits would be withdrawn. Thus, it is financially beneficial to be as impaired / disabled as possible in order to maintain a standard of living that would otherwise become impossible, especially in the face of attitudinal and environmental barriers and generalised discrimination and exclusion (Oliver and Barnes, 1998). Consequently, the post-war welfare system makes the disabled dependent by taking away benefits if they show any sign of independence (Berthoud et al, 1993; Drake, 1999). Significantly, the political Right have appropriated an element of political disability theory / politics in order merely to reduce benefits rather than to increase independence, claiming that benefits make the disabled dependent (Berthoud et al, 1993; and Russell, 1998). Disability political theory does not overtly criticise such actions if these exist within a framework that challenges other forms of the oppression or exclusion of the impaired at the same time. Either way, it must still be stated that impairment does cost more to live with, and disabled people will often need more money to maintain the same standard of living as do others who have no impairment. The Social Model does not deny the pathological elements of living with impairments (Barnes, 1998) as some critics would suggest (Crow, 1996; and Morris, 1996). Consequently, from either a Medical Model (pathological) or Social Model (socio-cultural) perspective, disability is a social issue both financially (Medical Model) and politically (Social Model).
This brings us back to the Social Model’s articulation for a form of equality that accepts difference; for this nexus impairment is different, but not inferior, and it is only when this factor is accepted that equalising action will be given as of right and not as charity. Having aid, of any kind, given paternalistically, which is how the benefit system or current disability equality legislation is framed (Berthoud et al, 1993; Oliver and Barnes, 1998), merely reinforces the disabled as child-like, dependent and reliant on the 'goodwill' of others. Ultimately, such paternalistic social policies reinforce the construction of disability within the personal tragedy theory (Oliver, 1996). In a recent work on social policy the two leading theorists on the Social Model of disability, Michael Oliver and Colin Barnes (1998), have distilled the model down to its purest basics - the inclusion and / or exclusion of disabled people in all forms of social processes. This thesis, in using the Social Model and following in the theoretical footsteps of Oliver and Barnes (all their work), identifies how cinematic representations of the disabled show, reinforce, and validate the social exclusion or inclusion of the impaired and the disabled.
A key element in the use of the Social Model in this thesis is that its roots lie in the ‘Construction Of’ school of thought, just as does representation theory. Consequently, they are ideal partners when used in conjunction in this thesis. The Social Model uses and, to a large extent, identifies what constitutes the Medical Model. The Social Model defines the Medical Model - identifying the nature of its pathological exclusivity – as part of its own theoretical basis and methodology. The Social Model offers a perspective from which it builds an inclusive model that is non-pathologically orientated. As such, this thesis, in utilising the Social Model and representation theory as exemplified by the representation of school of writers, is largely concerned with identifying Medical Model (pathologising) practices and ideologies to reveal the hegemony of Medical Model practices that dominate, in contrast to inclusive Social Model ones. Consequently, herein, I am applying the Social Model theory of disability as a methodological approach to identify Medical Model ideologies. By adopting two constructionist theories I am using the two most appropriate methodological approaches that complement each other with no inherent inconsistencies.
There has been a move to create a third way of disability theory and politics, a perspective premised upon the integration of impairment into the Social Model of Disability – a non-binary paradigm rather than the Social / Medical Model dichotomy. This is largely motivated by feminist writers such as Morris (1992; 1996) and Crow (1992; 1996) who suggest that the experience of impairment should be segmented into or subsumed under the Social Model of disability. This move is needed, they argue, because women’s experiences have been ignored and because impairment is a vital part of their disabled identity that has hitherto been ignored. In addition, and as a result of the displacement of the experience of impairment, they argue that Social Model theory is a man’s theory designed for the benefit of men. Combined with this, Morris and Crow (ibid) maintain that the Social Modelimplies that the problems of impairment will cease to exist once the social processes of disablement are challenged and eradicated. In response Barnes (1996) argues that impairment is at the heart of the Medical Model's appropriation of disabled people’s identity because it focuses on impairments and, therefore, the Social Model is an alternative which is more balanced and less liable to corruption from the medical profession. In relation to the role and significance of women Barnes (ibid) is categorical in stating that disability theory and politics have fully included women to the extent that women have indeed been more influential than have men in this context.
Barnes argues that the role of medical sociologists in exploring (often negatively) impairment issues is well documented and that it has, indeed, offered valuable information and data about the psychological nature of impairment and its effect on the individual. On the issue of impairment Barnes makes two further clear points about the Social Model. Barnes (1996) argues that since impairment is an individual experience it cannot be a part of a social model, but that the Social Model recognises its importance for the individual; it also notes the Medical Model’s appropriation of individual impairments for the latter’s own hegemony. Secondly, and more significantly, Barnes (1998) has recently written that the Social Model:
is not a denial of the importance of long-term illness or impairment(s), appropriate medical or psychological intervention or, indeed, discussions of these experiences. Nor is it an assertion that once the various barriers have been removed the problems associated with chronic illness or certain types of impairment will disappear – they will not. And, contrary to recent assertions of some disabled people and non-disabled writers (Crow 1996; Morris 1996), I have never met anyone or read anything that suggested otherwise. (p.101)
The third way of Morris or Crow will not be addressed in this thesis as it is neither sufficiently developed, nor does it yet have any foundation on a theoretical basis significant enough to withstand strong criticism of the type made by Barnes (1996; 1998). This thesis would not argue that Morris and Crow’s perspective is neither invalid nor that it is of no use for film studies on disability imagery in the future. On the contrary, a third way that incorporates impairment and an awareness of the individual’s experience of impairment would probably be most useful in audience research and in assessing why a variety of images of disability may be enjoyed by certain disabled people yet experienced as offensive by others. Equally, the audience’s perspective is not explored here because this thesis is a purely textual analysis of the ideological intent and content of specific films. The analysis will thus not incorporate the third way of Morris and Crow, but the application of the Social Model of disability to a selection of films. The third way would be more applicable in other areas of investigation. Equally, this thesis is not about the development or non-development of disability theory, but it is concerned with the application of the very specific Social Model of disability, as developed and articulated by Oliver (1990; 1996) and others, to the films in the thesis. It would not be helpful in this thesis to seek an alternative analysis not based on the highly developed and coherent Social Model.
