MED2201: Cultural Representations and the Media
CW2: 3,000-word essay
‘The “problem” is not the person with the disabilities; the problem is the way that normalcy is constructed to create the “problem” of the disabled person’ (Davis: 2013:1). Critically analyse this statement in relation to two examples from either film, television or advertising.
Consistently in the media, too often individuals with a disability are portrayed as figures to be ‘pitied’
and, as a result, there was ‘so little representation of people with disabilities living normal lives that
they have quite accurately been referred to as the invisible minority’ (Nelson,1999). The first time that
an individual with a noticeable disability appeared in film was in 1898 in Fake Beggar, when an
individual with a physical deterioration was exposed in a short fragment of a film for a duration of fifty
seconds. Shortly after this first presentation, disability became a comedic trope, which goes back to
the slapstick comedy days of the silent film era which has been a staple since this era, displaying the
individuals with the disabilities as ‘abnormal’ or for them to be portraying villains in dramas.
Individuals that are disabled, the families that care for the disabled and even the audience have been
given an inaccurate view in what the media do to shape our perception, which results in an
unauthentic representation that doesn’t help audiences understand the individuals first. The media
have constructed what ‘abnormal’ and normalcy is to create the “problem” of not dealing with the
disabled person, but representing them through minority roles, or used in slapstick comedy to be
made fun of. Tropic Thunder (2008), directed by Ben Stiller, entails a subset film (a film within a film)
where a group of struggling actors are constructing a movie that is set in the Vietnam War. Stiller plays
the role of Tugg Speedman, an actor who is portraying ‘Simple Jack’. Simple Jack is repeatedly being
mocked as a ‘retard’ by his co-stars, as he is slow and a mentally challenged character. The term
‘retard’ is a derogatory word that is still used today, with people that sickeningly call individuals these
words as a mockery to consider them as slow or dumb. Overtime our understanding of disability and
what it means has shifted from confusion and exclusion of disabilities to us considering them and
treating them as individuals, which shows that we don’t define a person with a disability anymore, we
treat that as part of who they are. Within the essay, the more recent film and contemporary texts I
will be discussing are The Theory of Everything (2014) and The A Word (2016-2017) that deal with the
diagnosis’ of their disabilities and what this will mean for not only themselves but the families coming
to terms with this realisation.
Within the article ‘Disabling Imagery and the Media’ (Barnes:1992: pg.1-29) Barnes discusses the
commonly recurring media stereotypes where individuals with disabilities are...