Friday, May 10, 2013

The Myth of the Supercrip, Disease, Ableism, and 'Iron Man 3'

My favorite website to dick around on, Overthinkingit (link in the sidebar, mwahahaha), has been having some issues with trolls lately, and while they usually show up on posts related to gender, sexuality, sexism, etc. (basically, any time someone says women are still treated unequally in any context), they've decided to ease back from the identity politics biznass for a while, let the waters simmer, etc. I dig, but that means my Disability and Disney idea got passed over. Poop. Well, the chief editor was (genuinely) gracious enough to warn me a piece about Iron Man 3 and disability was about to be published- and I had already started this entry, having seen the movie myself and come out with some rather strong opinions (go figure- me? Strong opinions? Perish the thought, right?). So here's a link to the article there, by Jordon Stokes (a great problematizer, as you'll see if/when you read it), followed by my direct response to it; after that, I'll, uh, change fonts and add in what I had been thinking of posting myself that didn't get covered by said response to Mr. Stokes:


Oh, and it prolly goes without saying, but...

In answer to your more specific call for comments: There isn’t a straight answer from the research and theories out there on disability that I’ve encountered in my research yet- but I’m only a Ph.D. student, and I know I’ve only dappled into the literature thus far. Everybody cites everybody else, though, so I’m guessing I can basically make a semi-informed assertion and it’s alright... Anyhoo, so there’s a large debate within the  disability studies community/literature, as well as in the community of disability advocacy organizations, about how much we should recognize/acknowledge disability, and what constitutes personhood. On the far side, the “critical disability theory” camp proclaims that disability needs to be considered no more of a big deal than a person’s hair or eye color. Groups like Disability is Natural exemplify this, from their promotion of PFL (person first language- nuances of verbage and sentence formation wherein connecting words like “has” and “with” are used, rather than the all-encompassing forms, such as “with autism” or “has a disability” as opposed to “autistic” or “is disabled”) to their rather vociferous claims for disability being  basically ignored because it’s nothing more than a social construct. Members of this camp, whether academic or advocate, are proponents of society complying to anomaly, sometimes to the point where even violent behavior as a result of a specific condition isn’t even frowned upon or prevented, for eample (or, rather, they claim it shouldn’t be, in the very normative , society needs to do X, kind of way). Then there’s the camp focused on a civil rights perspective- these academics and advocates see the disabled as a protected class that needs legal assistance in order to achieve full citizenship. The National Disabilities Rights Network is a perfect example, as they focus on court actions and legislatures; and while they, too, promote PFL, their approach is more from a perspective that disability needs to be recognized but not be-all-end-all, and, further, the government needs to make up for the institutional oppression persons with disabilities have experienced since forever. Finally, on the other end of the spectrum of the critical disability scholars, we have the camp that treats disability like a disease. These scholars and advocates promote knowledge about the causes and treatments of disability- academics focus on what constitutes disability and what genetic or environmental factors lead to it, while advocacy groups, such as the National Autism Association usually promote funding for research for causes and cures, as well as “awareness” campaigns to “alert” people of disability. Both academics and advocates alike in this camp tend to emphasize the role of the non-disabled in the lives of those around them or for which they're responsible (that have disabilities).

Group one criticizes two for its definitions of citizenship in the first place- legalistic definitions of “citizenship,” so the story goes, come from an ableist dialectic that claims disabled persons must be made or thought of exactly like non-disabled persons in order to be “citizens” in the first place. Both one and two criticize three for a dehumanizing and paternalistic perspective and treatment of disability and persons with disabilities- disability needs to be incorporated, not quarantined, they say, and eradicating it removes integral parts of the personhood of these people; also, they criticize three for removing autonomy from persons with disabilities. Group two criticizes one for being unrealistic and ignoring the fact that the “oughts” of society are often in direct contrasts with the “is,” and demanding immediate change would be too traumatic and basically impossible to achieve. Group three criticizes both for not taking  disability seriously enough, framing the issue as if one and two are heartless for desiring the disabled and their loved ones continue suffering.

