Thursday, February 26, 2015

Tangential Remarks on The Ragged Edge

In class we talked a lot about the important impact The Disability Rag had at the time it was being printed as well as the resonance it still has with many of us today. We also discussed how relevant many of the arguments and debates within the text remain today. In this post, I want to about something I didn’t get a chance to bring up in class, which is one essay in The Ragged Edge that I wasn’t so enthused by, which advocates a still relevant position that is unfortunately, in my mind, still widely viewed as progressive. In Barbara Faye Waxman’s (1992) “Hate,” she argues that disabled people need recourse to hate crime laws, just like members of other minority groups who were, at the time, increasingly gaining legal recourse for crimes motivated by bigotry against marginalized social and cultural groups through anti-minority hate crime laws. Waxman raises the point that, although violence against disabled people is well-documented, all too often people with disabilities are blamed for the crimes committed against them, the presumption being that they must have provoked the crimes with their behavior (not unlike the victim-blaming discourse around rape). 

I fully agree with Waxman’s point that “anti-disability violence is produced by a whole series of ideological structures that legitimatize oppressive behavior” (p. 68). I also agree that ableism obscures the recognition of such crimes as rooted in bigotry against an oppressed social group and, moreover, that work needs to be done to elucidate the structural roots of such crimes. My issue with this essay is connected to critiques of what has been deemed “carceral feminism.” Carceral feminism, broadly, refers to advocacy by self-proclaimed feminists arguing for stricter laws around and retribution for sex/gender-based violence. This form of feminism has been critiqued by feminists for appealing to (and therefore legitimizing and reinforcing) state power (and state violence) in an effort to curb gendered and sexual violence. 

This is problematic for a number of reasons. For one, it’s widely known that both race and class have a huge influence on who actually gets policed and sentenced to prison, as well as the duration of their prison sentences. People of color are obviously grossly overrepresented in prisons, which has led many to argue that the prison system is inherently racist. I think it could also be argued that the prison system is inherently ableist. Advocating carceral politics to combat ableism, in my mind, represents a twisted logic. Arguing for stronger hate crime legislation legitimizes and reinforces a system that we know disproportionately incarcerates people with disabilities. People labeled with intellectual and cognitive disabilities are vastly more likely to be incarcerated than those not labeled with such disabilities. Moreover, prisons can be read as themselves creating impairment (particularly psychological) consequent of harsh prison conditions as well as the realities of poverty and disenfranchisement upon release from prison. 

While I fully agree that hate crimes against people with disabilities need to be recognized precisely for their roots in hate, and the ideological structures that legitimize such behaviors need to be illuminated and dismantled, I think arguing for legal reforms that legitimize the prison system is a misguided approach for addressing such violence. Legislation such as the 2009 Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crime Prevention Act, which recognizes disabled people as a minority targeted by hate crimes, is not the answer. The issues with this approach are rendered even more apparent when you take into account the relationship between race and class and incarceration rates. Given the disproportionate rates at which people with cognitive and intellectual disabilities are incarcerated, I think prison abolition is a more righteous aim for a radical disability rights movement.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015


Hmm ,

How could the discussions of representation NOT lead to a discussion where at the crux of it we are talking about lives of people that are fit for living ... or not .

The personal is political. What decision you make as a citizen , is yours alone to make to a certain extent.  When you are serving as a policymaker, those value judgement color the lens you are seeing the world through . It is informed by a number of things messages from the media , from family , from your own personal experiences and whatever lesson you learned from that.

If images of disability , physical , cognitive, emotional , communication or adaptive, sends the message that the one who OVER comes is inherently special , not because they  (and maybe friends or families ) have navigated systems successfully ,among other factors,  but because they are the exception to the rule .. then no you would not want to bet on that.

I will continue to say that we are the society who talks who tries to critique the top 1% but are tired and willing to do everything to attain that sense of wealth and comfort .  The gym and diet industries are billion dollar industries because the message of being healthier, faster, fitter inundates our screens on what it is to be the best you can . Second is never ok, it is second.  People subscribe to that .

When I tell people about my son. as I describe him , the only fact about him that makes people look like they have lost their puppy is the fact that he has an extra chromosome.  So no , it is not the only the person with the disability who this is problematic.  While Simi Linton's book was sidelined in our classroom discussion , it was reading this book , my body politic and meeting other adults with disabilities who had a strong sense of identity and questioned representation that allowed me to begin crafting a positive identity for my son , that included his disability rather than using the language of the status quo .

SO when it comes to end of life decisions ,or as is the case for many children with genetic conditions , pre life conversations forgive me , if I cannot be analytical about it .  I believe in a women's right to choose and I ALSO wish the target that is on the back of a child with an extra chromosome  would go away .  I wish that instead of talking about killing people , we would talk about respecting the choice of someone who is autonomous and providing systems of care for [people who might make the choice because our infrastructure of services and supports lack .  In these types of conversation the latter gets lost . The WHY  of decision making gets lost.  But the WHY is what illuminates ableism , racism , class ism , that are embedded in our structures and impacts access to what we consider quality lives . Again the word quality is subjective .

