Projecting Just a Tad
January 10, 2010
Darleen Click has compiled reactions to Avatar by self-appointed representatives of Designated Victim Groups. Needless to say, the levels of unrealism and doctrinal turgidity are quite hazardous.
There’s a bit of this:
This synopsis contains profoundly ableist language in the way it describes the protagonist Jake as “confined to a wheelchair.” I don’t use a wheelchair; nevertheless, I was very offended when I read that. We’ve been trying to eradicate terms like “confined to a wheelchair” for a while now, and to see this demonstration of ignorance on such a large scale, since it is mainstream, is distressing. [...] It’s a long-held stereotype (and still exists today) that disability is unnatural in people and so must be fixed or cured.
And this, from a breezy sermon titled Gender Normativity and Imperial Domination in Avatar:
I’d like to explain that I do not believe that binary gender is natural or fundamental to our biological existence as humans, or even as animals. [...] I have too many female friends with penises to put all my faith in biological determinism, no matter what planet I’m on.
Update, via the comments:
Self-preoccupation is essential to the kind of tribalism seen above, along with an urge to pathologise the prosaic. If the prosaic can be made to sound oppressive or inauthentic, it makes those who announce themselves as nonconformist sound much braver and more interesting than they actually are (if only to themselves and those similarly disposed). For instance, the clownish Amanda Marcotte rails against any number of “normativities,” all of which she seeks to pathologise. It isn’t enough that she doesn’t feel an urge to become a parent. She has to claim that those who do wish to become parents don’t know their own minds and are dupes of some hegemonic power. In much the same way, the preference for an intact and functional body is depicted as both a parochial social construct and a moral failing. And likewise, the belief that “binary gender” is not “natural or fundamental to our biological existence as humans” is based on an occasional malfunction of the very biological processes that are imagined not to exist.
But this is what gorging on identity politics does – it fosters unrealism and makes dishonesty routine. Often there’s a creep of small dishonesties. For instance, the disabled feminists article grumbles about the Avatar synopsis, which refers to the film’s protagonist as “confined to a wheelchair.” The author complains, “Non-disabled people may think… referring to someone who uses a wheelchair as ‘confined to a wheelchair’ is okay – but of course, it’s really not — ‘wheelchair user,’ for instance, is more acceptable.” However, this means avoiding a perfectly legitimate and accurate term - Jake is confined to a wheelchair; that’s sort of the point, dramatically. But fluffier, more sensitive terms are apparently now required. “Wheelchair user” could of course mean that Jake only uses a wheelchair occasionally - say, when walking leaves him fatigued. Which is deliberately imprecise and hardly the stuff of interplanetary drama.
Sentiments of this kind may be dishonest - indeed bizarre - but they are surprisingly common. Not long ago on Radio 4, a legless and rather prickly “activist” insisted that it was “oppressive” to view the loss of a person’s legs as in any way regrettable. Regarding this loss as something negative was apparently “ableist,” “ignorant” and offensive. This claim was repeated several times, emphatically. At one point the activist declared that given a chance to walk again he would refuse, such was his “pride” in having lost a third of his body. Anger had been displaced from the obvious grievance – the traumatic loss of one’s legs – to the supposed “injustice” of regarding limb loss as a dismaying or terrifying state of affairs. As a coping mechanism, it wasn’t entirely honest. Or, it seems, successful.