Interestingly, disability politics seems to have followed a path similar to that of feminist politics, yet has omitted the initial stage of mass discussion and instead entered the academy directly. However, since it is my intention not to explore the comparative developments of other theories of social construction but rather to examine the application of the Social Model as a theory of the social construction / creation of impairment as disability to images of disability and impairment, Shakespeare (1993; 1994; 1998) is recommended as a comparative work. The following chapters are written within a framework of the Social / Medical Model dichotomy which is prevalent within academy disability politics, from a Social Model perspective that interprets disability as entirely socially created and constructed (constructed on film, in this case). The thesis is an exploration of the way disability (principally within the Medical Model as identified by the Social Model) works off, within, and into, popular culture's assessment of what disability is: i.e., a personal tragedy theory (Oliver, 1990; 1996) that makes the individual concerned both dependent and pathetic. This is a perspective rooted in the institutional assumptions of impairment as synonymous with disability and is therefore, as such, a perspective which deems the impaired as being naturally pathological and inferior to the normal.
Institutional definitions of disability create an ideology of disability as impairment, as, it will be argued, do cinematic representations of disabled people. In using the term ‘ideology’ I mean that which Corr (1996) defines, using Althusser, as:
that system of beliefs and assumptions - unconscious, unexamined, invisible - which represents 'the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence' (Althusser, Ideology, 1971, p.162); but it is also a system of practices that informs every aspect of daily life. Though it originates in particular cultural conditions, it authorises its beliefs and practices as 'universal' and 'natural', for instance, presenting ideas of health, illness and 'disease' not as cultural constructs but as eternally and everywhere the same. (p.8)
The ideology of disability is perpetuated in popular culture by its representation of impairment as disability in literature (Quicke, 1985), on television (Cumberbatch and Negrine, 1992; Klobas, 1988), on film (Norden, 1994; Barnes, 1992), and on the radio (Karpf, 1988). Unsurprisingly, current Western culture obtains many of its ideas about the disabled from past representations and practices and from a variety of cultures. Disability throughout history has varied very little – it is usually negatively defined, and refined, and very occasionally it is neutrally represented. However, since the period of the Enlightenment (Stone, 1984; Barnes, 1992; Davis, 1995) it has invariably been represented as pathological (in the Medical Model) rather than anything connected with how society functions or is constructed (the Social Model). For a more detailed account of the influence of the Enlightenment on the impaired body see Davis (1995), Mirzoeff (1995) and, of course, Foucault (1977).
There have been exceptions; ancient Egypt treated people with impairments as equal with everyone else (Davis, 1995). Ancient Greece and Rome (Edwards, 1997), on the other hand, advocated their extermination (except in the case of war veterans), and Plato suggested that babies born with deformities should be left to die in the sun or drowned (Barnes, 1996; Barnes, 1998; Garland, 1995; Albrecht, 1976). The Old Testament of the Bible reinforced an ideology of negation for people with impairments, particularly the lists in Leviticus and Deuteronomy of what God finds abhorrent: lists aptly summarised by Douglas (1966, p.41) when she labels Leviticus' list 'The Abominations of Leviticus', it is a list that included dwarfs, the blind and the lame; indeed, descriptions that cover most ideas of what, or who, is impaired / disabled. 'Sin' and impairment are repeatedly shown as causally related in the Bible, so much so that Luther advocated infanticide; he felt that impaired infants should be beaten to death (to please God) as they were the devil's work (cf. Barnes, 1996; Abrams, 1998). The recent controversy (1999) over the sacking of the England football team manager, Glenn Hoddle, is a clear indication of the currency of such ideas (even though, one suspects the case in question was exploited by non-disabled media professionals for other purposes).
Statistically, the highest number of people with impairments, and those most disabled, are the elderly, yet impairment is considered in the popular consciousness as predominantly affecting and afflicting the young (Oliver, 1991; Rojek et al, 1988), especially within a legislative and social work frame (Liachowitz, 1988; Vernon, 1993). Thus, the aged disabled are constructed differently, as being natural (or logical), with state policies in place to make the ageing and aged pay for their own disablement (i.e., pensions, etc. [Featherstone et al, 1991]). Young people with an impairment, on the other hand, are constructed as unnatural and thus suitable objects of charity, either state or voluntary (Hevey, 1992). The films discussed here, in this respect, represent the ideological mystification of disability in our society, as disability (as impairment) is indicated as being predominantly the preserve of the young and the middle-aged.
