Tag Archive: Disability


2017 is already half way through. A lot has happened this year; There´s been marching for Science and Women´s rights. Wonder Woman finally got her own live action movie. The Midterm election 2018 in the US is coming up. And the UK begins the stumble out of the EU with seemingly no plan. Since a little over a year has gone by, it seems like a good time to share some great books that are yearned to be discovered already this year.

1. ”Inexcusable” by Chris Lynch: This 2005 young adult novel centers on a teenage boy named Keir, who considers himself a proper, honest guy. The book starts with Keir arguing with a girl named Gigi, who accuses Keir of raping her, which Keir considers impossible, due to his (according to him) good nature and due to the fact that he loves Gigi. Thus Keir decides to set the record straight.

The chapters alternate between the present and the past with the voice of Keir narrating the kaleidoscope of temporal slices. His story is comprised of misbegotten attempts to explain his reputation, his actions and emphasizes his own wounded state. The language and tone of the narration is distinctive and memorable. Lycnh uses the trope of the unreliable narrator to raise questions of self-image, consent, violence and masculinity. While following Keir´s story, the book tackles and deconstructs ideals and norms regarding ”good guys”, abusers and how both are viewed in society. ”Inexcusable” tells us something that our black and white, victim-blaming society often neglects: that rape and sexual assault occurs much more frequently than we would like to admit, and is committed by what the social order wants only to dismiss as the ordinary behavior of men and boys. This book is perfect for lovers of unreliable narrators or for those interested in the issue of toxic masculinity. A brave book, with an also twisty narration to make for a great reading experience.

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2. ”Signs Preceding the End of the world” (2015) by Yuri Herrera: This slim volume of a novel is about Makina, a tough girl living in a crime-filled small town in Mexico. The book opens with Makina getting a request from her mother; that she go find her brother who migrated to the US and who dropped out of contact with the family thereafter. Makina embarks on her quest crossing the US/Mexican border without papers, encountering the world of the tentative and shadowy, a world where the immigrants face many dangers and strange characters.

Signs preceding the end of the world” tackles immigration and borders from a surrealistic, dark view. Makina throughout the book shows a strong, rough side and brutally defends herself against the many trails of racism, sexism and the place of the invisible other. Along her journey to find her brother Makina places herself as a handmaiden of help to many of the numerous people she encounters on her quest (including, even those who have shown her evil both ethically and sexually) and takes from even her meager and slight actions and possessions to be generous to all she encounters in her travels. Makina is a rare type of female character one encounters not often in standard literature or as protagonist in our normative culture: a tough, fiercely independent person who doesn´t let her independence make her indifferent to others around her. Makina is meant as a protagonist outside of the self- centeredness of our individually based culture who embodies a genuinely nice person who is simultaneously steadfast and believes in herself while not taking from others. With Makina as the pivot of this optimism of the possibility of social responsibility, the book shows how much violence, hatred and despair immigrants crossing borders have to endure and makes us wonder at the uselessness of this suffering.

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Not ignored in the text is the disconnection and separation that families experience by the growing machinations of neoliberal inequality which pressure the migrations while instigating nationalist crowds to blame the migrant community for problems created by this. Makina´s narration shows the gap created in social and income instability between her brother and the rest of the family, as well as high lights what the actual face global income inequality looks like in the midst of a community it raptures. The book packs a great punch despite it´s size.

The author, Yuri Herrera, lives in the US, writes in Spanish, and was born in Mexico, making this book somewhat #ownvoices.

3. ”El Deafo” (2014) by Cece Bell: This is a middle grade graphic memoir on how Ms. Bell at the age of four lost her hearing, leading to her needing the help of a hearing aid. The memoir follows her struggles with fitting in, being insecure about her hearing aid, learning to read lips, and navigating friendships and crushes. At the same time these many insecurities and upheavals that are occurring in her young life, Cece envisions herself as a superhero with the codename El Deafo, to help her cope with the slew and chaos of the difficult times of her adjustments.

Cece Bell wrote and illustrated this book herself, giving the text and graphics a lighthearted yet serious tone similar to graphic memoirs such as Raina Telgemeier´s”Smile”. The book tackles the difficulties of dealing with condescension, the feelings of the heightened obviousness of her different ableness in the device of the aid, and how small things like watching tv changes drastically due to her new hearing parameters. At the same time, while navigating this specific course laid upon her in the developments with her hearing, young Cece deals with problems many will recognize from their own childhood, like the painful PE classes we were forced to endure.

