Monday, February 20, 2017

Disability and M. Night. Shyamalan (SPOILERS)

In the wake of Split, disability rights folks have been grumpy about the ways that the show depicts
Dissociative Identity Disorder (aka Multiple Personality Disorder). It's one of the most stigmatized, and broadly misunderstood, disabilities, especially in the context of creating fictional killers.

But Kim Sauder, one of my favorite writers on disability and culture, went first on a tweet storm and then a blog post on M. Night Shyamalan's consistent use disability as a shortcut to "bad."
Split is actually (as it is revealed in the end) a sort of sequel to Shyamalan’s 2000 film Unbreakable. Unbreakable is another film that relies on a disabled villain. Elijah Price AKA Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson) has Osteogenesis Imperfecta, a condition that causes brittle bones. Price is inspired to villainy by comic books (Isn’t Shyamalan Meta he creates a superhero universe where the villains are inspired by comic books *sigh*). He makes it very clear that his disability is a catalyst for his villainy. He reasons that if he is so fragile then there must be someone is as impervious to injury as Price is prone to it (because logic I guess). He goes around causing disasters with mass casualties until he finds his opposite. He discovers David Dunn (Bruce Willis) after Dunn is the sole survivor of a train wreck.

Disability is so linked to villainy in Unbreakable that the hero is literally impervious to injury. He can never become disabled.
By linking Split and Unbreakable, Shyamalan has essentially created a superhero universe in which disability is synonymous with evil.
Shyamalan’s use of disability is not limited to these two films. It is also a theme in his biggest success The Sixth Sense (1999). The initial meeting between Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment) and Dr. Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) is set up as Crowe being Cole’s psychiatrist. But fear, not Haley Joel Osment is not another Shyamalan supervillain. He is not mad. He can actually really see ghosts. The film does not, however, avoid the insinuation that mad is bad. In the scene where Cole finds the evidence that a child–who had presumably died of some unknown prolonged illness–had been murdered by her mother through long-term poisoning. The film subtly suggests that the mother has Munchausen’s by Proxy and was carrying out the prolonged poisoning not for the direct goal of killing the girl but rather for the attention having a sick child provided her.
As they say, READ THE WHOLE THING

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