One cannot, and should not, write about impairment and its social construction without reference to the Nazis. Impairment, under the Nazis, was punished by death, with an estimated half-a-million (intellectually and / or physically) disabled people put to death because they had 'lives not worth living' or were classified as 'useless eaters' (cf. Gallagher, 1990). An outline and analysis of the facts of this treatment can be found in Poore's (1982) article 'Disability as Disobedience?' (cf. Proctor, 1988; Gallagher, 1990). Cinema in Nazi Germany was a key instrument of the negative propaganda against its enemies (Rentschler, 1996; Schulte-Sasse, 1996), including the disabled; its power of persuasion through technique and mystification has, as such, always been recognised in the negation of one group by or over another. The 1941 German, and Nazi-backed, film Ich Klage An, directed by Wolfgang Liebeneiner, is a good example. In Ich Klage An a young woman contracts a condition similar to Multiple Sclerosis and subsequently begs, successfully, for pro-active euthanasia for the benefit of herself and the state.
Normality is itself a largely fascist concept: a controlling hegemony in the interests of an élite – in normality’s case, a body elite – of which the real power is imaginary rather than real (constructed rather than natural). In Davis’ (1995) view, normality is a concept that can be maintained (or even exist) only if the abnormal and deviant are first labelled and isolated so as to compare one group to another (Canguilhem, 1989) for a purpose other than mere classification. Consequently, it is impossible to isolate the concepts of normality and abnormality, either intellectually or physically, from any discussion of the treatment or construction of 'disability' because normality is as equally constructed and erroneous as are gender, race and abnormality (Davis, 1997; Thomsom, 1997; Shakespeare, 1998). As race and gender have their own sets of 'norms' through which they are mediated (cf. Perkins, 1979, Butler, 1993; Cripps, 1977; Garland Thomson, 1996) so does abnormality (disability). It is a perspective and philosophy – the re-interpretation of body ‘norms’ - at the heart of Foucault’s work (1977; 1978) and culture of medicine sociologists such as Turner (1991, 1992; 1995) and Featherstone et al (1991). Just as there is a totally different meaning to the terms and implications of sex and gender, so there is to impairment and disability
One must also consider, in exploring disability, that bio-medicine is premised upon the idea(l) that there is a normal state to which an ill or impaired individual can be brought back (normalised and / or rehabilitated) or banished from (defined as sick or submitting to euthanasia). As such, there is at work in the ideology of disability an ideology of normality, a concept at the heart of this project. Such a premise (Higgins, 1985) may explain the non-malicious complicity with which the medical profession has colluded in the negation through objectification of those who do not fit that principle (Barnes and Mercer, 1995; Turner, 1991; Turner, 1992; Turner, 1995) of normality. Following this logic, implicit in the Social Model’s analysis and its identification of Medical Model processes (Barnes and Oliver, 1998), the abnormal are, if nothing else, a constant reminder of the fallacy of normality that undermines any profession's claim to be its faithful defender.
Disability is created in society out of the lives of the impaired, through its many discursive practices in ideology, as 'life not worthy of life', 'dependent and burdensome', predominantly 'suffered' by the young and understood as uniform yet to varying degrees. Society, through ideology, generalises impairment as disability, and to generalise is, as defined by the American Heritage Dictionary, 'to render indefinite or unspecific [ ... ] to reduce to a general form, class or law' (cited in Modleski, 1991. p.52). The disability management policies of most Western States to normalise the abnormal through integration can be seen as having a three-fold purpose: firstly, to smooth out the contradictory evils inherent in capitalism - make it seem benevolent rather than malevolent; secondly, to be, as Douglas (1966) says of symbols,
used in ritual for the same ends as they are used in poetry and mythology, to enrich meaning or to call attention to other levels of existence. (p.40)
The third purpose is abstractly to define and create, through comparison, normality through the creation of the abnormal, the disabled; with impairment as disability being used in society to validate and classify as 'rich' a particular style of life (predominantly white bourgeois 'able-bodiedness'). Cinematic representation of disability does not just validate able-bodiedness due to the complex nature of all discourse, just as racist or homophobic images are not only about being or not being black or gay; they are often about the nature and structure of society as a whole.
This thesis will show how cinematic representations make visible these purposes and ideologies, inadvertently revealing the discourses that support them. If a society says this life is good, it requires that life which is bad to support such a philosophy. To make their point Utopias typically requires Dystopia. Simply put, how does one know what the good life is unless there are signs of the bad life? Society needs to generalise the Other, the badlife, in order to use it for its own ideological and cultural purposes, which are to emphasise the desirable norm. Disability, or rather impairment, to varying degrees, does this in the films explored at the core of this thesis.
In relation to Otherness in different academic disciplines I would, for example, recommend the following further reading: the sociological work on stereotypes by Oakes et al (1994); the work on ‘freaks’ by Garland Thompson (1996); the early feminist thoughts of Simone de Beauvoir (1976), and the psychoanalytical theory of writers such as Lacan (1977), Kristeva (1982) and Jordanova (1989).
