Archive Page 2

26
Oct
12

The “Ethics” of TNG-era Imperialism and Ableism

Warning: this post contains discussion of suicide and euthanasia. Spoilers for the TNG episodes, “Ethics,” “Too Short a Season,” and “The Loss,” and for the DS9 episode, “Melora.”

Image: a screencap from “Ethics” of Worf lying on a bed in sickbay, looking up at Riker.

In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, “Ethics,” Mr. Worf acquires a spinal cord injury while on-duty that partially paralyzes him, leaving him unable to walk. By Klingon tradition, he is obligated to commit ritual suicide (hegh’bat) because he can no longer stand to face his enemies in battle. Dr. Crusher and a visiting doctor with a shady ethical record work to cure Worf, while Riker battles with the role Worf has asked him to play in the suicide ritual—namely handing Worf the knife. The episode comes down to Worf undergoing an experimental procedure that will either cure or kill him. The Status Quo being God (despite the promise the series made when it killed off Tasha Yar), Worf is cured and back to his able-bodied self by the end of the episode.

It’s fairly obvious what the Official Disability Rights Opinion™ on this episode would be: the Klingon tradition of hegh’bat is wrong. People with disabilities can live fulfilling lives if society lets them. Picard and Riker articulate this Opinion™ quite plainly in the episode.

And while I certainly agree that hegh’bat is wrong, this is Star Trek. The Official Disability Rights Opinion™ isn’t enough to understand what’s going on. We gotta bring in critiques of racism, colonialism, and the Western concept of the independent individual—critiques that come from the work performed by women of color in transnational feminist theory and activism.

In other words, this post is gonna acknowledge that Klingons don’t appear to have a very progressive position on disability, but mainly it’s gonna turn around and look at the hypocrisy in Picard and Riker’s moral high ground regarding hegh’bat. And to do this we have to look at one of the major problems I have with TNGContinue reading ‘The “Ethics” of TNG-era Imperialism and Ableism’

07
Sep
12

Reaction Post: “Asylum of the Daleks”

Doctor Who made its return to television last weekend with “Asylum of the Daleks,” Nu!Who’s latest attempt to bring back the Daleks and make them scary again. In this episode, Moff tries to freshen up the Daleks by introducing an entire planet full of insane Daleks. Beyond blatantly capitalizing on ableist fears of people with mental illnesses as senselessly violent, this episode’s disability fail makes the Doctor–if he even is the Doctor anymore–look like a complete monster once again.

I must admit that I might be more disappointed with this episode from a disability perspective than other like-minded (read: awesome) individuals, because I went into the episode believing (hoping, really) that the story would be quite different than it turned out to be. Based on promos of thousands of Daleks yelling, “SAVE THE DALEKS” at the Doctor, and an episode synopsis saying the Doctor and the Ponds would go on a scary mission inside a Dalek asylum, I assumed (dreamed, hoped, wished fervently) that the Doctor would stumble upon a Dalek mental institution, where the conditions would be deplorable in true Dalek fashion (but relatable enough to Human mental institutions so as to make a meaningful parallel to how Humans treat people with mental illnesses), and be asked to liberate the Daleks with disabilities from their incarceration. The Doctor would hem and haw. “I’m the Doctor; I don’t go around helping the Daleks.” And then Amy would say something like, “You’re the Doctor and that’s why you need to help these Daleks.” The Doctor would swoop in, do his hero bit, and everyone would live happily ever after. It’s not a completely unproblematic story I imagined. It still had an able-bodied hero saving characters with disabilities, who are cast as largely helpless… unless…. Unless the Daleks in the asylum purposefully led the Doctor there to appeal to his sense of mercy, using the stereotype of disabled people as pitiful and harmless to their advantage to get the Doctor to do what they want. Anyway… whatever I imagined for the episode did not happen.

What happened was truly horrific.

Continue reading ‘Reaction Post: “Asylum of the Daleks”’

23
Jul
12

Twin Peaks: Manufacturing Quirkiness… and Danger

Warning: this post contains discussions of rape, child sexual abuse, and incest. Spoilers for Twin Peaks and Fire Walk with Me.