El Deafo” is able to navigate the pain of finding friends and of learning to accept oneself, all while using ones imagination to empower oneself. A heartwarming, as well as educational read.

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As mentioned, this is a memoir, and therefore has #ownvoices deaf representation.

4. ”Wayward Women: Sexuality and Agency in a New Guinea Society” (2006) by Holly Wardlow: This is a book I started reading for a class I took last year, but found interesting enough to continue afterwards. The book is a non-fiction anthropology text about an ethnic group called the Huli in Papua New Guinea. The book is a little over ten years old, so some facts may have changed, but nonetheless the book felt both exceedingly fresh, and very insightful. Wardlow spent years in the Huli areas in Papua New Guinea and her fieldwork concentrated primarily on the women of the Huli group. ”Wayward Women” discusses in particular female sexuality among Huli women, and half of the book solely discusses the women among the Huli who become prostitutes, or ”Passenger women”. While most non-fiction out there focuses on how sex work is done in desperation to earn money, or how sex work is something forced on the women, this book deals with women who choose to sell sex not because of money, but often, in many cases in the Huli group; out of a means of revenge against family injustices they have endured (often it involves rape). Wayward shows all the complexities in the Huli gendered discourse, never taking an easy answer to what she describes in her study.

An absolutely fascinating account.

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5. ”Exilens Dilemma” (2015) by Razak Aboud: This very petite volume of poems is unfortunately only available in Swedish, but the title means ”The Exiles Dilemma”. The poems discuss just this, the aftermath of escaping and seeking asylum. The issues masterfully explored in this slim text of poems include not only the social stresses of the exiled but the continually incurring loneliness, confusion, trauma and the separations of the migrant experience. The opening poem describes a narrators search for ”the sun of freedom”, but ends up washing dishes and not seeing any sun at all after coming to a new country. Other poems which leap from the pages with devastating emotion include an immigrant confronting a Christmas which chrysalises the feeling of emptiness and ostracization caused by both his loss of youth and home; and another gripping poetic narration when a doctor visit excavates the deadly past into the banal present of a health examination including the necessary medical enquirers “did they beat you and where?” and ”were you raped?”. The poems are exceedingly sad, yet beautiful in their crafting. The themes confronted in the power of the words are dealt with in grace, honesty, without fear. Each poem is devised as a small story that deals openly with the hopelessness of feelings confronting the refugee, the overwhelming of feelings which are packed with the chaotic attitudes that refugees meet; how they are often either invisible looked upon as deficient cultural beings, or perceived as a threat to the social. Especially poignant in the series is the somber feeling of being unseen in the midst of your fellow humans which runs decisively through the thread of the texts and exposes a melancholy feel even to those without any relatable experience to the plight of the exile.

A small volume worth the time for all.

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The author, Razak Aboud, has stated that these poems are based on his own experiences, making this #ownvoices for refugee/immigrant representation. He also writes in Arabic at times alongside Swedish.

6. ”There are more beautiful things than Beyoncé(2017) by Morgan Parker: This collection of poems has been getting a lot of buzz, and for no small reason! Mark my words, these poems will completely blow you away.

Morgan Parker is a relatively new voice in the literary world, making her debut in 2015 with ”Other Peoples Comfort Keep Me Up at Night”. ”There are more beautiful things than Beyoncé” is her second collection which Parker worked five years on. The title is taken from a saying inside the younger black community which Parker elaborating on the icon of Beyoncé as a representation of the myriad of double standards and struggles black American Women face in today’s society. Using Beyoncé as well as Jay Z, Nelly, and Earth Wind & Fire as referents Parker delves into the social power of the imaginary of pop culture to discuss issues of oppression and living in a myriad of specific social communities; Black, white, male, female, and where they diverge and intersect. In the poem ”99 Problems” Parker references Jay Z´s most quoted song to list actual 99 problems, which range from dating, oppression’s, drinking too much, being sexually pressured, and the very notion of a Black woman ”being strong”. In the poem ”What Beyoncé won´t say on a shrink´s couch” the narrator despairs that she is unseen (and unheard) when she says she´s tired. In her invisibility to asking for recognition of humanity she laments in song. In Parkers text ”All they want is my money my pussy my blood” a last gasp to point out the crisis she cries: ”I don´t mean YOLO I mean they are hunting me”.