I know that no parent wants to bury the child . But I would . I pray for a long life , because I don't trust this world for him without me.  I mean look at the very conversations we are having .

I am done .

Monday, February 23, 2015

Blog #5? - Thoughts on 2/19 Class (sort of)

I'd like to link two ideas from class together, as I believe they are very important.  We discussed the idea that the root cause of problems in relation to persons with disabilities is baseless bias.  I think I understand as just meaning that the bias is wrong and just plain bullish!t.

The idea I'd like to link to this is the idea of not "getting too comfortable."  While biases may be baseless in the sense that there is no "hard science," "fact," or some true legitimate reason for them, we have been learning that there is a base for biases.  The base is constructed of what most of us as a society [or as participants in one way or another within a particular culture] have been "fed" throughout history in relation to disability.  This base is one that requires deconstruction, and this cannot be done if we ever get "too comfortable."

As a male, I've learned that we (meaning males) apparently have a tendency to want to fix things.  For example, I've been told that males are often guilty of wanting to solve their significant other's problems and thereby neglect to actually listen during the process.  I find this easy to believe.  I am conscious of this and do my best to avoid taking over by hammering away at "fixes."  In that regard, I try to not get too comfortable when anyone comes to me with an issue and feel or believe as though I have the answer.

I believe this is applicable to disability in many ways and how some people develop particular biases.  Whether I like it or not, I've been taught (as male) to be a problem solver.  Similarly, I've been taught that disability is bad, not masculine, not cool, means you're weak, etc... (not my beliefs by the way, just what I've been exposed to).  If I am "okay" with that, or anyone is for that matter, then I am comfortable with "the way things are."  Which is bullish!t, but it would be my base, or anyone's base for his or her biases.

Now, I think many people in our society are highly focused on remedies and finding ways fix problems.  I think being hyper-focused on a "fix" is a mistake, as we cannot deconstruct the base of our or anyone else's biases.  So, while it is not a concrete solution or particular plan of action, I think not getting too comfortable (i.e. remaining critical in every new moment) is a necessary part of starting to find solutions.  Even when we think we have an answer for something we have to remain critical of our own knowledge base and challenge ourselves and others.

Not more than a few hours ago, I was on a conference call regarding a client who is considered a person with a disability.  I cannot get into the nature of the matter in any specific manner, but I wanted to share this.  We, a team of lawyers & future lawyers are working hard for a solution for a client of ours.  We discussed many options throughout the call and most of the members of our team had his or her own ideas as to what we should do or what is best for our client.

What bothered me the most was that the client himself was basically unspoken for the entire time.  We had lawyers and a doctor stating what was best for the client, and this "what is best" was not even related to an actual legal position.  After I had enough, I spoke up for the client and made a suggestion as to what he wanted or would like.  Speaking up and interrupting all of the "smart" minds on our conference call was a little uncomfortable, but it was the right thing to do.

As professionals, I think many of us get too comfortable (interestingly enough I never feel comfortable around all the "smart" people) with OUR beliefs and opinions on matters that haven an effect on other individuals.  The first step in my mind to combat that, is to avoid such comfort.  Being a bit uncomfortable by challenging yourself or others in these types of moments are certainly not as uncomfortable as being marginalized, silenced, ignored, or not receiving respect or the positive rights a person should have.

To finish my babble, I think I return to the question of whether we are ready to teach about and discuss ableism in educations.  Maybe some people are not ready.  To me, not being ready ties right into comfort.  It might not be something that many people want to do (who wants to be uncomfortable, right?) but it is something we have to do.  I think part of this question needs to focus on our preparedness to teach this, which again relates back to comfort.  We have to have the right teachers and administrations in place in the sense that they are not afraid to get uncomfortable with their knowledge base and teaching approaches / practices.

And a small reminder to myself or anyone else:

It is okay to be wrong, it is okay to not know it all, it is okay to ask for help when trying to help.  I find that some of the best leaders are the those who follow the best (or maybe in this sense, listen).  So listen to people and find out how your decisions and beliefs (your base of knowledge) affect their lives.

That's all for now.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

My brain is broken.

So I'm going to start out this blog post with something very controversial: my opinion. Because it is my opinion, I generally don't publicly share it - and also because it's not an "educated" opinion, as in something that I have studied and wrestled with on an academic level, but it is an "emotional" opinion, as it has been formed by the education life has given me and how I react to certain situations.

I do believe that there should be a (personal) point where we can choose the way in which our lives end. There comes a point in some people's lives where it is no longer humane to expect them to live. Where is that line? I don't believe I can define that except for myself and those that have deemed me their health care proxy - in which case I have had explicit conversations with them on their wishes and have made them be very specific on situations and circumstances - even though the terms there are life saving efforts rather than life ending choices, I believe it is along the same lines as either way is a choice of how to live or not live.

I could go into my personal reasons for these thoughts, but I will leave the opinion part there for now. I believe knowing where one is coming from is important when discussing such serious matters, and so that is why I have offered my opinion above. As for class, the conversation we had that is still nagging at me was when we were discussing state- and nation-wide policies.