My reading of the movie, then, is that it’s treating disability like group three. As I said on the notes for the podcast about the movie (here's a link to that), the serum is symbolic of the inherent desire within society to eradicate disability. Because while sure, groups one and two exist, they’re fighting against a much larger hegemonic structure that devalues disability/anomaly to the point where it’s feared. Like you said, though, the serum is more like a drug than a cure within the world of the movie, but taken in the broader cultural context that created the movie, it represents the desperate search for an end to disability through some outside or humanly manufactured force, rather than a societal shift that doesn’t construct disability as problematic in the first place. So it may not be called a "cure" directly, but that's what it's supposed to be- both in the movie and as a symbol for the culture in which the movie exists. 

I think groups one and two would see the “utopia” of the movie as one of ableism. The “true being” is one without disability- Tony and Pepper are, essentially, “cured” of their disabilities, and as they’re part of the group of protagonists, this is a Good thing. Ableism is more than just using “retarded” pejoratively- it’s a discourse in the muti-faceted sense of the word, one that establishes modes of behavior and moral hierarchical structures in society. It devalues disability and places lack of disability as morally superior. So a “true” person in the utopia of the movie is one without a disability, like Tony and Pepper in the end. Group three would be fine with this utopia, as it’s the one they strive for, while one and two would be displeased with this. 

But a point of compromise comes from Wrather’s comment on the podcast, too. He asked about surgeons reattaching limbs on the battle field, and why that should be morally okay, but retroactively regrowing limbs wouldn't. I actually think the surgery Tony has and the removal of the serum from Pepper represent this. In the middle of battle, the soldier’s life is in danger, after all, and while okay, you can live without your limb, preserving the person as close to what they were before being injured is the goal. And the shrapnel and serum were exogenous factors, themselves not natural to the internal development process, that then become not just inconvenient- they become life threatening. Pepper could have blown up; Tony’s heart would have been torn to shreds. There’s a fourth camp (uh oh!) that really focuses on the intersections of queer and gender theory with disability theory, and they go beyond saying disability is just a social construction (as group one does) and more than just a civil matter (group two); disability is more intrinsic to processes of becoming and identity formation, rather than societal or legal structure, per se. They assert that anomaly plays a role, whether present in the body or mind of the individual or not. They assert this as a direct result of ableism, and pound in the normative character of how disability is thus constructed (even deconstructing the word “disability” a lot, for example). But they’re also highly pragmatic- they recognize the social, political, and environmental factors contributing to processes of becoming, of assigning and internalizing stigma, etc., and they focus on individual well-being, rather than group consciousness. So this group would say, basically, take the approach that has the best outcome for the individual immediately affected. Since the shrapnel would friggn’ kill Tony, get rid of it. And that’s okay! And this group would ask questions like, “What societal structures led those veterans to be so desperate to get rid of their disabilities, they’d risk their lives and moral/ethical compasses in order to do so?” And the answer is the hegemonic discourse (DRINK!) and paradigms created and enabled (hah!) by ableism.  

As for the Cartesian self, groups one through three all fall implicitly into that paradigm (even when the disability is of the mind, for they view that as a brain malfunction, i.e. something physically wrong with the brain leading to the more corporeal abnormalities). That may sound wonky, but it’s a lot easier to do than one would think, and I actually believe it’s something we do in everyday discourse, whether about disability or not, and even if not on purpose. Group four explicitly rejects this, though, as their emphasis is on how the lived body interacts with other bodies as well as the environments in which it exists, and that bodily experience directly influences the metaphysical. I haven’t seen it in any literature from group four thus far, but I think a nuance they’d probably  be down with is saying “theirself” as opposed to “their self” to emphasize the inseparability of physical experience from corporeal epxerience. 

Lastly, I must respectfully disagree with the assertion that this movie isn’t about disability. So many of the messages in pop culture aren’t explicit, but rather heavily implied- so while nobody ever says “disability” or “cure” in this movie… well, it’s kind of hard not to see the corollaries. Further, the conflation of physical and corporeal disability as “the same thing” in this movie is exactly parallel to much of the ableist paradigm in the real world- actually, this conflation is quite essential to it. Ableism depends on that binary of with- and with-out disability, and it lumps anything that’s a “with” together. This is evidenced in lots of ways, for example in how legislation such as ADA addresses emotional, mental, mobile, visual, developmental, hearing, etc. impairments all the same. So the fact that the movie is reflecting the real world’s problematic distortion of the wide, porous range of disability doesn’t make it not about disability- if anything, I’d say that makes it more profoundly so, as it’s not even attempting to problematize how disability is perceived and presented, but instead regurgitating it flatly. The audience is expected to buy into these assertions that PTSD is the same as illness is the same as losing a hand is the same as addiction because that’s the operative discourse in the real world. I’m glad you could see how problematic that is, but seeing it as problematic in the movie doesn’t make the movie not about disability.