In society, people with impairments are labelled disabled, i.e., people who have had their impairments made significant through the social process and institutional practices of creating disabled people out of people with impairments. Hence, Oliver (1990, p.82) creates the additional new term ‘social creation’ in addition to ‘social construction’ in relation to disability, arguing that disability is created in the institutions of society as much as the individual or collective ideologies which are shared in society. 'The disabled' are, then, within the Social Model, those people with an impairment who have the shared social reality and construction of being socially excluded, discriminated and labelled, on the basis of their physical being. As such, in using the Social Model, one cannot write or speak of 'people with disabilities' (what is really meant is 'people with impairments') but one can, and should, speak of 'disabled people'. From a methodology of the Social Model theory the term ‘disabled people’ indicates a perspective of disability as external to the people's bodies and that what 'disabled people' share is their social exclusion rather than their impairments.
The Methodological Framework of the Thesis
Disabling ideologies and the control over the hegemony of normality firmly place disability as pathological, rather than as the social construct that it constitutes for the Social Model theory of disability. Consequently, it is quite logical that popular culture’s representations of disability offer little that is different. This thesis aims to identify the connection between the ideal world that entertainment offers in its representations of society and culture, on the one hand, and the ideology of disability that creates the impaired as pathologically disabled on the other. The Social Model of disability is rooted in proto-structuralist and materialist theories that de-construct the pathologising tendency of the ideology of the Medical Model of disability into a social constructionist analysis. This thesis, in using the methodological approach of the construction of and representation of materialist analysis, which is itself constructionist, brings together the two methods in order to demystify disabling imagery. It offers a de-construction, in a typically social constructionist methodology, to reveal how cinematic imagery and its micro-elements (e.g., mise en scène) work to reinforce an ideology of disability as impairment.
By saying that disability is socially constructed and in using the Social Model, this thesis is arguing that impairment in its social corollary of disability can be accounted for in terms of social relations and material processes (Shakespeare, 1998) rather than as a pathological reality, or in any essentialist terms. This is at the core of the Social Model conception of disability. The Social Model of disability is, equally, a methodological approach which theorises that disability can be accounted for in terms of its social relations and material processes (Gleeson, 1999; Johnstone, 1998) rather than as any essentialist reality. Each methodological approach is often – very much so in relation to the Social Model of disability as exemplified by Oliver and Barnes (1998) – rooted in identifying the ideological implications of that which is being deconstructed in material terms.
The Social Model of disability is a constructionist versus essentialist explanation of the disability experience within society and culture (Gleeson, 1999; Shakespeare, 1998) in much the same way as is the dominant representational paradigm, in a representation of methodology (Hamilton, 1997); each perspective is fundamentally socially constructionist. Equally, ideology in an Althusserian structuralist (proto-constructionist) model of ideology is a methodology applied to the identification of various ideologies. The thesis demonstrates the connection between the ideological and the micro-elements of cinematic technique through detailed textual analysis of the core films studied herein.
The Social Model of disability is not specifically a structuralist theory, given that it does not reduce the entire experience of disability to essential macro-social phenomena, as some have claimed (Gleeson, 1999). However, having said that, this thesis is not concerned with the complexities of the Social Model per se but its application in a coherent way to cinematic imagery using a constructionist methodology. As such, the imagery examined and the method of its examination are proto-structuralist, considered genealogically, in its identification of its ideological content and support of the essentialist philosophy of the Medical Model of disability. At this point it must be made clear that the Social Model of disability does not claim for itself that it is the sole repository of knowledge about impairment, only that it offers an insight into the nature of the socio-materialist factors affecting the social construction of impairment as disability.
For Gleeson (1999) the materialist Social Model of disability identifies disability as a social experience which:
‘arises from the specific ways in which society organises its fundamental activities (i.e., work, transport, leisure, education, domestic life). Attitudes, discourses and symbolic representations are, of course, critical to the construction of this experience, but are themselves materialised through the social practices which society undertakes [ … ]. [ … ]. Importantly, the social, rather than merely individual or even institutional, creation of disability means that structural dynamics, such as production and consumption relations and cultural outlooks, are implicated in its construction and reproduction. (p.25)
It is, as Gleeson has identified above, even ‘cultural outlooks’ which play a part in the ‘construction and reproduction’ of disability. This thesis identifies those cultural outlooks as exemplified in mainstream cinema and its concomitant ideological implications. As Shakespeare (1994) has shown, along with Gleeson (1999), Social Model theorists have neglected cultural representations of disability and the part these play in the social construction of disability. Consequently, it is logical that the methodological approach used herein should take the construction of / representation of school of cinematic de-mystification as its theoretical basis because this school is fundamentally similar to that of the Social Model of disability as revealed in the work of Oliver and Barnes (1998). This thesis is only the application of the Social Model of disability to cinematic imagery of disability. The Social Model of disability has moved beyond simple social constructionism to what Oliver (1990, p.80) calls social creationism; a concept which moves forward from identifying disability as simply an attitudinal problem within an ideology of individualism. Social creationism recognises the role of institutions in creating a construction of a broader cultural range of subjects through its discursive practices (i.e., disability, in this case). This thesis, in using the Social Model of disability, identifies the cinematic constructions of disability as impairment, and their role in the creation of impairment as disability.