Personally, I don't see the harm in carefully legislating a "right to die", "assisted suicide", or "euthanasia" statute. And as far as third party rights, we have something similar in health care proxies. However, what we briefly discussed in class being passed in Australia and Canada is deeply disturbing, as it does not seem to be careful legislation. Yes, a bright line can be drawn at terminally ill persons, but there is also a fuzzy grey line there too in who decides and defines what makes a person terminal. That question, on who decides and who defines, I think is the crux of what this class is about when considering life and death choices/legislation such as this. At this point, I believe the vast majority of these decisions are being made through a medical lens.

Here, however, is where my brain basically shuts down... because I cannot fathom even contemplating how to quantify or qualify a decision such as this on anything less than a completely personal choice. Just as I am staunchly pro-choice and believe that no one should or can tell a woman how to decide whether or not an abortion is right for her, I don't think that anyone should tell any person how to decide how to live or not live their life. Medical lens or not, it just does not compute in my brain. I think there should be people on both sides of the "fence" that people can talk to, just as if a woman must make a decision about an abortion, medical opinions, social opinions, religious opinions, family opinions, and friends' opinions are all valuable, but all are also trumped by one's ultimately personal decision. Maybe our true issue is that we don't talk about these things openly.

On this topic, at this point though, my brain breaks.

(NB: Any information on the upcoming legislation would be greatly appreciated.. I would really like to study it in much more depth.)

Physician-assisted suicide and ableism

I thought it very interesting how the class that was supposed to be dedicated to discussing films and representations of people with disabilities in the media, and how quickly it turned  into a pretty in-depth discussion about the hot topic issue of patient assisted suicide, something I consider to be akin to euthanasia.  It really says something about a society which condones things such as physician assisted suicide and selective abortion for  people with disabilities. These are things usually associated with the treatment of pets or other animals. We put them down for a variety of reasons, usually because we are feel sympathetic for  their pain and suffering, along with  their loss Of autonomy.  This is no less true than in  the main justification for physician-assisted suicide among humans. That would be  treating other human beings as if they were animals just because they have some "terminal" condition or disability. By legalizing physician-assisted  suicide it could lead to increases in the amount of people dying, and even create the expectation that if you have such a condition that you should put yourself out of your misery. I know this is a slippery slope position to take, but I do think it is relevant considering the history of the eugenics movement in this country up until the end  of World War II, and the recent resurgence known as neugenics which have become more prevalent in the last two decades with the emergence of prenatal testing for certain disabilities and selective abortion of those fetuses which display such tendencies.
As a student of the law to understand the liberty interest in making decisions of what to do with one's own body in decisions such as general abortion and the like. However, if it is just targeted towards one particular group of people  this shows animus toward that group, in this case people with disabilities.
Another thing which disturbed me about hearing that  Vermont would legalize physician-assisted suicide is that it would be allowable not only for a person that wants to take their own life, but also people are assigned to  Power of attorney over another can make this decision. This could lead to many more deaths, especially if the decisions being made from a utilitarian point of view where all the consideration is being made from an economic standpoint. Human beings are more than just what they are monetarily. That is why I am opposed to physician-assisted suicide since it can  reinforce the already popular idea of ableism

Thoughts on class

The word of “ disability” had been restricted to the medical meaning in the past, but Linton has different perspective on this phenomenon. Disability should be defined more cultural and social in this world.  A people with disability should reject to define “ disability” only in medicalization, people with disability should reframe the definition. People shall never feel shame because of their weaknesses brought by their disability, the book thought people should accept themselves, having more stronger sense of confident and courage to achieve their self-value. And at same time, people with disability should focus on how to change the current situation through changes in medical, education and daily living environment areas. People with disability should stand up and make a sound, there is no time to bite their tongue and hold the breath, they should love their life and feel proud of themselves. This is time to fight for people with disabilities’ social rights and this book helps them knew that they should win the civil rights and let society knew the group of people with disability deserve and must be pay attention to in nowadays life.

I heard a really sad story about people with disability committing suicide several years age on the Chinese TV news, this person’s situation is quite different with Maggie’s in “ Million Dollar Baby”. His family doesn’t have enough money to support his medical fee, and he doesn't have any insurance’s help. When his family fell into despair, the social media helps them to spread the message to public, and kind people are willing to help him and donate money for his medical charges. When everyone hopes those money can save this person’s life, unfortunately it kills him in some way. His family has long time financial problem because of his health condition, he thought those donations is not a good way to keep him alive, but it is a good way to improve his family’s life, especially for his little daughter’s future. In end of the story, he chose to commit suicide. He jumps down from hospital’s six-floor window. It has devastated all of them. His family cannot stop crying and told reporter “ I know he want to save money and let our life much easier, but he never has chance to know that the truth is he is not a trouble in ours’ life, we love him and those money is never comparable with him. We try to let him stay with us, but finally, he left us alone. We lost a son, husband and father at same time.” This regretful story makes me so sad, therefore, when I saw the “ Million Dollar Baby”, and Frankie helps Maggie to commit suicide, I can feel the pain when he did this, but I cannot agree with that action when I don’t have courage to make that decision.