So here are my additions:

I want to talk about Aldrich and the vets a bit more, because they represent two pervasive, negative stereotypes of disability that are often shoved at the public through film, literature, and media coverage. First, as I spoke of on the podcast’s comments, is the “supercrip.” This is the person with a disability that “overcomes” their disability. They usually end up being practically superhuman or something- think Lance Armstrong or Christopher Reeve- by doing what even non-disabled people wouldn’t try to do. This stereotype sets up persons with disabilities negatively in two ways: 1) It sets incredibly high standards (the running, somewhat snarky remark among disability scholars is that people in wheelchairs may as well learn to pop wheelies when they see curbs without accessibility lips), and 2) implies any person with a disability that doesn't achieve such greatness is somehow inferior to the supercrip. It contains a moral superiority/high-horse-type message within it. 

Well, Aldrich definitely comes across as a supercrip when he breathes fire, and we see the veterans demonstrating superhuman strength and their regenerative capabilities willy nilly. And the guy Tony watches from the stock footage while in the van, the vet that says something about not letting the disability be the end of him or whatever, that exemplifies the rhetoric of the supercrip mythos (and yeah, I admit I don’t remember precisely what the dude says, but I remember thinking it sounded just like something a generic supercrip would spout). While "supercrip" isn't used, "supersoldier" certainly is myriad times in the movie. I realize I was probably hypersensitive to it, but I felt like I was being beaten of the head with a hammer of subtletly about this supercrip/soldier metaphor. 

What I’d like to add, here, is that the supercrips (except, of course, Tony and Pepper) in this movie are all presented as bad- which can be a good thing, sure, because that could tell us the myth of the supercrip is false; but it also leads to stereotype two, which is the disabled person as sinister, evil and criminal. Movies and media present serial killers and stalkers as “crazy,” and consistently emphasizing their “craziness” as the reason for the crimes committed. Discussions about shootings, murders, and even acts of terrorism become “regular” people being worried about mental stability and sanity backgrounds, rather than the socio- and geo-political structures contributing to whatever actions being covered. Persons with disabilities aren’t usually shown as regular characters in fiction, but when they do, and if it’s not a plot-point that they have a wheelchair or Downs or something, they’re usually someone with a mental disorder that attacks someone or does something traditional frameworks of morality would consider wrong. Disability isn’t just otherized neutrally, then, but rather otherized in a way that’s exacerbated by fear. Other is deadly and will murder you and not care about it. All the baddies in this movie (except the VP) are examples of this stereotype, because the negative effects of Extremis lead to them going “crazy” and being totally okay with killing people. Like you said, Stokes, their moral compasses are compromised when on Extremis, and whether we’re viewing them as inhuman  because they’re addicts (which yes, society absolutely constructs addicts as less-than-human), or if we’re just keeping the fact that they had limbs blown off in the back of our minds, either way, they’re disabled and doing Bad Things. 

Another thing I'd like to emphasize is the VP. It's brushed upon a bit by Stokes, but I think our expected reaction to his daughter's leg is highly important. The shot of that little girl are a Big Reveal- her leg is focused on for a few seconds, and danger music starts as the camera zooms in on the space that we'd expect to be occupied by a lower shin, ankle, and foot. We're supposed to feel shock, having not expected this (as we've been given no reason whatsoever to think there was an inside man at all up until that very moment) (which is actually kind of crappy writing, just saying). But we're also supposed to at least sympathize, if not empathize, with the VP and why he'd want to help someone with a serum that could regrow her leg. And in order to do that, we're supposed to believe disability is a bad thing- if it weren't, why would we be remotely understanding of a Vice President  that's willing to betray his President and Country? 

