Critical analysis of media representations of disability - Sample Essay
As a society many will say that we have travelled great lengths to achieve the barriers that we have overcome. We now live in a multicultural society were all races can sit, work, drink and live with others from any race, creed, religion or sex that we choose. However, there is still so much that we have not conquered as a society. But who is to blame for this huge weakness within civilisation is anyone to blame or are we all looking for a get out clause because we are ashamed of our own ignorance?
From the moment we are born we begin to take in Knowledge, information all the time whether through sight, touch, smell, tasting or hearing. Day to day we receive snippets of information that we must filter into fact or fiction with the guidance of others. Newspapers, magazines and television are all feeding the world with thoughts, feelings and opinions on life. What we relate to we can challenge but areas we have little or no experience of we grasp and their opinions then become ours and from there on it spreads, creating a virus of inaccuracies. An area that is greatly affected by this is disability a term created by non-other than society itself. Many people have impairments physical, mental and sensory however it is only when they step out into the world does it become a disability and we the disabler.
‘Massumi argues that each person has a limited range of characteristic that he or she broadcasts through his or her body which then is either visually or aurally received by others. These aural or visual images are filtered through the receiver’s preconceived categories of identity. Thus the body is a medium that helps people define each others identity.’ (James Overboe.1999). This assignment seeks to understand what is being presented about disability in the Media through critical analysis of the contradictory messages and reflection’s being created and socially constructed.
The mainstream film industry plays an enormous role in the ‘exotic mode of presentation were the performer is presented in a way that would appeal to the spectators interest in the culturally strange, the primitive, the bestial, the exotic.'(Whittington-Walsh 2002). These roles are often played by actors that do not have the impairment of the character, rather than employing an actor who meets the needs of the character so that the emphasis is on that of the exotic mode as well as the aggrandised mode of presentation which ‘despite particular physical, mental, or behavioural conditions, the performer was an upstanding, high status person with talents of a conventional and socially prestigious nature.’ (Bogdan.1988).
‘We are a culture of mass media consumers. As such, authorities believe that the messages of newspapers, television, and feature-length films have a substantial impact on public attitudes toward individuals with disabilities. While film is often considered a reflection of society, it also serves a critical educational function. Movies can potentially inform the public about the nature of exceptionalities and help shape attitudes required for successful community and educational integration.’ (Stephen P. Safran.1998).
Mainstream film examples of these are Dustin Hoffman as an autistic savant in ‘Rain Man’ or Holly Hunter who plays a person without speech in ‘The Piano’. The list of actors that have portrayed someone with a physical or behavioural disability is remarkable with other actors like Daniel Day-Lewis in ‘My Left Foot’, Tom Hanks in ‘Forrest Gump’, Russell Crowe in ‘A Beautiful Mind’ and Gary Sinise who played a soldier who loses his legs in the war in the infamous ‘Forrest Gump’. There are very few disabled actors and actresses that are given a role of someone with their own disability or a role that does not focus on their disability, even more so if their disability is physical.
However it is not unheard of actor Chris Burke is best known for a character known as Corky, in a television series called ‘Life Goes On’ which he played for four years. Chris Burke was the first person with Down syndrome that starred in a weekly television series this role saw him through to becoming one of America’s favourite personalities. Tom Cruise a very well known and talented actor for which he has received many nominations and awards for best actor has Dyslexia. Patty Duke is an actress that has won three Emmy Awards for made-for-television movies and has manic-depressive disorder.
Mainstream film has amazing influence over society, and therefore have a duty to portray disability as it really is. However most films that show disability have a record of depicting characters that have a disability of having a special gift of some kind, which is in some way put there so that the viewer does not feel too disheartened about the characters misfortune of living life with a disability Whittington (2002) states ‘ as she talks about a well known film with a violent act were a woman becomes disabled that it is ‘a punishment worse than death’. However, people with impairments as with all people, ‘some have talents that could be considered gifts while the rest of the population quietly lives day to day in what would be considered ordinary ways.’ (Whittington.2002).
For the benefit of this assignment I took it upon myself to familiarise myself with the media representation starting with film so I viewed film’s such as Forrest Gump- the main character has mental and physical disability. Rain man- the main character has autism. Along for the ride- the main character has a mental disability. Bubble boy the main character has no immunities and a single germ could kill him.
Fifty first dates – the main character has short-term memory loss. The others- two main characters have a mental disability. To kill a Mockingbird, which is constantly referred to throughout but only appears briefly he is portrayed as artistic and is locked away at home due to a violent outburst as a child. Gothika- the main character is a psychiatrist who becomes mentally disabled and colours of night also has a main character who suffers from multiple personalities.
All the films that I viewed have characters with a mental or a behavioural disability, every character faces isolation at some point during the film whether it is within a hospital or at home. Able-bodied actors or actresses played all characters and most contained very well known famous actors and actresses. I had heard of all of these films apart from colours of night and so the films were a success.