People with disability should be more patient and calm, I knew a 66 year-old lady whose right eye cannot see anything and her life eye also barely can see things clearly, but she gave me a pretty positive impression when we chat with each other, she told me that she always close her eyes and go around her resident to adjust herself, “ I am not afraid to be the blind in the future even I know I will, I just want to have more time to practice and make sure that I can take care of myself even I cannot see anything, you know, you should enjoy your life no matter what happened. That is not only advance for your family but also respond yourself at same time.” This conversation is inspiring and touching. And this kind of positive perspective is good to build confidence and keep the passion of life.

Society should not treat people with disability as “ patients”. There should be more equal and common space for people with disability, helping them to create an accessible environment with the support of everyone in this world. Do more practical things instead of writing the strategy only on the paper. Ableism not only functions in the language but also in action and emotion. Protection of people with disabilities’ right should cover every single part of this world, people should be more understanding and active to change the ableism situation and improve people with disabilities’ life and civil rights.

Physician-assisted Suicide

    I have heard about the physician-assisted suicide for a long time and I have think about why people want to do this, not just for those people with disability, also for everyone because everyone will face the death in the future and no one can change this. As I think physician-assisted suicide is not such a bad thing. I have heard about the suffering of people when they are going to died. So, I think if the people is sober and they agree for the physician-assisted suicide,the doctor can ask them to sign a document for the physician-assisted suicide. If those people agree, then the doctor can help them for the physician-assisted.

    Therefore I can understand why those people with disability will think about the  physician-assisted suicide. We all know this is very painful for those people with disability. Some of them may be a little bit easier than other, but all of them hope they can do everything just like others without those inconvenience. Some of them are suffering such a huge anguish that we will never image. As I think, for those people with disability and feel so painful of their lives, death may be liberation. However, we have to make sure they want to do physician-assisted suicide, because for those people they may be dizzy all the day, it is very hard to confirm if they understand their situation. I believe that the doctor can only do the physician-assisted suicide when those people ask so and sign the agreement, or I think it will be the murder. 
    Also I think in this modern time, not so many people want to do the physician-assisted suicide. Because the technology develop very fast, we will never know what will happen tomorrow, lots of the people with disability can be helped by those technologies. We have a lot of devices to help them have a easier life, as the time pass, we may believe the technology can help those people with disability just enjoy their lives like others around them. Therefore they have to wait, they do not need to end their lives so fast. That may be the best wishes of us.

The Media's Relationship To People With Disabilities Wishing To Commit Suicide

Our discussion in class, which began as a discussion on the films that each of us reviewed and the role of media in affecting the perspectives or people in society quickly turned into a discussion on suicide and assisted suicide of people with disabilities.  Why do people with a disability who express a desire to die receive society’s support, but people without disabilities who express a desire to die get put into institutions or hospitals where their psychological state is evaluated?  Why do we, as a society, see a person with a disability and assume that this person has a better reason to want to die than a person without a disability?  Why do we see having a disability alone as a sufficient reason to want to die?  I believe there are two large factors that contribute to society’s views.  The first factor is the system of oppression that existed and in many ways still exists for people with disabilities causing a cycle of oppression and the second is the manipulation of media sources to portray disability in a particular way.

From my perspective, it is undeniable that people with disabilities have historically been discriminated against and as a result oppressed.  People with disabilities weren’t seen as people.  People with disabilities were hidden away either unable to leave their families’ homes or in segregated institutions, causing them to be denied access to education and jobs.  This segregation also causes people without disabilities to not see people with disabilities as active participants in society, thus contributing to the assumption that people with disabilities are not really “people” or are not the “same” as people without disabilities.  When this type of thinking is reinforced, society continues to believe there is reason to discriminate against people with disabilities.  In many ways, this oppression continues today.  People with disabilities are often put into segregated classrooms where they receive a less rigorous education.  When these stereotypes are developed, people begin to fear having a disability; as a result, having a disability becomes seen as a reason a person would want to end his life.

The media’s portrayal of people with disabilities also  contributes to stereotypes that lead people to believe that people with a disability have a reason to want to take their own lives.  At times, I feel that the media is manipulated into printing stories that portray people with disabilities as vulnerable and helpless.  The media then manipulates the general public, some of whom think that the media is printing unbiased news, into believing that what the media is distributing is an accurate portrayal of all people with disabilities.  For example, the MDA telethon for Jerry’s kids used imagery of children with disabilities to evoke pity and sympathy from the audience, ultimately getting people to donate money.  The people with disabilities shown during the telethon are used as an example of all people with disabilities and represented as such.  This suggests to people in society that they should pity all people with disabilities.  People with disabilities, portrayed in television shows and movies, focus on limitations the person has or on “overcoming” the disability.  Society is led by these images to believe that people with disabilities are vulnerable and weak.  As a result, many in society refuse to acknowledge disability as an identity or as an integral part of a person, but instead something that a person “suffers” from.  I would assume that most people do not want to suffer and do not want to be pitied.  Society, who is constantly faced with these manipulating images, then begins to believe that a person with a disability would be able to justify taking his life.