Oliver (1990) writes that:
[t]he essential difference between a social constructionist and a social creationist view of disability centres on where the ‘problem’ is actually located. Both views have begun to move away from the core ideology of individualism. The social constructionist view sees the problem as being located within the minds of able-bodied people, whether individually (prejudice) or collectively, through the manifestation of hostile social attitudes and the enactment of social policies based upon a tragic view of disability. The social creationist view, however, sees the problem as located within the institutionalised practices of society. (p.82)
Each term is closely entwined with notions of ideology and individualism, meaning that social creationists, as Oliver sees himself, see the ‘spread’ of creative influences as greater and more widespread. As such, the institutional practices of mainstream cinema are included as a whole (rather than individual ideological prejudice) within the social constructionist methodology that Oliver is labelling social creationist (a broader, more inclusive methodology within a social constructionist paradigm). The difference between the creationist and constructionist perspective, in relation to this thesis, is that the social creationist bent of the Social Model of disability is applied to institutional cultural practices as a social construction (e.g., mainstream cinema). As a social construction, it thus facilitates the Social Model application of disability as a notion of social construction / creation to mainstream cinema – the essential nature of this thesis. As Althusser (1984) has said, every theory must pass through a descriptive phase into a stage where a means to identify and recognise the facts of oppression are made; Chapters Two, Three and Four are intended to constitute such a passing.
Oliver, the father of Social Model of disability theory, in all of his work (1990; 1996; and, with Barnes, 1998) is explicitly concerned with notions of ideology and hegemony in the social creation of disability. Following on from Althusser’s view that society is constituted by levels or instances articulated by a specific determination such as politico-legal and ideological, Oliver sees disability constituted (created in its construction) by instances and levels of articulation. Oliver himself states that cultural images support the ‘ideology of individualism [ … ] heavily influenced by the medical profession’ (1990, p.62). By including the ideology of individualism this thesis identifies other factors that have played a part in supporting the role of the family, the body, stereotypes and archetypes through employing cultural images which seem to confirm them and make them appear natural. Implicit within these images is an ideology that is mainstream as much as it is disability specific (i.e., the family). This thesis identifies mainstream cinema’s use of various constructionist ideologies of mainstream society in creating perfect worlds for entertainment (familial, stereotypical / archetypal, and corporeal).
Oliver (1990) sees individualism as a key ideology in the construction and creation of disability in the Medical Model of disability as a personal tragedy. Thus, in the Social Model of disability, a fundamental role is to identify the ideology of individualism in practice – as is shown herein. Oliver’s view of ideology is similar to Althusser’s in that it is ‘a set of values or beliefs underpinning social practices, whether those social practices be the work process, medical intervention or the provision of welfare services’ (Oliver, 1990, p.43). Oliver goes one step further though to differentiate between what Gramsci calls ‘organic’ and ‘arbitrary’ ideologies and hegemony (ibid). Oliver renames the organic and arbitrary ideologies as core and peripheral. Individualism is an organic and core ideology whilst medicalisation and normality are arbitrary and peripheral to individualism. As such the thesis is about identifying the arbitrary ideologies implicit within the texts analysed below – normalisation, medicalisation, and relationships - and linking them to the organic ideologies of society such as individualism and the familial. In Chapter Two, the difference between a stereotype and archetype of disability is articulated to indicate their roles in various elements of ideology or, to be more precise, the hegemony of disability as impairment and its significance to society at all levels and instances. As Oliver writes (1990):
[t]he hegemony that defines disability in capitalist society is constituted by the organic ideology of individualism, the arbitrary ideologies of medicalisation underpinning medical intervention and personal tragedy theory underpinning much social policy. Incorporated also are ideologies related to concepts of normality, able-bodiedness and able-mindedness. (p.44)
This thesis identifies the micro factors of cinema such as camera, lighting and editing, and other more specific elements of mise en scène, to identify in various ideologies the hegemony of normality - through individualism as exemplified by medicalisation at work - in the films studied in detail in the following chapters. I do not explore bio-medicine as a theoretical framework in itself; as has already been said of other theories, this thesis only refers to it (and other linked theoretical aspects) in passing as part of my examination of medicalisation in reference to the disabling ideologies of the films examined.
Much of what is argued about the films studied in this thesis could equally be claimed about the plays, books and other media from which the films discussed in detail come. Indeed, much of what is claimed about these texts could be argued as applicable to most images of disability; that is why those chosen are indicative films. Even though I have chosen only a select few images to examine in detail, the results achieved are equally applicable to the same narratives in other media and other narratives of a similar theme in the same and other media. What I do show in the thesis, by looking at the core films chosen, is the cinematic specificities of mainstream classic narrative cinema style, technique and form that contribute to the construction, the creation, of disability as an individualised personal tragedy rather than as anything else (identified through the application of the Social Modelof disability).
One final point to be made prior to addressing the films chosen for examination concerns the concepts of normalisation and ideology. Althusser (1984) has identified that various ideologies and ideological state apparatuses (familial, medical, et cetera) may appear to be disparate, but that beneath them all is the ideology of the dominant ruling culture and class. It is the ideology of individualism which is dominant in both mainstream cinema and the Medical Model of disability and I use this thesis to identify these and other ideologies which support a dominant cultural and class ideology of individualism: i.e., medicalisation, normality, familial, able-bodiedness and health. I also identify the role played by stereotypes and archetypes in such an ideological role. The seemingly contradictory ideological content about disability is revealed as being ideologically coherent, through examination of the two contradictory notions of euthanasia and normalisation identified in the various films examined. It must be remembered that normalisation is ‘a theory of services not of disability’ (Oliver and Barnes, 1998, p.52). Normalisation is a service controlled by professionals which enabled them to retain a key role in their delivery, ensuring the adaptation of the medical profession in the era of deinstitutionalisation and the new community-based services provision and practices (ibid). The final chapter of the thesis, in looking at the body, deals extensively with normalisation.