The image of the little girl is doubly-exploitative. It's a kid, and it's a kid in a wheelchair. Heartstrings: SNAPPED. Actually, the more I think about it, the more that whole subplot pisses me off. They could have done away with it and the abduction of the President would have worked just fine. Hell, it actually could have been kind of cool if they had been able to figure out it wasn't Rhodes in the suit, but at the last second or something, or if someone on Air Force One that figured it out/ had been told and was trying to warn others had been killed. Instead, two cheap, exploitative tropes were used to justify a minuscule plot-point. Ugh. 


As a scholar of disability theory (see? I usually don't pull that shit, but this is my dissertation, for Pete's sake...), if I was to sum up my feelings about the movie's portrayal of disability succinctly (hah, me succinct, that's pretty hilarious, right?), I'd say that it's operating from the overarching abelist paradigms already in place in modern society- at least modern Western, 'Murican paradigms and discourses. It takes myriad assumptions for granted because that's how ableism itself operates, and its non-questioning of those assumptions implies reinforcement, not challenge, to them. Extremis symbolizes the drive to eradicate disability off of which ableism garners tacit- if not explicit- support. The veterans are nearly caricaturized versions of the myth of the supercrip and the murderous disabled person. But ultimately, the movie takes a stand that could help persons with or without disabilities live in this world with one another. 

I'd like to push things a little and say that maybe, since we see how the "cure" isn't really a cure, but rather becomes another addictive/harmful substance, perhaps, perhaps, perhaps, the writers are trying to say we shouldn't strive for a cure for disability, and  that maybe we should live with conditions once they reach the point  where they're irreversible. I think this sort of falls apart with Tony (since he has found a way to live with the shrapnel), though. Still, I'd like to think there's at least a little merit to this, as I did like the movie so much.

On that note, I really, really enjoyed the movie. More than the second in the franchise; it has been so long since I've seen the first, I cant't quite say if that's still my favorite now. My love of critiquing things I love is something I've done for ages, even when I didn't realize that was what I was doing. Christ, when I was a little kid, I'd go from asking my mom why Ariel was such a bad girl (deliberately disobeying and getting into a shouting match with her dad? TOTALLY naughty!) to singing "Part of Your World" in the bathtub, acting out this scene entirely (and making a mess in the process). Skills and capabilities have grown, but the basic idea has remained the same.

I think that's probably why I fall into the fourth camp. I have my ideals and  aspirations, but I realize there  are a lot of real barriers to them.  So I can enjoy  Iron Man 3 but still recognize it has some serious flaws or problematics embedded within its scenes, characterizations, dialogue, visuals... etc.


  1. While some of your observations are interesting in a broader social context, they have disappointingly little relevance to the Iron Man series because you've overlooked its key metaphor: In Iron Man, injuries are not physical, they're manifestations and inflictors of fear, and Extremis, as well as the Iron Man suits themselves, are ethically wrong in the way they're being used because they are a quest for security that has become overextended into an impossible quest for invincibility. (n.b. In this framework, the VP's actions being an attempt to fix his daughter makes him more wrong, not less.)

    This is further held up in the two exceptions that the main characters achieve: Pepper can be superpowered and depowered without moral ramifications because she had no fear for which she was compensating. Tony can both cure his own injuries and remain Iron Man, but only once he has overcome the fear and dependence that they respectively represent.

    When taken in its historical/political context, the Iron Man saga is a very sympathetic, very literal, call for us to move beyond the so-aptly-named war on terror. Any analysis that fails to take this into account (like Manola Dargis's ever-so-confused review) is going to have an extremely difficult time integrating its various components into a comprehensible thematic whole.

  2. Thanks for the comment, erachima.

    However, I don't see how it's impossible for the message about terrorism to exist if one about disability does, as well. Works of fiction are able to have multiple interpretations simultaneously, as well as send out multiple messages, too. It's perfectly acceptable to read the movie as an allegory/commentary on the quest for security and the fervor of anti-terrorist sentiment because of fear, as you have- and, as you claim, is the only proper way to intepret it (insinuated by the fact that you're basically saying I'm not being thorough enough in your last paragraph, due to my lack of talking about terrorism). However, it's *also* possible to read it as a narrative reflecting ableist paradigms, as I have. The two interpretations can coexist, and neither is weakened without the other.