Thoughts on Class

Prior to taking disability studies courses, I had never considered the connection between debates around physician-assisted suicide and issues surrounding disability justice. Even upon learning that this was a profoundly contentious issue for disability scholars and activists, I wasn’t really sure how to think about these links. I found Haller’s (2010) text really helpful in illuminating  the connection between (widely-publicized) debates around physician-assisted suicide and the devaluation and subsequent oppression of people with disabilities. In class we discussed the really essential point that the fact that the so-called right to die has attracted broad public support while garnering support for policies and practices that enable one to live with dignity have faced strong opposition is, itself, a manifestation of ableism. Interestingly, both arguments defending the right to die and those opposing policies and programs that promote an inclusive and dignified life are justified on highly utilitarian and (often unfounded or overstated) economic grounds.

As we discussed in class this week, and as has come up in various conversations throughout the semester, I think much of the problem is rooted in liberal humanist conceptions of autonomy. I think this is relevant in a number of ways. On one level, the tendency to view people as not-fully-human, and thus not worth keeping alive, arises when their dependency is rendered starkly apparent, as in cases of physician-assisted suicide. Labeling such individuals subhuman, whose lives can’t and shouldn’t really be considered lives at all, enables us to uphold and reinforce an illusory sense of our own independence and autonomy. Additionally, the “right to die” is premised on the idea that people are making that decision autonomously and, thus, their “right” to death should be respected and their “choice” granted. This line of thinking looks only at the individual making the decision and ignores the conditions under which individual choices are made. In other words, this logic ignores the social, cultural, and historical context of pervasive ableism that necessarily restricts and constrains one’s “choice.” This problem with a liberal humanist conception of the subject further manifests in the way in which we conceptualize people making these decisions as only dependent, and not interdependent, which everyone necessarily is, despite our illusions of independence and autonomy. Subsequently, when friends/family members want to keep alive those in their lives who need various forms of life support, they’re considered irrational and their desires are often belittled as misplaced out of desperation and confusion. The conception of autonomy as existing in a vacuum removed from social, political, and cultural conditions has strong implications for both those contemplating physician-assisted suicide and people with disabilities, as well as all those whose lives are intertwined with theirs.

All that being said, I think that movements resisting physician-assisted suicide can lead to strange bed fellows (e.g. right to life advocates) and this type of activism has to be undertaken in particularly nuanced ways. Without a doubt, films such as Million Dollar Baby problematically naturalize and normalize the “right to die” and inherently devalue the lives of people with disabilities. Moreover, I absolutely think that the voices of disability activists should be represented in media debates around physician-assisted suicide and people considering that decision should have conversations with and be informed by people with disabilities, not encouraged/coerced into their decision by medical professionals who are interpellated through the same ableist system. Media portrayals of these controversies send a clear message that the lives of people considered disabled are less valued than those considered able-bodied. However, we live in a society that presently devalues disability and doesn’t socially or economically support people in the position of making that decision and I think, in light of that, the focus should be more on changing the myriad of conditions that lead people to make the decision to end their life than on targeting and potentially vilifying the individuals making the decision. I think disability scholars, advocates, and activists have to be nuanced in articulating their positions so that the conversation moves beyond individuals making decisions and, instead, renders clear the problematic and oppressive conditions under which such decisions are made.

Deconstructing Class

Given how much I dislike sitting through his movies, it doesn’t really seem like such a leap from Clint Eastwood to assisted suicide.  But I think the reason class took the turn it did was for the same reason that “Million Dollar Baby” became such a flash point for the disability rights movement:  People have very strong reactions to Maggie’s fate.  I’ve really never heard of anyone who wasn’t - at least metaphorically - moved to tears, either of rage or compassion.  There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground here, and maybe not much middle ground in the debate over assisted suicide.

But there should be.

As a daughter who so recently watched her mother die, I can say that I would have done anything legal to help my mother speed things up.  Because my mother - very specifically and insistently - made it clear that she wanted her death to come as quickly as possible.  I actually didn’t; for me our time at the hospice was, ironically, very healing.  For her it was a countdown to not being able to breath anymore.

When I started reading how adamantly opposed disability rights activists are to assisted suicide, I rejected their argument.  What they were describing had nothing to do with my mother’s situation - and that was how I related to the issue.  Linton says,
“I prefer to use the term euthanasia. The currently popular term physician-assisted suicide is not accurate to describe the deaths of people who are vulnerable to coercion because of economic necessity, family or social pressure, or disability.” (Kindle Locations 1862-1864)
The impression I got was that they believed people were in fact losing control of their lives, not gaining it.  I imagined someone who had just been seriously injured, or someone who needed extraordinary medical care but had no money, feeling pressured or distraught and giving up.  But their situations had no relation to my mother’s.  Instead I remembered my mother yelling at her team of seriously big deal New York City neurosurgeons, telling them they better figure out how to move this thing (her death) along.