The films examined offer a clear revelation of how films about disability represent and construct core and peripheral ideologies in relation to their discourse around disability. Equally, disability discourse (the construction of impairment as disability) is often utilised in support of other core and peripheral ideologies. These are ideologies such as family, health and notions of success and failure, as well as the obvious ones of individualism and medicalisation of the everyday, let alone disability, which affect the whole of society.
I do not set myself apart from ideology – unlike Althusser - as the only individual able to recognise it; far from it: we all live within ideologies that mediate our daily lives. Althusser (1984) argues that ideology is a necessary component of human society, and Comolli and Narboni (1999, p.755) further argue that ‘the tools and techniques of film-making are a part of ‘reality’ themselves, and furthermore ‘reality’ is nothing but an expression of the prevailing ideology’. There is no escaping the omnipresent nature of ideology, but that does not stop its being identified where it is identifiable – easily or inadvertently.
Equally, I acknowledge that I write from a position of situated knowledge, a particular standpoint that is intrinsically linked to my socio-cultural position in society as a disabled person in a disabling society. My situated position, which is a disabled standpoint, is not unlike that which, in relation to women feminist writers, Harding (1983, p.184) identifies and labels as the ‘the feminist standpoint’; a perspective that often utilised ‘feminist empiricism’ to great effect and for improved clarity. I do have a ‘disabled standpoint’ and do, indeed, use ‘disabled empiricism’ in this thesis; I only hope that is effective and clearly additional to the fundamental constructionist methodology used here.
The Core Films of the Thesis
The films chosen have been selected on the basis that they are, in the main, an indicative selection representative of a wider number of films that explore and represent impairment / disability as part of their core diegetic structure. They have impairment as the main thematic thrust of their narratives which, in turn, makes them ideal as they offer a wealth of nuances and differences in representation. Other films which could have been selected for examination on the basis that disability / impairment is highly visible within them often have disability to heighten or validate a plot structure that is either generic or fundamentally weak. For example, the use of visual impairment in films such as, for example, Blind Terror (Richard Fleischer, GB, 1971), Cat O’Nine Tails (Dario Argento, Italy, 1971), Jennifer 8 (Bruce Robinson, US, 1992) and Blink (Michael Apted, US, 1994) is not about the exploration of visual impairment itself. Rather, these films use visual impairment to create a motivational point, plot push or scenario in the ‘woman in peril’ / thriller genre form. The same is true of the use of various impairments in other genre and mainstream films as diverse as The Spiral Staircase (Robert Siodmak, US, 1945), Crescendo (Alan Gibson, GB, 1969), Bad Day at Black Rock (John Sturges, US, 1955), Jobman (D. Roodt, S. Africa, 1990), Dolores Claiborne (Taylor Hackford, US, 1995), A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick, GB, 1971) and The Secret Garden (Agnieszka Holland, US, 1993). As there are, quite literally, hundreds to choose from I recognise that, in the end, any selection is rather arbitrary. However, this is an arbitrary situation which makes those films chosen as indicative (or not) as any other selection or choices of films.
This is not to say that these films do not use the same ideological assumptions about disability to create their effect; they often have to for the characters to imply all that they do, given their superficiality as characters. A good example of this is a scene in Carlito’s Way (Brian de Palma, US, 1993) in which the film’s lead character, played by Al Pacino, is betrayed by an old friend. The betrayal is motivated – as well as being a development of the narrative - by Carlito’s friend now being in a wheelchair. It is a short scene in which one of Carlito’s friends, until then presumed to be imprisoned, visits him in order to tape Carlito admitting to current illegal activity. In the scene this particular friend, who is now in a wheelchair, finally breaks down upon being caught by Carlito in his deception. He tells Carlito that he only agreed to carry out the deception because as a wheelchair user his life is now ‘fucked’, and his only way out of prison was to agree to be wired for deception purposes to implicate Carlito. No lengthy characterisation is given for the change from friend to foe other than the fact that the friend is now in a wheelchair and, as such, his life is, in his own term, ‘fucked’. The wheelchair is the characterisation and total, complete explanation in itself. It is, as Jameson (1992) says, always already read; acculturation into what disability is deemed to be ensures that the logic of the narrative is clear without undue explanation.
The films chosen are from the social issue school of film-making. It is appropriate here to quote from Hill (1986) whose comments apply to my chosen selection of films when he writes that:
Although such a bare listing undoubtedly under-emphasises the variations in style and tone between films, what justifies their common grouping is their concern to raise topical social issues within a commercial cinematic form. They are, in effect, all examples of the [ … ] ‘social problem’ film and it is through them that many of the dominant ideological assumptions and attitudes of the period can be revealed. (p.67)
Obviously the social issue is in the singular rather than the plural for my selection, i.e., the ideological assumptions that I identify and discuss are around physical disability. The selection could have included many other films from a variety of formal styles, including a significant number of British-made films (co-)funded by Channel 4 or the BBC; films such as Walter - and its sequel Walter and June (Stephen Frears, GB, 1982/3), Journey to Knock (David Wheatley, GB, 1991), Frankie Starlight (Michael Lindsey-Hogg, US/GB, 1995), Go Now (Michael Winterbottom, GB, 1996) and Sixth Happiness (Waris Hussein, GB, 1997). Equally, the selection could have included many other conventional mainstream films that have as a theme impairment. Films as diverse as: The Dark Angel (Sidney Franklin, US, 1935); The Stratton Story (Sam Wood, US, 1949); On Dangerous Ground(Nicholas Ray, US, 1951); A Patch of Blue (Guy Green, US, 1965); Midnight Cowboy (John Schlesinger, US, 1969); Young Frankenstein (Mel Brooks, US, 1974); Cutters Way (Ivan Passer, US, 1981); and Passion Fish(John Sayles, US, 1992). The resulting thesis would have been the same; the same ideological content would have been found within limited variation given the time-span in which the films have all been made.
