Recent Controvery Around Disability & Media: PC Gone Mad Or Rightful Call-Outs?

Just this week, I’ve heard of two instances where people called out media companies for portrayals that marginalize the disabled. The game Assassin’s Creed Valhalla has received backlash for using the term “disfigured” to describe a burn victim’s face. The film Witches has been criticized because the main antagonist, a witch, has hands that resemble those of a person with Ectrodactylyl or “split hands.” Many people might ask, Seriously?! We’re going after FANTASY now? What a joke. Well, I’d like to share my two cents…and, hopefully, you won’t think I’m a milk sop by the end. 😉

BTW, I got this idea from a great post by Caz at Invisibly Me, who writes about invisible chronic illnesses. Her article mostly raises questions, and as I perused the opinions of other commenters and left my own, I decided this would make a good post!

Before we start: Google search them if you don’t believe me, but most articles on this game and film are unrelated to disability. As you read, remember that these criticisms don’t override the generally positive fan reception to these properties. [In other words, we don’t need to feel sorry for them–they are doing just fine, haha.]

Why people are reacting negatively to this media…or to those making the complaints

The world is your oyster, little one. ♥

People point out these issues because they perpetuate stigma against those who are handicapped or somehow “different” (ex: missing limbs, a humped back, extreme scars or birthmarks–you get the picture). Up to the last half-century or so, many disabled people were hidden away and disregarded. Thanks to general societal progression and also the internet (#1 way to spread awareness), we better understand access and inclusion and are learning to view the disabled as autonomous human beings worthy of respect and the pursuit of happiness. Thus, media which excludes or marginalizes the disabled (along with other groups) is getting called out more and more.

But, on the flip side, many feel this is getting out of hand. Cancel culture and political correctness are often unforgiving and even unnuanced. As some say, we’re “offended by everything” now.

“Othering” villains and the origin/meaning of art

In the comment section of Caz’s post, one blogger said, “Stories have always ‘othered’ villains, and it likely won’t stop anytime soon.” This is accurate and problematic.

Many argue that the fantasy realm should be off limits to PC meddling. For God’s sake, it’s a fictional story with totally made-up characters! Consider this: whatever the art form or setting, it’s exclusively made by human beings. It’s worth reflecting on why we create the art we do–the conclusions could be telling.

The observation that villians have always been “othered” puts this subject in better perspective. Though we now see it critiqued here and there, the issue actually spans throughout history and across cultures. Art, from an overarching standpoint, reflects the human experience. Despite our infinitely varied circumstances, we all recognize love, fear, stress, joy, awe, etc. Hero vs. villain stories are practically foundational to storytelling. There are a few hero archetypes, but they are generally brave (or become brave); this reflects what most people strive/wish to be–someone with courage to stand for justice, help others, and do the right thing. So, what does the “othered” villian archetype represent? Perhaps that we subconciously fear and mistrust people who aren’t like us?

My conclusions

Being a wheelchair user greatly influences my opinions here. It’s literally a common phenomenon in the FA community for patients to resist assistice devices through countless falls, public humiliation, crippling self-conciousness, etc. Displaying a physical marker of disability is that stigmatized. I know someone who barely survived a house fire as a child, and she struggled with immeasurable insecurity for her entire youth–all because she looked “different.”

A couple concessions: Putting parameters around art, even well-intentioned ones, can stifle creativity. It’s also worth mentioning that, for many “othered” villains, the “othering” heavily contributes to their character’s nefarious motives.

Comment below: what does this convey to you?

That said, I don’t think it’s petty to raise these criticisms; in fact, I assert it’s important. It’s not morally wrong to enjoy Assassin’s Creed Valhalla or Witches or other problematic depictions of the disabled or “different.” But let’s at least discuss it. Going further, let’s analyze our own subconcious biases and reflect on why we make or enjoy the art we do. Going even further, let’s contemplate what art in general says about its creators.

Thanks for reading! What’s your two cents? Let me know in the comments. BTW, I may or may not take a break for Thanksgiving week (depends how it goes), so if I don’t post next week–Happy Thanksgiving! 🙂 God bless you all.

5 comments

  1. Hi Lily,

    In my advocacy work I protect Disability Rights as much as I can but we have to realize that the world will never be perfect and we cannot take every little thing so personally. There is a difference between prohibiting rights and just people wanting to be unhappy. Yes education and collaboration is always needed but not everything is meant to be offensive.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am old enough to remember the Americans with Disabilities Act being passed under President George H. W. Bush. That was in the late 1980s so it wasn’t all that long ago. SO much more needs to be done to raise awareness and ‘normalize’ having people who are different because of physical limitations among us.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m really glad you tackled this too, and thanks for referring to my post! I must admit I hadn’t seen anything about the Assassin’s Creed backlash, so I’ll investigate that a bit more. I wanted to be a little more objective in mine on The Witches to gather the thoughts of others rather than do an opinion piece myself. I suppose in my case it’s because I see both sides of the argument, but I don’t have ‘limb abnormalities’, so I can only do my best to empathise but it still doesn’t directly and personally affect me.

    That said, there are plenty of things that do in films and TV. The bulimic girl, the ‘double ass’ stoma joke that wasn’t funny in an American TV series, the Mickey-taking of chronic pain.

    I have to wonder where the line would be drawn, however, if we reach into the fictional world for critique of moral causes and the need for inclusivity and awareness. I’m 100% for these things, absolutely, but I’ve known plenty of instances in the news where someone’s kicked off about something I’ve thought has been a case of political correctness gone mad. You make some really excellent points here and I like your view of art – “Art, from an overarching standpoint, reflects the human experience”. If only directors used art to change social misconceptions, to challenge stereotypes and squash down stigma.

    Whether you agree with the backlash against the likes of The Witches or not, it raises interesting and important issues. It’s a learning curve and sadly points towards far deeper issues that haven’t been addressed in entertainment, media and society.

    Fab post!
    Caz xx

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I face disability every day in my family in different varieties. My wife has cerbral palsy and I have a collection of ailments (Lymphoedema, Arthritis, Brain function problems). So often we encounter discrimination either overtly or subtly. It is encouraging to see folks standing up against the media in their misrepresentations of disability. God bless you!

    Like

  5. I personally think that many people who have a particular disability may be offended because a character may not directly be representing a particular disability at all but mass society who potentially have never had any interactions with someone who has that disability or disfigurement may think negatively about a person because their only point of reference is a villain or a character who was written and portrayed by able-bodied people who have very limited research into that particular disability and therefore can’t encompass all the little nuances of that disability.

    Like

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