My confusion was resolved when I read Haller, who talked about how people with terminal diseases are grouped with people who are disabled, as if they are in the same situation.  Until that was acknowledged, until I could see that some people are in a very different situation than the one we faced, I could not understand the argument.  But now I do, and then I watched “Million Dollar Baby” which illustrated it.

I don’t think this is a debate that can be successfully resolved with a simple pro and con strategy.  If people are basing their opinions on their own experiences, if it’s my mother versus your depressed friend who just found out she’s paralyzed, we can’t really sort this out.  But if there’s acknowledgement that what might be appropriate in our case is not appropriate in yours, we can come together.  Strategically, the people who support these bills are casting the biggest nets possible - get everybody who might support this on board to get it passed.  The counter argument has to be different - as Haller suggests, and as some laws require - terminal illness and disability need to be separated out.

I know that many, many people found Maggie’s plight in the movie to be compelling.  They thought she made the right decision. I think our job is to explain why they’re terribly wrong, without taking away options from someone who really is about to die.  It wasn’t a kindness to kill Maggie when she was distraught and hadn’t even had a chance to sort out what her life could be; I think it would have been a kindness if doctors had helped my mother ease out of her life quicker.

It’s not about choosing not to live a certain way; it’s about - when you know that you’re terminal - choosing to die a certain way.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

One flew over the Cuckoos nest

There were so many images to combat in this movie , I had to rewatch it a few times .  With Beth Haller's book fresh on my mind as well as a new op ed piece in the NY times that is asking for the return of the Asylum , I wonder about what this movie still does to thought of people who are mentally ill.  Even typing that term in this moment , leaves me questioning what is sanity? The chief seems to be a figure the regains consciousness , but the movie  does not dissect the way race and ability plays out .  Interactions are there through out the movie between the servants and the ward and interestingly enough , the native american was in the ward with white men.

I know nurse rathchet's character is infamous in this movie. But I have to tell you , as much I know it was supposed to be focused on the people .I was focused on the steril environment , especially when counter narratives always spoke of the stench in institutions and the severe neglect and abuse. Also , the book references the interplay of race and ability , the movie does not as much.  The focus is on the able bodied individual who is made to be insane.  This representation only instills fears and concerns about criminals an dthe need to maintain the continual institutionalization of individuals who are considered deviant .  The literal breaking out of the chief left so much to be desired .. and as usual leaves us with a singulair critique of people vs systemic issues of how one comes to be disabled systemically .  But then again maybe it does , since that was what i was left to ponder when I was done.  Had I not been in this class however , I would not be critical in that light.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - INCLUDES SPOILERS

This movie is about a repeat offender named McMuphy (Nicholson) who is sent to prison for statutory rape.  He convinces the prison guards the he is insane so that he will be transferred to a mental institution and be able to get out of prison labor.  He assumes, wrongly, that that the institution will be the lap of luxury compared to prison.  However, the institution is run by the notorious Nurse Ratched who as broken the spirits of all of the patients and forced them into submission through humiliation and fear of lobotomies.  The rest of the movie is about their battle for control of the ward.

We're introduced to the key players in the movie over a game of cards, which is one of the main ways everyone passes their time.  Dourif is very nervous and stutters uncontrollably, Cheswick becomes enraged easily and often throws tantrums, Harding is neurotic and well-educated, Taber can be obnoxious and is crude, and the Chief is an enormous Native American who is believed to be deaf and mute.  As the movie progresses McMurphy, Dourif, and the Chief become close.  We learn through there relationships that many of the patients are there voluntarily and that each has adopted a role or greater degree of "insanity" in order to cope and exist on the ward with some semblance of peace.

What is interesting about this film is how these "disabled" patients exhibit ableism.  McMurphy, because of his "ability" and claimed greater degree of "sanity" assumes a leadership position of the patients.  He assumes because of his abilities that he can assume that position.  He continues to make these assumptions throughout the film.   He uses the Chief to gain an advantage in basketball, but assumes that he is not good for anything else as he is supposedly deaf and mute.  This is the basis of his relationship with Dourif as he seeks to impart wisdom.

The penultimate example of ableism, however, is when the Chief kills McMurphy at the end of the movie after he has been lobotomized.  McMurphy was made into a "vegetable" and the Chief didn't want to leave him like that.  The Chief who pretended to be deaf and mute for most of his time on the ward -  an able individual passing as disabled - considered McMurphy's life as no longer worth living.  His ability afforded him the right to make that decision and to implement his perspective.  Playing devil's advocate, McMurphy very well may not have wanted to "live like that" but that decision would have been made while he was situated in his ableist privilege.  As a "vegetable" McMurphy could have said he wanted to live or die, but that opinion, if able to be communicated, would have had no value as it came from disabled mind.  The whole scene reaffirms that if you don't have a certain level of cognition or intellectual ability your thoughts and desires are irrelevant because you're not capable of having thoughts or desires with any degree of merit.

