This week, humor site Cracked.com features a great article by J.F. Sargent titled “6 Insane Stereotypes That Movies Can’t Seem to Get Over.” Alongside the insidious ways in which racism, sexism, homophobia still manage to persevere in mainstream entertainment, Number Two on the list is “Anything (Even Death) Is Better Than Being Disabled”:
In movie universes, there’s two ways to get disabled: Either you get a sweet superpower out of it, like Daredevil, or it makes you absolutely miserable for the rest of your life. One of the most infamous examples is Million Dollar Baby, which ends with (spoilers) the protagonist becoming a quadriplegic and Clint Eastwood euthanizing her because, you know, what’s the point of living like that? Never mind the fact that millions of people do just that every day…
Showing someone using sheer willpower to overcome something is a great character arc, and Hollywood applies that to everything, from learning kung fu despite being an overweight panda to “beating” a real-world disability. The problem is, this arc has some tragic implications for the real-world people who come out with the message that they are “too weak” to overcome their disabilities.
The result is that moviegoers think that disabilities are way worse than they actually are, and filmmakers have to cater to that: For example, while filming an episode of Dollhouse where Eliza Dushku was blind, the producers brought in an actual blind woman to show the actress how to move and get around, but the result was that “she didn’t look blind,” and they had to make her act clumsier so the audience would buy it.
Even in Avatar, real paraplegics thought that Sam Worthington’s character was making way too much effort transferring from his chair, but that’s the way we’re used to seeing it in movies. It’s a vicious cycle, and it isn’t going to stop until either Hollywood wises up or people with disabilities stop living happy, fulfilling lives.
I’ve examined Hollywood’s ableist problems several times before and there are still plenty to dedicate an entire blog to. But, like The Daily Show or The Onion, Cracked has a long history of excellent social critique embedded amongst the fart jokes and it’s awesome. Especially when considering that not only mainstream but alternative entertainment all too often can’t seem to let go of the tired stereotypes. That Cracked is a site not officially dedicated to politics or social activism suggests that the comics writing for it believe calling out the industry for its embarrassing ineptitude is just common sense.