    I don't really care about another person's review. You're welcome to comment to them about whatever they're lacking, but don't compare me to someone else- I wrote this entirely on my own without reading a single review. It comes entirely from my own interpretations. And don't confuse a review with an analysis, either. If I was going to review the movie, I'd have spent more time on scripts and production design and lighting. I was discussing specific plot devices that demonstrate a broader socio-political phenomenon, not poo-pooing or lauding as a whole.

    If you think the WHOLE Iron Man series needs to be taken into consideration, then, we should consider that it's produced entirely within a paradigm of ableism. So actually, combining the "fear" element with one of disability is quite easy- the VP "fears" his daughter will be disabled forever; the veterals "fear" they will be disabled and have to live with it, too; Tony "fears" he'll always have shrapnel in his chest. Ableism functions in myriad ways, and one of them is fear of anomaly. The suit, then, is Tony's way of becoming a supercrip from the get-go- he sure as heck does a lot of stuff non-disabled people do, after all. And why? Because he's afraid he's inadequate because he has a disability. After all, he doesn't HAVE to wear the suit- the shrapnel can be held at bay with that thing in his chest sans suit.

    To be succinct, then, Extremis can serve as a cure for fear, and a cure for disability- and, what's preventing that fear itself from being a stand-in for any kind of disability, be it physical, developmental, psychological, etc.?

    Besides, focusing on the "terror" interpretation is easy. I'm an overthinker, so I dig a little deeper than following the trend of the times.

  3. Oh, and one more thing. Even if we say Tony's "real" disability isn't the shrapnel, but his alcoholism and PTSD or whatever other emotional, psychological, etc. things he has going on- it's still a disability. And again, ableism thrives off of clumping every type of disability together in one monolithic group. Any dependency Tony has is still a disability; it serves the same literary function as a physical ailment within the series, and is reacted to the same, as well. Which is a reflection of the society creating Tony in the first place.

  4. It's an issue of exegetical reading vs. eisegetical reading. An exegetical reading tells us about art, an eisegetical reading is typically more informative about the person speaking. It is of course impossible to consider art without introducing something of yourself into the equation, and there are myriad possible interpretations of any work, but if a critique leaves the artist too silent on the same issues the critique is discussing, that's a not-insubstantial concern. "Painting makes poor looking glass, is attack on introspection."

    (Aside: Manola Dargis's review was mentioned because it was brought up in the overthinker's podcast on the film, so I thought you might be familiar with the context.)

    So, to be clearer, I disagree with your analysis because it does not acknowledge the moral framework established within the story, and further, largely inverts it by claiming that what is presented in the story as wrong is being endorsed. The story is written to be about how we cannot be invincible, and you're analyzing it as if it were treating invincibility as a positive end goal.

    Tony never feared he'd always have shrapnel in his chest, he feared ever again losing self-sufficiency. For that matter, he was absolutely fine with having shrapnel in his chest as long as that problem was being controlled by his own power. The idea that the shrapnel itself could be fixed was never even discussable until after he'd overcome the need to be invincible. As long as the urge to be invincible was in control of him, if Tony couldn't do it himself, he was too afraid to even consider it.

    Tony was not crippled by wounds and cured by technology, he was crippled by the quest for perfection and cured by acceptance of his real, non-ideal self.

  5. I think you're still missing my point, that multiple interpretations of *anything* can exist at once. You're insisting my interpretation is "wrong." But interpretations are neither "wrong," nor "right."

    Further, you're misreading my reading in the first place. I'm saying the strive for invincibility is BAD, and it stems from ableism. Reread it (more than once if you have to). You're missing my point, and it's causing you to stubbornly rail against me for something we actually agree on. We may not come at it from the same angle, but we have the same end opinion. You don't have to be "right," here. But you also shouldn't discredit an entire critique because it doesn't have the same lens as you. There's more than one way to view the world.

    I could very easily throw the same argument you have for not taking me seriously back at you and not take you seriously- you're saying I'm ignoring the moral framework within the story (which I'm not), but I could say YOUR interpretation sucks because you're ignoring the moral framework OUTSIDE the story.

