Saturday, January 24, 2009

Cheney in a Wheelchair, or How I Learned to Love the Way It Bothers Me

It was irony, or serendipity, that in the midst of resenting the chattering class's wheelchair-as-failure analogous commentary about former vice president Cheney using a wheelchair during inaugural ceremonies that I found Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb on Turner Classic Movies channel last evening.

Dr. Strangelove -- sketched out as a former Nazi scientist by Peter Sellers from Stanley Kubrick's script --uses a wheelchair. Dr. Strangelove may be mad, evil, or both. Other characters in the film are mad, or evil -- General Jack D. Ripper -- and so it is doubtless paranoid to assign some dark implication to assigning one-of-many evil characters to a wheelchair, but nonetheless, it is interesting.

Since more intelligent and comprehensive insight into this issue has been written ...

From Disability as Metaphor, Marilyn Dahl (University of British Columbia):

A review of our cultural forms of expression provides evidence of the metaphoric role of disability which is deeply ingrained in our social values. It has been a convention of all literature and art that physical deformity, chronic illness, or any visible defect symbolizes an evil and malevolent nature and monstrous behaviour (Sontag, 1978). A summary look at literary distortions of handicapping conditions illustrates this point: Captain Hook (in Peter Pan) is intentionally an amputee with a prosthesis; Shakespeare links Richard III's hunchback to his evil lust. Somerset Maugham uses Philip's clubfoot (in Of Human Bondage) to symbolize his bitter and warped nature.
And so with Matthews' comment, we hear nothing new. What surprises is the idea that some among us are willing to overlook the slur.


Ross Eldridge said...

Of course, Gary, Kaiser Bill really did have a withered arm, Napoleon was rather short (wasn't Stalin as well?), Churchill suffered from manic depression, FDR had his wheelchair ... It may be that a "handicap" drove these people to sucess and more. And, seriously, was Hitler's missing testicle a driving force in his life after WWI?

The use of a prosthesis, wheelchair, hump or other bodily handicap may be art borrowing from life.

In the meantime, Gary, there are ordinary folks living regular lives in and out of wheelchairs.

Something I know a little about is the use of "he's crazy" to cover a multitude of sins. Crazy is a general word and a precise word, and it is used a good deal. Verne's Captain Nemo, for example, is quite mad ... but, actually, I find his attitude (mad or not) rather a positive one.

So it goes ...


Terri said...

Gary, I agree that ableist remarks need to be challenged the same way remarks that demean other minorities are.

I have linked to your posts!

David B. said...

Hello, Gary. LOOOONNNGGG time no hear!