The six films selected for close textual analysis in the thesis are: A Day In The Death Of Joe Egg (Peter Medak, GB, 1970); The Raging Moon (Bryan Forbes, GB, 1970); The Elephant Man (David Lynch, US/GB, 1980); Whose Life Is It Anyway? (John Badham, GB/US, 1981); Duet For One (Andrei Konchalovsky, GB, 1987); and My Left Foot (Jim Sheridan, GB, 1989). These six films have been selected because they have around the subject of disablement seemingly different perspectives that affect their construction. This means that although on the surface the ideology is quite different, fundamentally they all reduce disability to impairment and reinforce the Medical Model of disability; the following chapters show how this is achieved. For example, The Raging Moon is very much in favour of institutionalisation whilst My Left Foot is not; whilst Duet For One is not for euthanasia per se whereas Whose Life Is It Anyway? is. The films chosen do have different perspectives around disability in their narratives that cover the period in which they were made (and which are all still relevant today). The primary aim of the thesis is to identify the films’ different ideologies as well as their apparent differences, and to take account of both of these aspects within the eras within which they were made. The thesis will show that the films chosen vary very little in ideological content, given their superficial differences in perspective, time of making and trans-national construction. The additional aims of the thesis are a) to identify the various disabling ideologies within the six films, b) to identify their differences in respect of a) and, finally, c) to place these within the social and political context of the hegemony of the contemporary MedicalModelthrough the application of the Social Model of disability.
If I were to be starting the thesis now I would include other films from non-English-speaking countries, films that have been interesting in a number of ways. However, most of them would leave the basic thesis of this work unchallenged. These films include Poulet au Vinaigre (Claude Chabrol, France, 1984), Accion Mutante (Alex de la Iglesia, Spain, 1995), The Eighth Day (Jaco Van Dormael, Belgium, 1996), Live Flesh (Pedro Almodóvar, Spain, 1997), Hana Bi (Takeshi Kitano, Japan, 1997) and many others.
The issues raised in the films selected are as relevant today as ever. Euthanasia is now a major social issue that is developing daily; institutionalisation is still a big issue for disabled people (Oliver and Barnes, 1998). Normalisation is still at the heart of many disability strategies and policies now coming on stream (Oliver and Barnes, 1998; Drake, 1999) from a range of Western states. Moreover, the films chosen reflect my own life experience as well as being products of the same Western culture that I inhabit. I will, therefore discuss them with occasional reference to any special insights, from a ‘situated knowledge’ position, that I can bring to them as a disabled person myself. Indeed, it is the differing reactions of people I know – disabled and non-disabled – who saw the films upon their initial release that led to my own subsequent desire to conduct this current research.
Each film offers the audience an apparently real interpretation of the lived experience of supposedly 'real' people (whether fictional or actual people), whilst at the same time trying to have a perspective and / or original viewpoint that comments upon reality. Each film tries stylistically to approximate reality in order ‘to show things as they really are’ (cited in Hill, 1986, p.57), as Raymond Williams once wrote (see also chapter four of Lovell, 1980). However, it is a matter merely of style and not a depiction of social realism. The films chosen are not alone in approximating a sense of verisimilitude of reality for their subject matter. The simplest example of this is The Elephant Man which claims to be the 'true' story of a disabled individual. The film replicates the period (Victorian) and people involved in 'realistic' detail, simultaneously offering up many surrealist, or 'unrealistic' motifs and images to comment upon the reality that it is representing (i.e., it is shot in the 'unrealistic' shades of black and white).
Each film chosen has a key impaired person(s) as central, making them, as the protagonists, open to interpretation and, therefore, available to a greater degree of examination in relation to the representation of the disabled. These films are about 'the disabled' as constructed by society but they are not about the processes of that construction. Each film, and this is another reason why those chosen were indeed selected, was successful in either another form (as a play or a book), financially (box office taking), critically as films in the form of reviews (see below) and / or as winners of Oscars and / or BAFTAs (Walker, 1997). More often than not, the films chosen were successful in a combination of all four ways.
A Day In The Death Of Joe Egg was adapted for the screen from his own successful stage play of the 1960s by Peter Nichols. It revolves around a middle-aged married couple and their relationship with their spastic (cerebral palsy) daughter, whom they nickname 'Joe Egg', and the film shows how Joe affects their interaction with friends and relatives. Joe Egg is represented as a burden on the family and the film shows the couple's 'coping' with their daughter's cerebral palsy. In the narrative the husband (Alan Bates) lives in a fantasy world which eventually leads to him attempting to kill Joe Egg whilst his wife (Janet Suzman) is shown deluding herself that Joe Egg will eventually get better and one day be normal. The film concludes with the husband’s leaving his family. The film, unlike the play, was not a financial success – its release was delayed nearly two years - but it did receive a fair degree of critical success (Clark, 1970; Editor, 1972; Ford, 1972; Pit, 1972; Tarratt, 1972). Significantly, the play is revived fairly regularly and seen as a classic of its type.