  6. Oh, but if Tony was able to accept his less-than-ideal self, he wouldn't have had the shrapnel removed.

  7. --"I'm saying the strive for invincibility is BAD"
    That you are, and I understand that you are. Your personal opinion is not under contention, your analysis of the film's opinion is.

    Where I take issue with your analysis is that you're saying that the movie endorses striving for invincibility ("My reading of the movie, then, is that it’s treating disability like group three.") when it's thoroughly opposed to that view. Every single character who endorses perspective three (Stark through 2.5 stories, Killian, the VP, the Extremis test subjects) is shown to be wrong within the films, but you're calling the movie an endorsement of perspective three.

    --"if Tony was able to accept his less-than-ideal self, he wouldn't have had the shrapnel removed."
    If he had not gotten his shrapnel removed, it would have been a return to the status quo, in which Tony Stark is preserved from death by the power of Tony Stark. This would not have shown acceptance at all. (Alternately, he would be dead, at which point the morality play would break down because the hero was not rewarded for his enlightenment.) What Tony Stark must accept to be cured of his physical disorder, overcome his mental problems, and be absolved of his past sins, is that not all problems can be solved by Tony Stark.

    In conclusion: "Don't you see Tony? The Iron was inside you all along! In your heart! Maybe you should get that looked at?"

  8. You're still insisting there's a "right" way to interpret, though; further, you're ignoring the paragraph where I talk about the point of compromise and group four. In which case, I do, indeed, point out that the shrapnel could kill Tony, so he has ever right to remove it; that Pepper could have exploded, so yes, remove Extremis from her system, as well as the third-to-last paragrpah where I propose that since Extremis is a bad thing, the writers are perhaps trying to say curing disability is bad.

    But again, I find that sort of falls apart because the status quo for Tony was changed once he put the thing in his chest to protect his armor from the shrapnel. I could go for ages into identity politics, but once something becomes a part of you in the way the thing protecting him symbolizes, removing it (so the theory goes) is like killing a person within yourself. There's a whole branch of radical disability theorists that say even getting rid of acquired disability is entirely immoral and should be illegal, if not at least shunned. And yes, sure, the shrapnel was acquired. But the thing in his chest became a part of his everyday life, and thus, arguably, a part of him, and a pseudo-natural appendage/organ/what-have-you.

    Ultimately, this still comes down to disagreement on how the "right" way of interpreting the movie is, and the fact that you insist there's a "right" way at all. And I know I'm not going to make you think there's any legitimacy to my way of interpreting it, because it's different from yours. Your refutation of my interpreting the movie as mostly endorsing group 3 proves that. So if you'd please, let it go. You aren't going to convince me I'm interpreting it wrong, any more than I'll convince you I'm not, and closed-minded, pseudo-dialogue is a waste of both of our time.

  9. Hi! Here via Overthinkingit.

    I really liked this post, a lot to mull over here. ::goes into a corner and mulls:: Thank you for the write-up.

    As an able-bodied person I usually go into "lurk and learn" mode in these discussions, but I had a very different reaction to the VP-and-little-girl scene that I thought might be worth mentioning, if for no other reason than it might make you happy that someone had this reaction. I didn't see the VP as sympathetic there -- I saw his motivation as *explained,* but not sympathetically, and not in a way I felt made him less of a monster. In fact, my reaction to that scene was like...okay, I could use some real-world analogues but none of them are quite right, so, you know in X3 when the guy's trying to come up with a "cure" because he thinks his son is "diseased" and we the audience are meant to think he's pretty monstrous for insisting mutations need to be "cured?" And of course there are people in "X-Men" with pretty awful mutations who would prefer not to have them, which I think we're meant to sympathize with, so developing a "cure" (in a non-villainous way) could be an excellent thing in-universe, as long as it's a choice. But I think we're meant to think that the main villain's attitude of needing to BE villainous to "deal" with the mutation "problem" is supposed to be Not a Good Thing. (If I'm remembering right...I didn't really like X3 so I've only seen it once.) Anyway, my reaction to the reveal of the little girl with the VP was exactly that -- a "Oh, that's why he's so zealous about this" understanding but coupled with an abhorrence for that kind of attitude, and figuring there was no way that little girl wanted him KILLING LOTS OF PEOPLE, I mean really!, but hey, he probably would never even think of asking what SHE wants because he's that kind of a villain anyway who thinks he just knows best for everyone so rampages around committing mass murder to effect his better world. In fact, now that I'm thinking about it I think I started to think about him as totally power-hungry but using the girl as an excuse in his head so he could tell himself it was all the right thing -- twisting around morality as an excuse to go totally off the rails ethically because he really just wanted the power. And I rather liked that, as I like that type of villain.

