The Cripples as Social Commentary

April 20, 2010

It is often the case in cultural depictions of the disability that the disabled are represented as being upon the fringes of society.  Bruegel’s The Cripples exemplifies this mode of representation.  However, where many depictions may evoke sympathy or pity for the disabled, or perhaps may present the disabled as suffering for their sins, Bruegel takes a different approach.  In The Cripples, Bruegel portrays this group of disabled people in a ridiculous and slightly contemptible vein.

The beggars here do not appear to be simply congregating; rather they seem to be performing, as the far left figure shows by being airborne.  The second figure has his tongue out of his mouth in a silly gesture with one leg raise highly.  The inscription that is on the back of the painting, according to the Louvre, shows the contemptible manner in which they are held:  “Cripples, take heart, and may your affairs prosper.The snide comment needs little elaboration.

The man in the background is interesting.  He appears to be disinterested in the cripples, ignoring them as commonplace and perhaps something to be avoided.  He stays close to the wall and does not allow his eyes to wander.  The beggar to the far right appears to be facing him, perhaps asking for alms or the like.

The background is also interesting.  It appears the beggars are either in the courtyard of some building, perhaps a monastery or hospital, or they are just outside the building.  It would appear that as there is no one around except our passerby that the beggars are to a certain degree tolerated.

The Cripples provides an interesting view into how the sixteenth century viewed cripples as part of the social dynamic.  This piece specifically portrays them as somewhat of a nuisance, but a nuisance that is a part of everyday life.  It is a piece that is not concerned so much with a moral lesson as other portrayals of the disabled are, but rather it is concerned with this particular group of society as a group.


Preconceptions in Murderball

April 20, 2010

In popular depictions of disability, the disabled are shown to be in conflict with adversity, which can range from social reintegration to personal adjustments.  These tropes are common to many portrayals and can be easily distinguished.   In Murderball, however, we come across a group of young men who defy these pre-conceived notions of disability and provide an interesting perspective to their particular status.  The story offers a refreshing and interesting perspective that serves not only to show these particular young men in their lives as disabled people but also to question the preconceptions we bring to portrayals of disability.

Murderball shows a group of quadriplegics who, contrary to our expectations, are not only active in a particular sport but a contact sport that looks anything but safe.  The sport they play, which is based off of rugby, is rough and looks dangerous; this is exacerbated by the fact that none of the players are wearing any protective gear aside from their wheelchairs.  The first time we see a person go down is a bit shocking, the reaction being something like:  “Well, you’re not supposed to knock down a disabled person.”  These are, of course, the perceptions the athletes are trying to turn on upside down.  Although, they are very much in the realm of the super-crib category of disability, the outlook of the film is refreshingly original.

The athletes do not only play rough, they have the mouths to accompany the rough image they are trying to give.  There are portions in the film where if one were to listen to the audio only, they would be surprised to hear this sort of talk coming from quadriplegics (what high standards we have for them!), especially the conversations regarding their sexual activities, something which, like typical jocks, they are not the least bit shy in discussing.  Some of them, like Mark Zupan, the person on whom most of the documentary revolves, are quite brazen in their macho talk:  “Fuckin’ hit me, I’ll hit you back.”

These men present an interesting paradox.  Although, in the film, we can see these people are in wheelchairs, they act and speak in such a brazen manner that, as mentioned previously, if one did not already know they were quadriplegics by watching the video, one would find this hard to swallow.  The athletes make it quite clear that simply because they are disabled does not mean they can’t enjoy things that others do like sex or rugby.

Murderball provides a fresh outlook on disability.  It certainly helps to break down the pre-conceived notions of quadriplegics as a uniform group.  This film will help others to understand that disability is not necessarily something to be fixed or overcome, but rather it is a perspective and a way of life.  For these young men, it is an opportunity.

Ron’s Disconnect with Society

March 30, 2010

In Oliver Stone’s Born on the Fourth of July, the protagonist, Ron Kovic, returns home to find an America quite different from the one he left.  The reception he receives not only from friends and strangers, but his own family, is not the one he expected nor is he pleased with the way others view him or his disability.  The three scenes that best illustrate this are his initial reception home, the conversation with his family at dinner and his conversation with his ex-girlfriend, though he does not at first realize this status, Donna.

From the moment that Ron exits his father’s car and sits in his wheelchair, we are already given a glimpse of the divide Ron will face as the camera quickly changes to the children playing in the street.  Yet, instead of playing they are frozen, staring at Ron, and we see the ball they were playing with roll away ignored.  As his family comes out one by one and greets him they all express their joy at his return as everyone, family and neighbors, are only able to muster “You look good!” to Ron.  However, we can sense the uneasiness as Ron’s brother looks at Ron, while he is not looking, as something puzzling, foreign, and strange.

It is this same brother with whom Ron will have a heated argument, though the conversation is one-sided, at dinner.  As Ron laments the reception he and other veterans have received and excoriates the people who disagree with the war, Ron’s brother leaves the table.  After Ron is told by his sister that his brother disagrees with the war, Ron proceeds to interrogate him, demanding to know if his brother is ashamed.  His brother’s reply is harsh and sets Ron off even further:

“All they are saying Ronny is that they don’t want more people to come back like you…You served your country.  What did you get out of it?  Look at you.  Look at you, man.  I gotta go.  I’ll see you around, alright?”

All Ron can respond is with more vehemence as he is incredulous at the way he is treated by his own brother.  This shows the how broad the disconnect between Ron and society at large is.

Ron’s encounter with Donna also serves to highlight the changes in society.  Donna is a highly involved individual who, though she is happy to see Ron, has moved on to another relationship, and to other goals.  Ron does not initially realize this.  When they reach the steps leading into the Donna’s building, Ron’s wheelchair is stopped by the first step.  This symbolizes the end of his relationship with Donna.  He cannot pursue her into the building.  He cannot ascend to the steps to take his place with her.  He has seemingly reached his social limits.

That Ron has trouble adjusting to life after his injury is not simply related to his disability.  However, his disability emphasizes the divide between this new society and himself.  Ron must adapt to a world that has changed without him.