The Raging Moon, written and directed by Bryan Forbes, from a successful novel by Peter Marshall based on his own experiences, is about a working-class man (played by Malcolm McDowell) who succumbs to a polio-like virus and moves into a Residential Home for 'the disabled'. In the Home he meets and falls in love with another resident (Nanette Newman) who subsequently dies. The film explores how McDowell's character comes to terms with his impairment and the relationship that develops between him and the other residents, Newman's character in particular. It was a box-office hit on both sides of the Atlantic (Forbes, 1992; Walker, 1997) and greatly admired by the critics (Castell, 1971; Rich, 1971).
The Elephant Man, directed by David Lynch, is the 'true' story of the Victorian freak show exhibit Joseph Merrick; it covers the time from which he was exhibited up until his subsequent 'rescue' by Dr Treves, a legendary Victorian doctor. Merrick progresses from being a carnival exhibit to a hospital resident, whilst always being the 'talk of the town'. The film concludes with Merrick's death. An enormous critical (Screen International, 1980, 263, p.2; Norman, 1992) and financial (Screen International, 1980: 262; 263; 269) success, The Elephant Man was also a key starting point for a virtual industry (Samuel, 1981; Darke, 1994[A]) in the life of Joseph Merrick (though he is called 'John' Merrick in the film) and David Lynch (Woods, 1997).
Whose Life Is It Anyway? is the only film of the six chosen set in America. It is written by the English playwright Brian Clark and based upon his own successful (and repeatedly revived) play set in Britain (Berg, 1981; Milne, 1982). The film, as did the play, revolves around Ken Harrison, a sculptor, who is involved in a car accident and, because of his quadriplegia, subsequently sues the hospital in an attempt to bring about his own death. The hospital administration contests this, but eventually loses. A success both critically (ibid.) and financially (Screen International, 1982: 334; 335; 336; 338), the play, which is the basis of the film, is also seen as a modern classic and regularly revived in provincial theatres.
Duet For One is another film version of a long-running and successful British play, but one that did not achieve any success either critically (Jagr, 1986) or financially (Screen International, 1987: 590, p.21; 591, p.25; 594, p.37). A critical and box-office problem suffered by Duet For One was that it was released in the UK two weeks after Children of a Lesser God (Randa Haines, US, 1986) and was unfavourably compared to it. As the praise and box office takings rose for the glossier and more effectively marketed Children of a Lesser God, which had also won a number of Oscars prior to opening in the UK, Duet For One sank without trace (Screen International, 1987, 590). The difference in success between the two films was undoubtedly linked to the way disability is represented. Children of a Lesser God is, in essence, very similar to My Left Foot in that it proactively advocates normalisation and integration of capable disabled people; the very opposite of Duet For One. The narrative of Duet For One explores how a famous violinist named Stephanie (played by Julie Andrews) comes to terms with the onset of multiple sclerosis. The narrative deals with Stephanie’s subsequent relationship problems with a variety of people, both those who are long-standing in her life (husband, agent, maid, etc.) and those who appear as the narrative develops (a lover, psychiatrist etc.). Eventually, the film closes with the violinist’s achievement of a degree of contentment, in the acceptance of her condition, awaiting death.
My Left Foot, directed by Jim Sheridan, and based upon the autobiography of the successful Irish writer Christy Brown who had cerebral palsy, is the story of Brown's life: starting in poverty and ending up with success and love. The narrative is presented as a series of flashbacks which trace Brown’s life up to the point where he meets his wife at a literary reception. A huge success on both sides of the Atlantic financially (Screen International, 1989, 719) and critically (Adams, 1989; Brown, 1989), it also started a revival of interest in the work of Christy Brown (Lavery, 1993).
As will be shown in later chapters, the films chosen are not as 'realistic' as they seem, or claim to be (Lavery, 1993; Howell and Ford, 1980), in representing either the experience of impairment and disablement or the actual biographical 'facts' they claim to depict. No reality, or film, is as simple as the 'facts' it depicts and below I shall explore the complex issues in these filmic representations of disability from a Social Model paradigm, to reveal the complexities and ideological paradigms that are hidden within them, thus, identifying the ideological assumptions they exhibit when explored from a Social Model perspective. Reception theory is not at all applied, since this thesis merely seeks to analyse the films as if interpreted from the Social / Medical Model perspectives. They are all films which place impairment as the cause of disability (the Medical Model of disability) but which are in fact key cultural texts in the construction of the apparent civilised bounds and forms of normality. I shall argue that these, and the many other films like these, are part of the way our culture defines what it is to be normal and how normality is valued. Normality only exists, in its varied contexts, initially, by its construction in opposition to abnormality. Thus, the abnormal are central to both perpetuating the illusion that normality does indeed exist, as well as validating it as supreme (cf. Canguilhem, 1989, on the body; Foucault, 1978, on sexuality; and Davis, 1995, on the Deaf).
The films will be discussed in the light of what I have written above, revealing the norm that is highlighted (be that in stereotypes or archetypes, the family and the body) and the subsequent disablement that is taking place. Firstly, though, I start with a review of the literature on the subject of disability imagery.