09
Jun
12

Fantastic ableism and disability: managing the monster within

Previously on Space Crip: disability is a social construction. Who is considered disabled depends on culture. In fictitious cultures with sci-fi and fantasy elements, disability can take strange forms, like lycanthropy or not having any supernatural powers in a magical culture.

Today, I wanna talk about characters whose disabilities stem from their struggle to contain their inner monster. Once upon a time, these characters (who are almost always men) followed their primal mythical creature instincts, causing untold death and damage to the Human and monster world. But now, after going through some intense treatment, they have control over their monster instincts and can live like a normal Human. Well, almost. In order to stop the monster from resurfacing, these characters must follow rigid routines and limit the kind of interaction they have with other people. These characters are in a constant state of maintenance; if they slip up or someone interrupts their routine, they could turn into a monstrous killer once again.

For monsters-in-recovery, the impairment is being a mythical creature. Not all mythical creatures are disabled, but monsters-in-recovery are because preventing a relapse and loss of mental control “substantially limits one or more major life activities,” to use the language of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Spoilers for all of Being Human UK and the first season of Grimm.

Let’s do a couple of case studies, starting with Hal from Being Human. Hal is a seriously old Vegetarian Vampire. Context? You ask for context? I’ll show you context, nyuch, nyuch, nyuch. Okay, so, on Being Human, vampires rarely live to see 100 and don’t have to drink blood to survive. Hal, having been turned in the 1500s, is one of the oldest vamps we meet in the show. For the past fifty years, he’s been off blood, living with his best friend Leo the Werewolf and Pearl the Friendly Ghost. Leo and Pearl help Hal maintain a strict rota that keeps him from relapsing. After Pearl and Leo “get their doors” (i.e., pass on to the afterlife), Hal’s carefully controlled life is in upset as he finds himself living with a former vamp-hunting werewolf (Tom), the world’s most powerful ghost (Annie), and her adopted infant daughter (Eve) who is prophesied to save Earth and wipe out the vampires. Hal’s rota is disrupted by his responsibilities as a housemate, namely working in a diner and taking care of little Eve. These new responsibilities cause Hal great anxiety, which is not helped by the interference of a grown-up, ghost Eve from the future who is trying her hardest to tempt Hal into killing baby Eve to prevent the vampire apocalypse.

Hal’s got a lot on his plate.

Throughout series four, Hal is pushed into what the show calls Being Humans–that is, “normal” social interaction and responsibility within the Human world. From the start the show has been about supernatural creatures (a ghost, a vampire, and a werewolf) working to be more Human. In series one, vampire Mitchell goes off the blood, gets a steady job, and tries to make friends in the neighborhood. Likewise, werewolf George gets a regular job (although one he is woefully overqualified for), picks up a few tricks on transforming without hurting anyone, and meets a woman, Nina. Annie works to control her ghost powers so that she can leave the house and appear to Humans. Interestingly, none of these characters end up living as part of Humanity. Mitchell goes back to his old, mass-murdering ways after a nasty break-up. George infects Nina and their attempts at curing themselves fail horribly. Annie becomes invisible to non-supernatural beings once again. In the end, Mitchell, Annie, George, and Nina all die protecting Humanity from the threats of the supernatural world, specifically vampires. By the time George sacrifices himself to save his daughter, Eve,  the possibility of supernaturals Being (rather than Protecting) Human seems rather slim. Yet, a new series brings with it a renewed sense of hope and a return to the admittedly problematic goal of Being Human.

