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Disability Tropes 101: The “Tiny Tim”

Another of my guest posts over on the Spoonie Authors’ Network – here I discuss the problematic Tiny Tip Trope of Disability as part of my Disability Tropes 101 series

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Disability Tropes 101 featured image Loose leaf paper with the trope topic: The “Tiny Tim” (by Derek Newman-Stille) Heading above it reads: A Spoonie Authors Network Series, Disability Tropes 101. The O of tropes is the wheel of the accessibility symbol.

The trope that I call the “Tiny Tim” is the creation by an author of a disabled character whose exclusive role is to be an object of pity and in need of charity. I have used the name of the best known of these figures from Dickens—”Tiny Tim.” Tiny Tim doesn’t have a life outside of his role as an object of pity, and his entire existence is about teaching an able-bodied man to be more charitable and share his wealth. 

These figures are obviously not limited to literature and, frequently, charities rely on this image when they launch funding campaigns, trying to evoke sympathy from possible donors. Charities have frequently relied on…

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Disability Tropes 101: Manipulative Sympathy

Here is another of my guest posts over at the Spoonie Authors’ Network – Disability Tropes 101: Manipulative Sympathy

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featured image Loose leaf paper with the trope topic: Manipulative Sympathy (by Derek Newman-Stille) Heading above it reads: A Spoonie Authors Network Series, Disability Tropes 101. The O of tropes is the wheel of the accessibility symbol.

I recently watched the musical Wicked, and one scene particularly stood out to me as problematic. It tied into a few other problematic representations of disability that I have encountered in literature, film, and television.

In Wicked: The Musical , the main character’s sister, Nessarose, is a wheelchair user. During the performance, she, at various times, sings about deserving sympathy (which is a problematic disability trope itself), but what stood out to me was the fact that the character Boq is convinced to be her boyfriend because he believes that she deserves sympathy and needs extra care. He is portrayed as being tricked into a relationship with him because he feels bad for her. This…

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Disability Tropes 101: The Outsider

Here is another of my Disability Tropes 101 posts – this one exploring the trope of disability as Other and the problem of othering disabled bodies. Check it out over at the Spoonie Authors’ Network

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The Outsider featured image

Scholar Isabel Brittain brings attention to the trope of “The Outsider” in her article on “An Examination into the Portrayal of Deaf Characters and Deaf Issues in Picture Books for Children” (Disability Studies Quarterly 2004, Vol 24, No 1). In this trope, “the character with an impairment is portrayed as a figure of alienation and social isolation” (ibid). This is a common trope of disability where the disabled character lives in a position of irreconcilable Otherness, socially ostracized and viewed as perpetually incapable of belonging. 

This is a complex trope because there are certain aspects of it that speak to the disabled experience, after all, we are socially rejected on the basis of our disability and even our buildings exclude us since they are made for an assumed able body. But this trope contains several problematic aspects as well. Generally the Outsider disabled person is portrayed as…

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Disability Tropes 101: Karmically Disabled

In this Disability Tropes 101 Post, I explore the trope of the “karmically disabled” person, a trope that seeks to construct disability as a form of punishment.

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Karmically-Disabled

I recently finished watching Season 2 of Dirk Gently and have been reflecting on the huge number of problematic disability tropes in the show, particularly around the invented disability “Pararibulitis,” but for this post, I want to focus on one particular trope that frequently appears in representations of disability, what I call the Karmically Disabled Trope. In the Dirk Gently TV show, the character Todd fakes having a disease called Pararibulitis, an invented nerve disease where the affected person experiences hallucinations that feel completely real to him/her/them. Todd pretended to have the disease throughout his childhood to gain sympathy and money from his parents, but later his sister Amanda actually developed the disability and couldn’t get access to all of the supports she needed because Todd had used up all of his parents’ resources. At the end of the first season of Dirk Gently, Todd gets the disease as…

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Disability Tropes 101: “The Genius Cripple”

Here’s the second of my critiques of Tropes about disability that I have posted on the Spoonie Authors’ Netork. These posts are meant to show the damage that tropes about disability can do to disabled lives.

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The-Genius-CrippleThe Genius Cripple trope is pronounced in representations of disability in popular media and is generally grounded in the idea of a mind-body dichotomy. The notion of the mind-body dichotomy assumes that the mind and body are distinct from one another. This dichotomy is traced back to the philosopher Descartes, who suggested a distinction between the two when he allied consciousness with the mind rather than with the body overall, and so this is often referred to as a Cartesian Dichotomy (referring to Descartes). The more we learn about the body, the more we see that ideas of consciousness are not limited entirely to the head or the mind, but they are distributed and dependent on impulses and chemicals produced throughout the body.

The trope of “The Genius Cripple” is probably most prominent in the representation of Charles Xavier from the X-Men, a figure who is both a wheelchair user…

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Disability Tropes 101: “The Crippled Sidekick”

I’ve been writing about some of the problematic tropes of disability over at the Spoonie Authors Network. I see so many of these tropes occurring in the fiction that I read, and I am hoping that we can counter these tropes with some further insights. Here is my interrogation of the “Crippled Sidekick” trope.

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Throughout this series, I hope to bring to light some of the tropes around disability in order to (1) improve the representation of disabled people and (2) provide writing tips for those of you who want to include disabled people in your stories.

The Crippled Sidekick Trope

Today’s lesson is about The Crippled Sidekick. This is a common trope of disability, but one that really came info focus for me when reading the manga, A Silent Voice. In A Silent Voice, although the narrative is about a young Deaf girl, it really is about a hearing boy who grows up with the girl in his classes. He spends most of his youth harassing and being violent toward her because she is Deaf. The hearing character is then shown years later trying to apologize to the girl he bullied, and the story ends up actually being about his transformation from a bully into…

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