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Less the heroes of our stories than the villains of some other bastard’s

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Jack Graham

Jack Graham wrote about Doctor Who and Marxism, often at the same time. These days he co-hosts the I Don't Speak German podcast with Daniel Harper.Support Jack on Patreon.

6 Comments

  1. Anonymous
    October 25, 2013 @ 9:53 am

    I wonder whether there's an element of that thing where people see physical disability and they imagine mental disability on top of it? Because comparisons of people with sufficiently serious mental disabilities and children with respect to sex are… well… I don't understand the issues well enough to say, but it's definitely more complicated. If it is nonsense, it's a lot less obviously nonsense.

    Perhaps the instinct comes from this, and then, people don't recognise that instinct because when you actually think 'mental disability' in this case, it's so obviously untrue, so they look for other ways to resolve the dissonance and explain this instinctive feeling.

    ('Disability' seems a far less scary word than 'disabled'. I guess the problem is that while 'disability' is a fairly objective term for a category of things which make people not able to do certain things, 'disabled' risks defining people by their disability.)

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  2. Jack Graham
    October 25, 2013 @ 12:02 pm

    My issue with the term 'disabled' (and I'm far from original here) is that it misses the social aspect to the construction of 'disability'. To be crude about it: someone in a wheelchair cannot reach the food on the high shelf of the supermarket… not just because their legs don't work but also because society has decided that vital things that people want can be stored on shelves too high for a significant portion of the population to reach. The social world we have created – with all its shelves and architecture and buses and attitudes – is part of how 'disability' is created. The supermarket is a good example, not just practically (and I used to work in one) but also because it links this to 'the market', which is how we distribute goods. If society distributed goods by putting them inside safes that could only be opened by singing tunefully, I'd suddenly be 'disabled'.

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  3. Kapitano
    October 26, 2013 @ 2:39 pm

    On the social constuction of 'disability':

    Under capitalism, a disabled person is someone whose body prevents them in some way from being a productive worker.

    A woman who can't have children, or a man with erectile dysfunction, aren't considered 'disabled', because although they can't make new workers, they can still work.

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  4. SpaceSquid
    October 29, 2013 @ 4:01 am

    To whatever extent that line is a problem, it strikes me as being so not because Elton mentions having a love life, but because he does it without asking Ursula whether she's OK with having the personal details of their sex life announced to total strangers. This is almost totally divorced from the specific circumstances of Ursula's new life, other than the fact that a man basically saying "My girlfriend suffered an accident and is now disabled, but I still get blowjobs" strikes me as pretty crass thing to say, particularly when his girlfriend hasn't cleared the idea ahead of time.

    It's a problem compounded by Elton not turning Ursula to camera so that she can join in the conversation; the result comes across to me as a little bit too much like Elton speaking for his girlfriend, without her necessarily wanting him to, at least on some topics.

    One could argue Henderson's performance takes a lot of the edge off the above; she doesn't seem too bothered by Elton's slip-up. And yes, pointing Ursula towards the camera would undermine the 'unreliable narrator' approach. Those are both arguments one could pick at, but whatever. My point is that there is at least a possible problem here, and one that exists completely separately of any prudery or subconcious problem with 'disabled' people still having sex lives.

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  5. jane
    October 30, 2013 @ 2:01 pm

    I'm not sure this is all that problematic, Squid. First off, Elton isn't so crass as to say he "gets blowjobs" — he says they have "a bit of a sex life," which is ambiguous; we can only fill in what that might mean from our imaginations, most typically relying on the cinematic context, and we don't actually have to fill in more specificity at all.

    Secondly, Ursula does get a chance to respond. No, she doesn't face the camera, but we hear her voice; she is a part of the conversation, and she issue a mild corrective. Given that she seems inclined towards privacy, I can't fault Elton for not turning her towards the camera (considerations for unreliable narration aside — Ursula could very well not be a slab at all, but simply speaking off camera, and we have evidence she's been behind the camera before) as that too would be a breach of her privacy.

    We really do have to respect Henderson's portrayal in this scene — at least, if we want to increase our respect for the agency of those overcoming their 'disabilities' and having the right to speak for themselves without being constantly second-guessed.

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  6. SpaceSquid
    October 31, 2013 @ 10:36 am

    I agree that filling in isn't something that has to be done, but it's not clear to me that isn't the intent of the line as written. It reads to me like a stab at plausible deniability stemming from the show's timeslot, not a deliberate gap into which a person merely pours in their own attitude.

    The idea of it being a breach of Ursula's privacy to turn her around… that's very interesting. That idea had never occurred to me. It occurs that this idea might lead to a new discussion about the issues of portraying a 'disabled' person -as written by someone not 'disabled' – as not wanting to be seen, but that's a consideration so far out of my personal experience that I don't feel qualified to do any more than note it.

    As I say, I agree entirely that Henderson's portrayal is very helpful in mitigating problems, but it's not clear to me as to why that should completely override other concerns. If you wouldn't mind, it would be helpful if you could expand. Is it something in the specific nature of Henderson's portrayal here, or are you referencing a broader point?

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