Sunday, February 15, 2015


Tod Browning’s FREAKS (1932)
The plot:
To those who never saw the movie, the story takes place in the backstage world of the traveling circus. It is about a midget who falls in love with a trapeze performer.
We're plunged straight into sexual intrigue, as Cleopatra, the trapezist, flirts with Hans the midget, much to the embarrassment of Frieda, his equally tiny fiancée. Cleopatra discovers that Hans has a fortune of his own and marries him despite her affair with another performer.
‘Freaks' begins with a classic enigma - What's In The Box? A crowd gathers around an animal pen, eager for the latest sideshow marvel. The monstrosity remains hidden from view; all we are told is that "she was once a beautiful woman", now she causes "shrieks and gasps of horror".
Browning introduces a whole gallery of ‘freaks'; Madame Tetrallini and her clan of Pinheads (microcephaly's), out picnicking with the dwarf Little Angelo, and Johnny. When a growly peasant tries to get them evicted by the landowner, the Madame pleads for her "children" to be allowed to stay, the gruff lord of the manor surrenders.
We meet the Siamese twins Daisy and Violet, who are presented as flirtatious and coy, managing to conduct separate courtships with two very different individuals.
Other than Cleopatra and her lover, other able-bodied figures, include Venus the seal trainer and Phroso the clown, Hercules the Strong Man, and others.
Browning introduces the second half of the movie with a title card: The Wedding Feast. The scene marks an absolute change in pace, tone, and mood. At the wedding feast, Cleopatra insults the "freaks," and thus invites their hostility. She starts to poison her new husband to gain his wealth. The "freaks" learn of the attempt, and on a rainy night when the circus is bogged along the road, they kill the performer and chase the woman.
Representation and Images:
The movie uses images to reflect the beginning of the 20th-century way of treating people with disabilities and fortifies stereotypes. Watching it in the second decade of the 21st century, I have to say that in a way it was ahead of its time, as it dedicates a large time to show the ‘normal' life of the ‘abnormal' people. They love, they work, they eat and drink, and they have a culture. Horror seems a very long way away as the movie presents a series of pictures showing the domesticity of the freaks; they eat, drink, and peg out laundry, unremarkable everyday acts made remarkable only by the lack of arms or legs or even both. The audience is introduced to many so-called monstrosities, none of which present any threat whatsoever. The only menace stems from the able-bodied Cleopatra, plotting with Hercules and tricking poor Hans into buying her furs and jewels. Whilst the freaks (and Venus and Phroso) are gentle and courteous towards one another, Hercules and Cleopatra mock Hans, calling him "the little polliwog", with the Strong Man threatening to "squish him like a bug." I find this large portion of the movie representing normality for people with disabilities to be ahead of time and rather progressive way of representation.
Having said that there are many ‘old style’ representations in the movie. In the first half of the movie at least, the Freaks are usually represented as childlike, harmless, and more frightened of strangers than strangers are of them. When a growly peasant tries to get them evicted by the landowner, the Madame pleads for her "children" to be allowed to stay. She gathers her ‘children’ in her skirts in a matter channeling Snow White. She’s protecting the helpless…  
In another scene we witness the "pinheads" Schlitze, Elvira and Jenny Lee dancing and playing in the forest. From a distance, they look like innocent, happy children. But as the camera approaches, it is clear that they are neither children nor are they quite adults either. Thus, it is the ambiguity here, rather than the disability itself, which is momentarily disturbing.
Thinking about the 1930’s when the movie was made, this is the way people with disabilities were perceived. By using this representation, Browning is truthfully mirroring his time way of thinking about people with disabilities as childlike and sexless creatures.
On the other hand, we have the Siamese twins Daisy and Violet, are presented as flirtatious and coy, managing to conduct separate courtships with two very different individuals. I assume that showing ‘freaks’ as having ‘normal’ normal relationships in this world (the Bearded Lady gives birth, and her husband, the Living Skeleton, hands round cigars like any other proud father) is not something that was easy to swallow back in the days the movie was made.
Other then representing people with disabilities in a childlike stereotype, the movie also reinforces the stereotype of women as weak, sexual object and manipulative. For example the phrase by Venus: “Women are funny, ain't they? They all tramps, ain't they?
Surprisingly not loyal to the stereotype of people with disabilities as sexless beings come the wedding scene. The Koo Koo, the Bird Girl, shimmies her hips on the table; it's crude burlesque for an adult audience and the freaks roar in a drunken approval. Was Browning trying to break the stereotype?
Going back to the representation of freaks as horror images. At the beginning of the movie, the ‘what’s in the box?’ idea:  What Cleopatra is now is best left to the mind's eye. The viewers have an hour to ponder the question before finally being allowed to peer inside the pen, an hour in which all manner of human peculiarities and malformations, are paraded across the screen.
Building the feeling of horror is also the wedding scene, in which the freaks sing in unity, “Gobble gobble, gobble gobble! One of us! One of us!” while beating rhythmically on the table. While the words themselves are friendly and accepting, they almost sound like a threat in this scene.
Part of the terror of the final is the sense that events are heading towards an inexorable conclusion; the freaks will not be denied a satisfaction once they choose to reach for it. Who came up with the plan? Who is the freaks' leader? It doesn't matter — they act as a unit, preying on those, like us, who might have been fooled by their child-like exterior. "Offend one and you offend them all." Cleopatra's doom is sealed. No longer innocent and infantile, the freaks peer through windows and from under caravans, keeping constant watch on Hans, whom Cleopatra is, rather obviously, attempting to poison.
Or the end of the movie, Cleopatra is the thing in a box, now revealed to be another form of 'Bird Girl', a squawking, legless imbecile, her beautiful face and form ruined. It feels both revelation and relief, like all good sideshow freaks she is not as terrifying as she might be; she doesn't quite live up to the hype of the barker and our imaginations. I can’t help but to think about the “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”, even when that woman has the face and dimensions of an angel. Was Browning implying that Perhaps Cleopatra's hideous fate was her doing all along? Is he trying to show images of disabled bodies as a punishment? Or is he trying to show Cleopatra as not as frightening as she could be in order to say that there is a way of life with disabilities? Is he implying that being a ‘freak’ is not all that bad, after all?