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The unseen theme of the black voice and life (#BlackLivesMatter) is also devastatingly exposed to in the poem ”The president has never said the word black”, in which Parker critiques former president Barack Obama for the silences he (even) occulted the Black with in order to be heard by the white. Strong and painful to even the hand that writes it this poem, the short text here captures the binds that exist inside politics and race.

Parker´s poems discuss both the beauty and pain of black womanhood, with poems that are as eye opening as they are alluring. The collection details the daily despair, fear, exhaustion, and power of being black and female while cautiously navigating a world that selects to objectify and hurt you. Yet still in the forest of the words the poems also have a wry, witty sense of humor, and an uplifting message that black women are, in fact, more beautiful than anyone can imagine.

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For people just getting into poetry, as well as being newbies to Black feminism, this collection is a must. Naturally, this book is also #ownvoices.

So those are some real good books read this year so far. What about you readers, what have you loved this year book wise?

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Doctor Strange” (2016) is a superhero film that is one of the latest additions to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, followed by this year’s ”Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2” and ”Spiderman: Homecoming” (both of which I have yet to see). The films comprising the series of Marvels cinematic Universe are constructed not only internally to a worldbuilding fiction but are additionally intended to have (slight) continuity amongst themselves as a group. Movies such as ”Iron Man” (2008), ”Thor” (2011) and ”Captain America: The First Avenger” (2011) lead up to ”The Avengers” (2012). After that, films such as ”Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier” (2014) built on the previous movies events. However, while ”Doctor Strange” is a part of this universe, it relies very little on the many previous films and focuses more on introducing Doctor Strange as a new hero, encased somewhat notably in its own world building.

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The plot follows the pompous, yet brilliant, doctor Stephen Strange, played by Benedict Cumberbatch. The doctor, specializing in neurosurgery, is world famous for being able to do near impossible surgeries with stunning results and we are witness to a short introduction to his brilliance from the movies very beginning. However one day, due to texting while driving, Stephen gets into an accident and undergoes himself massive surgery to survive. Strange survives, but his hands are irrecoverably damaged, destroying any possibility of his continuing being a surgeon. In his despair, Stephen does everything he can to get his hands back to the way they were, which leads him to a secluded unknown temple in Nepal. There he meets a woman named The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), who´s a teacher of an ancient mystic art of magic. Stephen, realizing with these techniques he would again be able to use his hands as he did before, and even a bit more, starts studying along the ancient one. And as usual in superhero movies, an old pupil from the past emerges as a foe for the newcomer Stephen to defeat.

Doctor Strange” was plagued with controversy as soon as it was announced that the Ancient one was re-visualized from being male and Tibetan in the comics to Celtic and female in this cinematic incarnation. This is a complicated issue that I don´t really have an authority from which to comment on (I am not familiar with Doctor Strange comics and am Caucasian) so will link to some articles on the issue here.

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But beyond this issue, the movie has other problems. One is that the film itself is dull at times; the pacing in the beginning feels off and there are times that (while most likely intentional) the titular character comes off as whiny, trivial, and cruel, in the strongest sense, making it hard to connect with him. The fighting scenes felt lacking as well. While the battle scenes certainly are meant to invoke a psychedelic experience, they sometimes failed to capture the attention of the audience which the whirlwind sensation of the scenes most assuredly should.

On the flip side, there are lots of elements that work really well. The film features a scene where The Ancient One and Stephen discuss how he can learn to use magic, with the punch line being ”by studying, duh!”. That learning and achieving greatness takes a lot of practice is often glossed over or not even mentioned in most block buster films, which makes this scene both refreshing and honest. Also notable, engaging and tantalizing in the narrative is the character of Wong (Benedict Wong), the librarian who guards the books that contain all the knowledge of which Stephen is studying. Wong is portrayed as a very stoic, no-nonsense type of person but also as someone with a hidden soft side, with a welling sense of enticingly hidden humor. (It´s also shown in one scene that he enjoys Beyoncés music, which is both touching and hip! A hard duality to pull off in a film.).

