Want better social status? Don’t be Disabled. — Scope | Disability forum

Want better social status? Don’t be Disabled.

Alex_Scope
Alex_Scope Posts: 2,381

Scope community team

This is a message that dominates in most film, TV, or games consumed by us as popular culture. More nuanced and layered portrayals are few and far between. Is lazy writing to blame? Disabled characters are often the villains. They are mocked, shunned, or pitied. Or, the protagonist conquers their impairment in an inspirational way. What sparks this pattern? Assumptions, or a lack of awareness?
 
There are countless examples of this within the fantasy, horror, and sci-fi genres. Disabled people are not the hero in the story.

One recent example is Netflix's ‘The Witcher’ based on the popular video game series, which came out in 2019. It gained controversy for its clumsy handling of Yennefer, and her transformation from hated hunchback to sexy sorceress. 

The world of the Witcher is one in which bigotry and tribal division are commonplace. So far, so fantasy. This ‘us and them’ mentality is a natural part of the human condition. Anything different is a threat to be controlled.

Yennefer is a powerful sorceress, who is cursed from birth 'with twisted spine'. She seeks power and influence in the noble's court. She sees the only way to gain this is to alter her appearance in exchange for her ability to have children. 

Is it okay to not want physical deformity? How much emphasis should we be placing on physical appearance to get by in life?

Much of Disability Twitter had strong views on Yennefer’s transformation, the word ‘ableist’ was frequently used. Others took a less outraged view, reflecting there was at least one point in their life they had wished for an entirely new body. 

yennefer
[Yennefer before her transformation, her bottom jaw is askew as she looks directly at camera]


[Yennefer after her transformation, she presents as 'ideal' of female beauty]

Does Yen’s transformation call for boycotting the entire series? Does it (as some put it), send out the message that disability must be erased for power and influence? Or indeed, that beauty must be utilised for the same ends?

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Comments

  • woodbine
    woodbine Community Co-Production Group Posts: 7,131 Disability Gamechanger
    Luckily I don't watch films (not for years), rarely if ever watch TV and certainly don't play games.
    Be extra nice to new members.
  • Alex_Scope
    Alex_Scope Posts: 2,381

    Scope community team

    @woodbine if I were playing devil's advocate I would ask if that's because you feel you're not well represented in those forms of entertainment, that there are not many characters you can relate to, or resonate with?

    Do you read at all? Are there any literary characters you can think of which are represented in similar ways?

    The Witcher games are based on a series of books by a Polish author, and draws on folk tales among other things :) 
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  • chiarieds
    chiarieds Community Co-Production Group Posts: 12,265 Disability Gamechanger
    Is this just not about how disability is portrayed in the media, rather than to do with 'Social status,' which seems to be defined as 'the position an individual holds or occupies within social institutions and society,' well at least as far as sociologists & some psychologists go?
    Like @woodbine I rarely watch TV, nor engage in video games,  tho do enjoy watching films, both with fictional & non-fictional content. Having a disability, tho I rarely call it that as I just grew up with this genetic disorder, hasn't stopped my enjoyment of watching films, & certainly not reading. Many able-bodied people are also portrayed as 'villains' in the media too....
    I therefore disagree that, if you want better 'social status,' don't be disabled. Fantasy, horror & Sci-fi are just media genres; nothing more, nothing less, with no place in reality. Sometimes things just are too PC imho.
  • lisathomas50
    lisathomas50 Member Posts: 5,493 Disability Gamechanger
    A film is a film its not reality I know many beautiful disabled people inside and out there are beautiful  people in able bodied people but there are also people who aren't as good looking but most beauty is make up and  skin treatments beauty comes from within people are people whoever they are or wether they have a disability or are different 

    We are who we are and we have to make the most out of life if we were all the same life would be boring you don't know what people are going through however beautiful  people are 


  • woodbine
    woodbine Community Co-Production Group Posts: 7,131 Disability Gamechanger
    @woodbine if I were playing devil's advocate I would ask if that's because you feel you're not well represented in those forms of entertainment, that there are not many characters you can relate to, or resonate with?

    Do you read at all? Are there any literary characters you can think of which are represented in similar ways?

    The Witcher games are based on a series of books by a Polish author, and draws on folk tales among other things :) 
    I take your point but in all honesty i find TV boring, films I can never sit still for 90 minutes plus and at 62 i'm well past the age to find gaming interesting.
    However yes I am an avid reader and I read many different types of literary genres, it never crosses my mind how people are represented in books I can get through a paperback book in less than a week (on a good week).
    Be extra nice to new members.
  • Alex_Scope
    Alex_Scope Posts: 2,381

    Scope community team

    @chiarieds I'll admit the title was designed to pique everyone's interest, but it does hold true within the world of The Witcher, where social status is impacted. Similar parallels can be drawn looking at tensions between races, like elves and humans, and a viewer's experiences of rascism for example. Although, these are usually not very layered either! 

    I agree, while it's true that many 'villains' are also non disabled people, it is interesting to think about how we feel when writers lean on tropes that reinforce harmful stereotypes.

    You say these genres have no place in reality, but are they not informed by our reality, our experiences, and our stories? To many people they mean a great deal and inspire lifelong passions, yet others can come away feeling indifferent.  It's the age old question, does art imitate life, or life imitate art? 

    @lisathomas50 you raise a very important point, we must look beyond outward appearances to truly know a person, and even then, we won't know them as well as they know themselves. That too is a popular narrative in film & TV! 

    @woodbine I appreciate the honesty :) I know of a few gamers who are well over 70, so I guess it depends what you enjoy! Besides, playing board games or cards is a form of gaming too. I am pleased to hear you enjoy reading, what sorts of stories do you enjoy the most?
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  • leeCal
    leeCal Member Posts: 5,040 Disability Gamechanger
    edited December 2021
    What about House? He was a medical genius who needed a walking stick. Ironside also was in a wheelchair but was a brilliant lawyer on screen. Though I must admit there aren’t many positive examples I can think of.

    The grinch seemed to have some problems but came good in the end ? 

    (Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example. Mark Twain)

    “If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.”


    ― Dalai Lama XIV
  • Alex_Scope
    Alex_Scope Posts: 2,381

    Scope community team

    Hi @leeCal, thanks for your suggestions, it is quite tricky!

    I can name Cormoran Strike as another disabled detective. Perhaps there is something about crime dramas? I might be wrong, but House, Ironside, and Strike all acquired their impairments later in life, are all male, and are all portrayed on screen by non disabled actors.

    One character, and actor, who challenges this trend is Liz Carr, Clarissa Mullery in Silent Witness, still a crime drama! Funnily enough, I believe she left the show to seek other opportunities, and is set to star in series 2 of The Witcher on Netflix very soon :)
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