For those of you who don’t know, Twin Peaks is a cult drama that ran for two seasons from 1990-1991. In simple terms, the show is about the ripples created in a small Washington town after homecoming queen Laura Palmer is found dead. FBI agents come to town, secrets are revealed, new secrets are created, and everyone gets involved in at least one or two love triangles. Despite being a crime drama/primetime soap opera, Twin Peaks featured a lot of spiritual or supernatural elements and mysteries that would lay the groundwork for series like LOSTCarnivàle, and even Fringe (in which “science” becomes its own type of spirituality that allows people to share consciousness, speak to the dead, and transport souls). However, Twin Peaks will probably be remembered most for being weird, popularizing the Quirky Town trope through the town of Twin Peaks, and delving into some pretty weird shit in the spiritual realm (i.e., the Black Lodge, the Red Room). How the series creates this aura of quirkiness and weirdness is suspect.

Let’s start with the Quirky Town trope. As anyone knows, Quirky Towns are made up of Eccentric Townsfolk. On Gilmore Girls, Stars Hollow, the quirkiness capital of Connecticut, is home to Kirk (who holds a different job each episode), a troubadour, and Miss Patty (grand dame of dance and frequent name-dropper) just to name a few. Watching Twin Peaks, the purported mecca of Eccentric Townsfolk, I was struck by how very few residents were quirky compared to other Quirky Towns. I admit this is my own perception of the show colored by my own personal experiences. So why did I read Twin Peaks residents as less eccentric than I expected given the show’s hype? I can think of three possible reasons: 1. I grew up watching shows inspired by Twin Peaks‘ Quirky Town-ness that turned the trope up to 11 (e.g., Gilmore Girls). 2. I am weirder than the people of Twin Peaks and therefore find them normal. 3. I don’t find people with disabilities quirky or eccentric just for having disabilities. In my opinion, Twin Peaks tries to create of an aura of quirkiness by having a lot of characters with disabilities. How many? Let’s break it down.

Continue reading ‘Twin Peaks: Manufacturing Quirkiness… and Danger’

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.

Continue reading ‘Fantastic ableism and disability: managing the monster within’

02
Jun
12

Spock the Super Hybrid and the Problems with Hybrid Vigor

Spock–is there anything that motherfucker can’t do?

Seriously, the man has not met a computer he couldn’t fix, a foe he couldn’t neutralize, or a mind he couldn’t meld. The only game he ever lost at is pon farr (which, I imagine, is why many Trekkies have such a hate boner for T’Pring) and even then he technically won at the kal-if-fee. (You might argue that Spock failed the Kobayashi Maru at the end of Wrath of Khan, but I’d say coming back from the dead counts as a pass.)

Spock’s vegetarian, Plomeek-infused awesome sauce unfortunately falls into a trope known in the biology world as hybrid vigor, which refers to “superior” offspring created by members of two different species mating. Optimally, the wee baby animal will have all of the strengths of mommy animal’s species and daddy animal’s species with few or none of the two species’ shortcomings. Spock has the supersmarts, strength, and long lifespan of a Vulcan and the adaptability and innovative thinking of a Human. Now, why’s this hybrid vigor business a bad thing again? Well, as I’m sure you’ve realized by now, alien species on Star Trek represent different nations and ethnoracial groups, and, even when it’s not entirely clear what group of real life Earth people a given Star Trek alien species is supposed to correspond to, interspecies interactions and conflict are metaphors for intercultural/racial tensions and cooperations. (Which makes that scene where Wesley Crusher asks a new Benzite crewmember how people of his species tell each other apart really messed up. Shut up, Wesley.) In Star Trek logic, Spock’s hybrid vigor results from metaphorical race-mixing.

Continue reading ‘Spock the Super Hybrid and the Problems with Hybrid Vigor’

25
May
12

Why Scorpius is Awesome, part 2 of infinity: He’s one kinkoid motherfreller

Hello, readers. I’ve been bad; I haven’t posted in several weeks. Sorry about that. The blog and I have been very busy in real life (the space between computers). I got to meet Judith Heumann, a big disability rights activist who was one of the leaders of the 1977 occupation of the old Federal Building in San Francisco. We spoke a little about the blog and she asked me to link to it on her Facebook page, which was a very surreal, very early 21st century moment, you know, having this civil rights giant who won you all these rights before you were born ask to link your blog about disabled aliens on a social networking website. What’s next? Elizabeth Cady Stanton asking me to friend her on foursqaure? (I would decline; my feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit.) Anywho… I spoke at two symposia about the blog, Scorpius’ sex life, and how fans know more about sci-fi/fantasy than “scholarly” writers. At my department’s graduation, I got to talk about blogging as an accessible form of activism for nerds with disabilities. And then most astonishingly, I won my department’s Special Award for Excellence in Research and Senior Honors Thesis for writing this blog. Yeah. Shocked me, too. I honestly hope my mom’s clapping covered up me saying, “Holy shit,” as I walked up to get the certificate.

