Friday, June 02, 2006

Learning from atrocious films

An intriguing essay by my colleague Robert McRuer on disability and the latest X-Men movie. A few paragraphs:

Anna Paquin's character Rogue, in contrast, is the most conflicted of the X-Men, and understandably so; Rogue is not able to touch another living being without sapping the life force from them. Challenging both the two-dimensional, able-bodied "cure or kill" mentality and a hard-line anti-cure activist position, X-Men: The Last Stand, from a disability perspective, is pretty complex. Ultimately, I'd say the film nominally comes down "against cure," but then again, the X-Men (the heroes of the film) are simultaneously fighting for the government and against the Brotherhood of Mutants. And it's inescapably the Brotherhood of Mutants who mount the most articulate anti-cure stances.

Given that Ian McKellan's character Magneto is Jewish and survived the Holocaust, that articulateness is understandable. And, of course, audiences who bring to the theater the knowledge that McKellan is an openly gay actor have only one more reason for weighing his arguments carefully. I've seen Magneto described in the mainstream press as Osama bin Laden, but gay, disabled, and Jewish viewers (along with those who have been listening to us over the past few decades) are likely to have a slightly more nuanced reaction to McKellan's performance ...

To say that X-Men: The Last Stand marks a different kind of Hollywood take on bodily, cognitive, and behavioral difference is not necessarily to embrace it uncritically, but to encourage us to be vigilant: cultural representations do change because of the arguments we make and the activist movements we shape. We, in turn, need to continually access new critical vocabularies for comprehending, and altering yet again, those changed representations.

Read the rest at Ragged Edge.


Anonymous said...

Deliberately provocative, perhaps in response to my sentiments concerning the dismal and irrelevant sate of disability studies in lit. departments? I'm'll have to unpack for me why this essay is in the slighest way important. From the quoted paragraphs, I'm getting nothing.

Jeffrey Cohen said...

It's mildly provocative in that yes, it did make me think of your words about disability studies CFPs. But mainly I post it because I enjoyed reading it.

What I like about the piece is that it's an academic writing about how a bad movie might still do some good, and writing in a forum that's not just academics speaking to each other. Yes, it amounts to little when compared to the interchanges that have unfolded on this blog in the past few days, but nonetheless to me it was an interesting piece of pop culture critique.

I'm going to return to that conversation next week, but I posted this piece as a signal that the gravitas of that exchange isn't something that I can forever sustain. I think you know me well enough to know that there is only so long I can maintain a somber tone ... a character fault I know, but there it is.

Robert McRuer's work on intersections of queer and disability studies, by the way, has always made good reading. I'm really looking forward to Crip Theory.

Anonymous said...

Fair enough; I suspected it might have something to do with enjoyment.

Pluralism of the kind Professor Joy and yourself (or so I believe) subscribe to is wonderful in principle. Isn't it great that a medievalist who is critically smart can engage with, and actually read with enjoyment, a book called Crip Theory? I don't know: I can think of reasons it is and isn't.

But, all other reasons I choose not to read Crip Theory aside, time has become the thing against which I race, every damn minute. What am I going to actually do in the time I have left? What will it add up to? Will someone, when I die, write something as moving and unabashed as this, which was written for Maslow by someone who had barely known him except in his last months?:

"It felt good to be human in his presence. In a disturbed world, he saw light and promise and hope, and he shared these with the rest of us."

That first sentence puts so well into words what I guess was latent in me as I pretended to be a literature scholar. I don't know of a loftier goal than to make other humans feel good to be human. Too often their right to be human is denied them, or stifled from some internal clogging--choked off by forces both in and out of their control.

I pray for the time to help, the time to make some small progress in this version of the humanist project.

(Jeffrey, you'll know what to do with what I have said above.)

Jeffrey Cohen said...

I get it, compadre, I get it.