    Of course, now that I've read your analysis I think the powers that be probably *were* going for exactly what you said, a "sympathetic" villain, which . . . is very disappointing to me, as I like my interpretation better. ;) But I thought it might make you a bit happier to hear that it didn't even cross this random person's mind that I was supposed to find him sympathetic. Of course, I'm involved in a lot of representation-in-fandom discussions and do a lot of "lurking and learning" about portrayals of disability, so maybe it all has retrained my brain....

  10. Hi SLHuang!

    I had pretty much the same feelings about X3, actually! And I think you're right, there's a chance we're probably meant to believe, on some level, that this rampant seek for cure at all costs thing is Bad Thing in both movies. It being a little girl in Iron Man 3, though, says to me we're at least meant to understand, not just know, his motivation- as in feel a twinge of empathy. Imagery of children in harmful circumstances is a VERY powerful manipulative tool used in mass media all the time (think about all of those "donate this much and you save this little kid" ads you've seen). We're meant to at least relate to where he's coming from, I think. I think that type of villain can be kind of cool, too, the type where they're willing to do whatever it takes because of some underlying hurt or pain they'e suffered or experienced. I grow cautious, though, when that motivation is ultimately exploitative, like a damsel in distress/revenge tale (see Anita Sarkeesian's stuff on Feminist Frequency about that: The way the girl is used in 'Iron Man 3' feels too exploitative for me to really "enjoy" that villain- I'm just disgusted by him (and again, found his character entirely useless to the plot- they didn't need him there 'on the inside' for the plan to work, which also leads me to lean more toward the "exploitation" interpretation). I think you're VERY much right that he wouldn't ask the daughter what she'd prefer- but that, actually, goes hand-in-hand with the medical model of disability: It assumes expertise on the part of non-disabled persons, and it's up to the latter to decide what's best for the former, and without much, if any, input from the former, to wit. So yeah, I agree, I like your interpretation more, it's just unfortunately NOT what they were trying to do. Alas... Ableism.

    Thanks for the kind words and interesting contribution to the discussion! Would you care to share some of the other sites you look at for critical analyses of pop culture?

    Also, I literally JUST YESTERDAY opened a blog with a fellow OTI fan, Cat, that will be entirely devoted to stuff like this (so none of my personal gobbly-goop, heh). Here's a link to it, if you're interested (and share it with fellow critical thinkers- Cat and I want a site where discussions like the one you and I are having is the norm):

  11. Hi there, I realise I am a little late for the discussion, but I saw IM 3 just now ( I live in Germany) and have been looking for other people who shared thoughts about the representation of disability in the movie.
    I agree with you on the daughter-of-the-VP-reveal, I found it manipulative and it made me quite angry, because I felt like the audience was expected to understand and bless the VP`s actions.
    The other persons shown as disabled ( the Extremis- soldiers) and especially Killian, my first thought was that I liked that physically disabled people can finally be shown as baddies and not entirely pitiable and helpless.
    But I agree that upon further reflection the message in the movie is not about empowerment but ableism, the fact that being "damaged" is not okay.
    Thank you for your essay, I really enjoyed it.

    1. Thanks, Christiane! It's kind of amazing that you're over in Germany and reading my blog, but I guess that's the magic of the Internet, right?

      One of the things I love about pop culture is it provides the venue to start conversations *about* issues such as ableism. I'd encourage you to do that with your friends, family, etc.- "Say, you know that thing in that one movie, it reminds me of this one social phenomena called..." It's amazing how using analogies from pop culture makes concepts like ableism, intersectionality, etc. so much more accessible.

  12. my favourity child hood game i still like to the same version now here are some more detials.\herernherehere