The Texts:
Some of the texts in the movie made me shiver. They are hard and represent the way disabilities were seen by the general public at the beginning of the 20th century.
The growly peasant refers to the playing freaks with “There must be a law in France to smother such things at birth", definitely represents both the yack factor and the belief that some lives are not worth living. Same does the enigma- What's In The Box? the movie begins with a crowd gathers around an animal pen, eager for the latest sideshow marvel and hears the caution in the tale—
"We told you we had living, breathing monstrosities. You laughed at them, yet but for the accident of birth, you might be even as they are! They did not ask to be brought into the world, but into the world they came."

The idea of disabilities as monstrous: Cleopatra jeers at Hans, calling him "my little green-eyed monster." Or the idea that people with disabilities are bad. As Venus is beginning to warm to Phroso "You're a pretty good kid", he reminds her never to judge by appearances "You're damn right I am. You should have caught me before my operation.”
Browning cast real life “freaks” (a term embraced by the sideshow community and the freaks themselves) in his film. Some of the stories around the production of the movie represent the general attitudes towards people with disabilities at the time. Most famously, F. Scott Fitzgerald, a sometime scriptwriter at MGM, allegedly walked out of the studio cafeteria in disgust when he saw the famous Siamese twins, Daisy, and Violet Hilton, eating there. Another employee recalls “Suddenly, we who were sitting in the commissary having lunch would find ‘Zip the What-Is-It’ sitting at the next table or the Siamese twins who were linked together, and half the studio would empty when they would walk in because the appetites went out”[1]

Some additional food for thought:
The film was problematic at the time of its release. Audiences and critics shunned the film for showcasing actual abnormalities of nature, and it was in some cases banished for decades after its release. An example of the way the film was treated is a review in the New York Times published on July 9th, 1932[2]
“Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer definitely has on its hands a picture that is out of the ordinary. The difficulty is in telling whether it should be shown at the Rialto—where it opened yesterday—or in, say, the Medical Centre. "Freaks" is no normal program film, but whether it deserves the title of abnormal is a matter of personal opinion. Its first audience apparently could not decide, although there was a good bit of applause.”

Later on the movie was marketed as an exploitation film under sensational titles like Forbidden Love and Nature's Mistakes.
But what was so problematic about this film at the time? What was so horrifying, so offensive, that it ruined careers?
Perhaps the problem lies in the fact people used to comfort themselves by breaking down the world into neat binary oppositions, such as Male/Female, Self/Other, Human/Animal, Child/Adult, "freaks" blur the boundaries between these reassuring oppositions. The viewer's horror lies in the recognition that this monstrous being is at the heart of his or her identity. Do we need the freak to confirm our own static, bounded identities? I think there is a certain horror that we may not be as delimited as we think. If the androgynous can transcend traditional gender categories, then perhaps our own genders are more fluid. For many that can be a truly horrifying thought.
Could we look at the wedding scene and rather than seeing the freaks as threatening, see this scene as a celebration of diversity and the monstrous characters here as Hercules and Cleopatra. After all, they are the ones who are plotting against Hans.
In 1932 Browning probably intended to "horrify" with this film, and he succeeded to such an extent that MGM had to pull the film from circulation. Could it be possible that Brownings own view of his disabled actors is more in line with those of ours today? Could he have hoped the movie would humanize the "freaks" of his film for mainstream audiences, portraying what is different as beautiful? Was he just making his film for the wrong audience? Was he ahead of his own time?
‘Freaks' is much more than simply a cinematic sideshow with human abnormalities on display for the masses to point at and ridicule, and much more complicated than a one-note horror story. The film operates on multiple levels, insulting some viewers and fascinating others. No matter how you react to the film, you will react. I see different things in it every time I watch it. To me, the movie and the usage of truly disabled actors in it created something unforgettable that could not and will not ever be matched or replicated; our politically correct world would simply never allow it. For that, we must savor Freaks as a genuine rarity about all that is ugly and beautiful about being human.

[1] Norden, Martin F. The Cinema of Isolation: A History of Physical Disability in the Movies. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1994.