Friday, November 28, 2008

Heroes, disabled

S * P * O * I * L * E * R * S

Hey, I'm going to talk about the show. I will reveal things that happened. If you haven't watched it, but plan to, and just hate having the plot revealed, Go back! Go back! Captain Kirk, go baaaaaaaaaaaaaaack.

Last Warning!

I got caught up on my favorite TV show, Heroes, yesterday. The Eclipse, Part I is something of a study on disabilty attitudes. Everyone lost their powers and suddenly became disabled, merely normal after they had gotten used to being supernormal. Each character reacted differently to their loss, with their reactions in keeping with their personality and values.

To some of the characters, the loss of powers is a relief, even though it brings them great pain. For the super-healer, Clair, the pain is what she cherishes most, since she had lost the ability to feel it. Even though she is shot in a botched kidnapping attempt, and can't immediately heal like she usually would, she is happy that she now has confirmation that she is human after all. Series all-purpose bad guy Sylar is also content with his loss of ability, focussing on his release from the constant hunger and discontent his super-comprehension had put him through. In comparison to what he was, he now has a cognitive disability, and he couldn't be more pleased. And Mohinder, who had mutated himself in the service of mad science, is thrilled to no longer be turning into an least until the heavies come around and threaten to beat him to a pulp.

Some of the characters are irritated with their loss and resistant to adapting. Nathan Petrelli, at the beginning of the episode, was chiding his younger brother, Peter, who had lost powers to their father earlier in the season, for being resentful over his relatively disabled state. Then he also loses his powers and begins lashing out at Peter for suggesting that they take his inability to fly into account in their travel plans, and his stubborness leads them both to a deadend. Psychic Matt Parkman, who had nearly given up on finding happiness when his superpower first began to manifest, again nearly gives up on finding happiness--this time with the excuse that he can't do anything to win his intended without his ability.

The most pathetic character, though, is the one whose loss of super-speed renders her disabled by TAB standards. Daphne is ridiculous. Tim Kring, why did you pull out the self-pitying disabled person stereotype? All this time, we were led to believe that Daphne was in thrall to the evil Papa Petrelli because of some super terrible feature of her pre-super life. And now we find out that the terrible thing is that she has leg braces and forearm crutches? And to avoid having her powers stripped by Papa Petrelli was willing to betray everyone she loved and act contrary to her own moral code? What kind of a person would rather be someone else's puppet than be unable to walk? This is a completely unbelievable personality flaw, and a libel against people with disabilities. If you had other characters who were traditionally disabled without their powers, then it would be OK to show one of them as being a self-hating cripple. But you don't. You are using one character to stand in for an entire class of people. You may as well kill off the black cast members on a regular basis. Oh, wait. You do that, don't you. Maybe you all need to think a little harder about your positions of privilege?   

The one character that I think best reflects the disability reality is Hiro. He refused to allow Parkman to feel sorry for himself, insisting that a real hero wouldn't need special powers but would find a way to save the day. He is confident that everything will be fine, that they must simply have a plan. Yes, right now, he has the mind of a child and is looking to get his own power back. But it is his basic personality that is leading him, and that views regaining both his adult mind and powers as simply a means to an end. And if he can't be a hero with his abilities restored, he will still be a hero. He's already saved Parkman's romance.

(Hiro is actually reminding me a bit of my mom right now. She has messed her leg up but good. Again. Maybe permanently this time. And she is irritated about not being able to do what she usually does, but chalks up her inconvenience to not having what she needs for the circumstances: a wheelchair, someone to walk her dog, handrails. She has a plan. She's going to get those things, and everything will be fine.)


Tayi said...

My siblings and I watch Heroes on every week and make fun of the characters. I was irritated with Daphne's big reveal too, but someone suggested that perhaps the leg braces and crutches are symptoms of a terminal condition or at least something worse than it looks. Also, Arthur Petrelli made it sound like Daphne owed him because he'd saved her from something, but if it was her power that made her uncrippled there would be no reason for her to feel grateful to him in particular.

Who knows, though (well, not until Monday anyway!).

yanub said...

I took Arthur Petrelli's comments to Daphne as a threat to strip her powers, leaving her like she was, rather than an indication that he had given her power.

Even if Daphne has some sort of terminal condition or something, why would she prefer to be Papa P's tool? All her time and energy was spent fulfilling his demands, and nothing for herself. Monday better bring a sensible explanation or...or...or... I'll just have to fan wank a sensible explanation.