Enough about me. Today, I wanna give you folks the extended, unrated, director’s cut version of what I talked about at those two symposia.

One of the more pervasive stereotypes about people with disabilities is that disabled folks are asexual. PWD have worked to dispel this myth, but most mainstream efforts have come off about as subtle as a disabled cisgender guy getting up on top of a table and shouting, “I HAVE MADE SEX WITH MANY WOMEN IN THE VAGINA.” In the autobiographical-musical film, Tell Them I’m a Mermaid, the women have an extended rap session about how much they want the peen a man to love them. This display of heterosexual desire is particularly egregious given that many of those women are lesbians. Have you heard about The Surrogate starring John Hawkes and Helen Hunt? It’s the second film about Berkeley poet Mark O’Brien to portray him as 100% heterosexual 100% cisgender dudebro (at least, base on the buzz surrounding the film). Apparently, when looking through O’Brien’s work at Bancroft Library, the director of The Surrogate skipped over the poems about O’Brien’s gender dysphoria and preference for Black men. My point: attempts to portray disabled sexuality have far too often been portrayals of disabled heterosexuality that do little to challenge heteronormativity, i.e. the way that “traditional” man-woman relationships are highly valued and understood as the building block of society.

Enter Scorpius.

Trigger Warning: ableism, violence against people with disabilities, sexual assault, BDSM roleplay

Continue reading ‘Why Scorpius is Awesome, part 2 of infinity: He’s one kinkoid motherfreller’

25
Apr
12

Episode Recap: “Virtual Systems Analysis,” the Fears of Abed the Undiagnosable

Spoilers for Community through “Virtual Systems Analysis”

Patterning characters after popular perceptions of Asperger’s syndrome has become an easy way for television writers to show that a character is quirky and super-smart (see Bones, Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory, and Sherlock on the BBC programme). Very rarely however do these characters experience any of the downsides of being on the autism spectrum. They don’t have to deal with discrimination. Failing to fill the expectations of a neurotypical world is met with canned laughter rather than abuse, loss of autonomy, or murder.

Image: a screepcapture of Abed Nadir in Community’s “Virtual Systems Analysis.” Abed is a thin man in his mid-twenties of Palestinian-Polish descent. He has short black hair and brown eyes. His wears a white t-shirt with a blue and purple flannel shirt over it. He holds a binder to his chest while carrying a messenger bag slung over his shoulder. Abed’s head is quirked to his right as he stares unsmilingly.

Abed from Community, however, portrays being ambiguously “on the spectrum” (to use his own words) beyond comedy. Okay, I know what you’re thinking (I really can; it’s my Disability Superpower), “Why are you so pleased about a disability being a source of tragedy? Isn’t this the kind of thing we want to move away from?” And to you, hypothetical reader-people, I say, yes, kinda sorta. I obviously don’t want stories where disability is OMG the worst thing ever and limits characters from ever doing anything. But I also don’t want stories where disability is just a source of comedy. Let’s be real: having an impairment and being disabled can really suck sometimes, but other times it’s really fucking funny. I want stories that acknowledge that. Community does.

(Community also acknowledges that autistic people of color exist. Characters with quirky-smart-Asperger’s are almost uniformly white. So, not only are those portrayals ignoring the discrimination faced by people with ASD, but they’re feeding into this stereotype of ASD as something that only happens to white people. Which is deeply, deeply frelled in a world where autistic people of color are killed for being autistic people of color.)

I wanna take a microt right now before we get into the nitty-gritty to address something important. Talking about autism spectrum disorders on a disability blog is messy. Some autistics don’t consider themselves disabled; others do. I’m not on the autism spectrum, so it’s not my place to take sides in this debate. I’m gonna talk about Abed’s experience of ableism as a character with an ASD who also has unspecified (and likely undiscovered) mental impairment. Not all of Abed’s Abed-ness can be contained under the label of autism–that’s what makes him Abed the Undiagnosable.

Continue reading ‘Episode Recap: “Virtual Systems Analysis,” the Fears of Abed the Undiagnosable’




Space Crip

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