Preconceptions in Murderball

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.

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