Sunday, September 5, 2010

Disability in Media - Lesson 6: The 'Super-Crip' Phenomenon

It's that time of year again -- the Jerry Lewis Telethon -- and the portrayal of disabled people as heroes with doting spouses and dedicated doctors.  Not to mention touting that MDA can afford to provide medical care and assistive devices to patients at no cost (which most health charities cannot, but people don't realize that not every disease charity has that much money to spare).
Soooooooo, here's a website worth reading, and quoting!
  • Identify several examples of the "super crip" phenomenon, in different forms of the media (advertisements, television shows, movies, etc)
  • Discuss where this particular stereotype may have originated and link it to the historical context provided in previous lessons.
  • Understand how this particular stereotype perpetuates certain social problems faced by the disability community, and identify some of those social problems.
  • Recognize the role that talk shows in particular have played in perpetuating this stereotype and compare it to the freak shows of the 1800's.
  • Understand how both the "disability as pity" and "disability as super crip" stereotypes work to "other" persons with disabilities.
  • It makes audiences feel better about the condition of persons with a disability without having to accommodate them, reinforcing the notion that disability can be overcome if only the person would "try hard enough"

  • * * *
    I get this a lot. 
    They'll cite someone who is lucky enough to have an adoring husband and suggest that if she can have a helpful spouse, obviously the only reason I don't have one is that I'm a nasty person.  Not because 3/4 of marriages affected by chronic health problems fall apart and 90% if it's the wife who's sick.  Not because very few men want to be saddled with a disabled wife; yes, there are a few out there, and God bless them, but I haven't come across one yet because they ARE few and far between.
    They'll cite someone who is lucky enough to have a job and come right out to say that if I haven't found one, it's not because I haven't been lucky enough to find an open-minded employer who doesn't discriminate, but that I haven't tried hard enough.  In fact, I applied for a job with the agency that helps the disabled find jobs, and they wouldn't hire me, wishing me good luck in finding someone who would.
    Or some disabled woman who defied the odds to have a baby.  Well, some of us are smart enough to take our doctor's advice when he says "it could kill you".  I'm not selfish -- if I were selfish, I would've taken the risk of leaving my husband with either a bedridden wife or a motherless child.  Instead, I chose to keep working as long as possible, contributing to the family finances instead of being a drain on them.
    The media do most disabled people a great disservice by highlighting the 1% who have husbands, jobs and successful pregnancies.  The vast majority of us lack one or more of those because of discrimination and people who focus on what we can't do, rather than on what we can.
    My wish this telethon weekend is that the media would incorporate statistics into these stories, making it clear how rare these exceptional people are.  "Although most disabled people are unemployed, not by choice..."  Tell the truth, "the only company willing to hire him was his brother's business".  "90% of husbands flee the responsibility of a disabled wife".  "John, a sports junkie, was willing to marry Jane, a disabled woman, when he learned that the government would pay him to care for her, meaning he could watch ESPN all day, which he couldn't with a real job."  That sort of thing. 
    Don't make the unemployed and single among us appear to be the aberration.  Make it clear that the vast majority of us either can't find a husband, or the one we had left, due to the disability.  Make it clear that some of us have put in hundreds or thousands of applications over decades without being hired.  And that very few of us live in large suburban homes, wheelchair-accessible, with large sunny backyards ... most disabled people live in squalid apartments in the ghetto, the only place they can afford on Disability checks, or off the charity of a relative with a spare bedroom.
    THAT would do more for disabled people than perpetuating the SuperCrip notion that all I have to do is smile and I'll catch a man who can afford my medical bills, get a job of my own, and give birth to 2.5 perfectly healthy children who will not resent that they have to spend their childhood caring for their mother and doing chores that Mommy can't.

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