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Left to right: Mordo, Stephen, The ancient one and Wong

Also as a resonating relation and nuanced capture of the personal in the Doctor Strange storyline, and, surprising despite the controversy around Tilda Swintons casting, the film actually does manage to showcase and develop a believable and moving connection between Stephen and the Ancient one.

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However ”Doctor Strange” also suffers from great lost opportunities and re- enforces tired tropes. It is, despite the films great efforts with Wong´s character, still jarring that the temple Stephen studies at has a mostly POC cast, but the token white guy has to be the lead and hero. ”Doctor Strange” also uses disability as motivation for the more able bodied characters. In activist circles, this trope is known as ”Inspiration porn” or ”teachable moment”. This trope has been a predominant role given to disabled characters, often reducing them to mere motivational slogans rather than giving them the narrative body of actual characters with their own stories elaborated to be followed in the text. In ”Doctor Strange” we are hit hard with the trope of a disabled person being a teachable moment – and simultaneously loose a potentially cool story line.

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When Stephen in one scene is in despair over learning the arts, there is a scene where the Ancient one states that it is Stephen himself who holds himself back. Stephen explains he simply can´t accomplish anything giving the blame to the damage in his hands. In response, the Ancient one calls a pupil, Master Hamir (whom previously had one scene where Stephen mistok him for the ancient one), to come forward. It is revealed then that Hamir has only one hand, but is able to perform magic all the same. He then leaves, and Stephen realizes he can achieve greatness despite limitations.

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Hamir as a character immediately and definitely disappears after this incident. Even in this pivotal scene to the story arch the Hamir is given no lines of dialogue (it is worth noting that the film does not confirm Hamir as mute). When the major battle against the villains takes place Hamir is not seen fighting along other pupils. His capability to fight and use magic despite being disabled is merely there to inspire Stephen, who is written as able-bodied. Some would argue his injured hands are a disability, however Stephen himself only talks about not being able to perform surgery and never of the multitude of common day events which would impact those of limited mobility with hands. While this is a limitation, it is not the same as a disability; the most which is confronted by the character is the inability to perform surgery. Stephen seems never to note the marginalization which would occur in the vast arrangements of the social (and its hardware) to the character. This means that ”Doctor Strange”, despite its meagre attempts at diversity, falls into having it´s only Canon disabled character as a ”teachable moment” to transcend (which is only due by his hands becoming now “usable”). Both Hamir specifically, and Doctor Strange more generally, become textbook examples of ”inspiration porn”.

What makes this even sadder is that the world building in ”Doctor Strange” makes this trope very easily avoidable.

Since ”Doctor Strange” canonizes the fact that the magic the Ancient ones pupils use is available to people regardless of their bodies limitations, the film opens up the possibility of having people with varying disabilities (as well as different cultural/racial background) as pupils and guardians. It is odd that one would make such a thing possible, only to end up playing it safe. Diversity is a hot button issue in pop culture right now, and it is important to remember that part of diversity is including people with various physical and mental disabilities. When it comes to things like ”Doctor Strange”, that uses magic, it is odd that the story limits itself. Why not have a mute, one handed warrior as a part of Strange´s squad? There literally, inside the story, is no reason to not use the world building to justify diverse and unusual superpowered fighters. In fact given that many superheroes development their powers begin with “accidents” it is assuredly odd that this doesn’t find its way into more usage.

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Yet still the genre remains often enclosed and encircled by a set tired tropes and unfortunate clichés. Why not use stories with odd powers to include and shake up hierarchies? With more brave writers, Hamir could have been more than a small role, lingering outside of the story which was actually about such a character and therefore become a text of more power and insight.

My hope is that while superhero movies are trying new things, they will also try to do more daring things and use the potential in their stories to go to places further than the imaginings that we have in the ordinary of life. To the place where all abilities can find a place of not only understanding and acceptance, but one of unfolding, becoming powers.

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Inspiration porn has been going on for long

While ”Doctor Strage” is enjoyable, it ends up playing it safe in both race and able- bodieness. It is desirable to see the (most likely upcoming) sequels try to fulfil a more disability positive spin on this lore.

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Trigger Warning: Sexual violence.

Also spoilers for “Gotham” and “The Killing joke”.

This week I was a guest on Missmagicgirl´s youtube Channel. We discuss the classic comic “The Killing Joke” by Alan Moore (1988) and the movie adaption with the same name that was released in 2016. The conversation can be found below (I´m the one on the right). Enjoy!