The things necessary to Being Human are not always available, accessible, or even desired by Humans, particularly people with disabilities. Due to ableism, PWD face barriers to leaving their homes (Annie’s goal of S1), participating in community life, and having a job. Many PWD are excluded from the show’s definition of Being Human. The show begins to question its own title from a disability perspective in S4. (In S2, a woman of color’s ability to go out in public and Be Human is dealt with when Annie loses her visibility to Humans after Saul, a man she is seeing, attempts to rape her and drag her into the afterlife. The storyline is by no means perfect. Saul is one of the few men of color to appear on the show and he is portrayed as abusive to women, like Annie’s ex-fiance and murderer, Owen.) Hal’s attempts to manage the monster within manifest as behaviors that are meant to recall obsessive compulsive disorder. Hal is obsessed with cleaning and cleanliness, has to do a series of activities the same way every day, and finds comfort in creating order. Whether or not Hal has OCD or his behaviors accurately reflect the experiences of actual people with OCD are questions best answered by someone with OCD–my point is that Hal is portrayed as having OCD or, at least, Television OCD. Annie and Tom try to be understanding of Hal’s functional limitations (Tom, for instance, gives Hal a bow of matches to reorder, knowing that it would ease his anxiety), however their push for Hal to Be Human ultimately compromises his recovery. Tom ignores Hal’s concerns about relapsing and encourages him to pursue a relationship with Alex. While Cutler is the one who handed Hal the cup of blood and Hal is the one to drink it, Tom and Annie play some small part in Hal’s relapse by not respecting his own estimation of what he can handle as a vampire in recovery. By the end of the series, Hal has fewer spoons to hold back the monster within.

Image description: Image is two screencaps from the pilot episode of Grimm side-by-side. In the left screencap, Monroe, a white man in his forties, stands holding out an open bottle of beer in his right hand. Monroe has short brown hair and a beard and mustache. He wears a buttoned, green, flannel shirt and blue jeans. He looks like a normal Human. In the screencap on the right, Monroe in Blutbad form snarls at something out of frame. His hairs on his head and face stand up on end, taking on a greyish tint. The tips of his ears are pointed. His eyes are red and his eyebrows elongated. His teeth are yellowed. Monroe is wearing blue undershirt, a flannel, and a blue-grey sweater.

Grimm features another supernatural whose boundaries are not always respected. Monroe is a Blutbad, one of the many fairy tale creatures that exist undetected by Humans on the show These creatures, or Wesen as they call themselves, are seen as Humans by Humans, but their true faces can be seen by other Wesen and Grimms, the Humans born into families tasked with defending the Human world from Wesen. Blutbads are like the Big Bad Wolf from Little Red Riding Hood–they have terrible tempers, become enraged by the color red, and like to kidnaps Humans to fatten them up and eat them. Monroe isn’t like most Blutbads–he’s Wieder or reformed. He doesn’t kill Humans or even eat animal meat. He’s able to control his violent urges “through a strict regimen of diet, drugs, and Pilates.” (Pilates as in the form of exercise, not the demon that eats your genitals.) Nick, Portland’s new Grimm, disrupts Monroe’s solitary and routine life, calling and showing up at his house at all hours asking for help. Like Hal, Monroe relapses in part due to his friends’ disregard for his routine. In Monroe’s case, the catalyst for a brief return to his wolfy ways comes in the form of a former flame and Blutbad wild child, Angelina. She definitely falls into the archetype of woman of ill repute seducing righteous man to wickedness. If we look at things sideways and from a Blutbad’s perspective, Nick is the bad boy seducing the choir boy (the wieders have their own church). In any case, both Nick and Angelina disrespect Monroe’s boundaries.

After Angelina hits the road, Nick and Monroe’s relationship moves towards a mutual friendship/hero-sidekick deal. Nick displays the enormous trust he has in Monroe by letting him enter Aunt Marie’s trailer. (That’s not a euphemism, but Monroe-the-Wesen consensually penetrating Nick-the-Grimm’s special place is mighty symbolic. I’m not even going to get into Adalind attacking Juliette with her pussy… cat.) Monroe appreciates this trust and all of Nick’s phallic symbols medieval weaponry. Monroe is much more interested in Grimm work now that antiques and esoterica are involved. Monroe spends less time in his little house with beloved objects and more time outside fighting crime. Monroe still loves his Pilates and vegetarian sausage, but I’d say he’s found additional ways of managing the monster within: sublimation and redemption. He’s gone the Angel route: protecting the sentient prey he used to hunt. Monroe has found a new hobby (with Doppelarmbrüste!) that lessens the guilt that makes him more likely to fall off the wagon.

Coping methods FTW.

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Space Crip

People with disabilities? In my sci-fi? It's more likely than you think.

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