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Cultural visibility or exploitation?

Kim K's picture

 After reading "Culture as Disability" and last week's viewing of Josh Blue on Last Comic Standing, I couldn't help questioning whether cultural visibility is always the best way to further understand disability and difference better. When does visibility become exploitation? Eli Clare talked about the freak show and subsequent decline of it today.  Was Josh Blue exploiting himself when he went on national TV and made fun of his disability and the stereotypes surrounding people with CP? Did he inadvertently box everyone with CP into a category they might not want to be a part of? What would Eli Clare think about Josh Blue? I guess I'm trying to sort through the question of whether or not it is helpful to make disability and queerness and other "differences" visible in society or if, possibly, it's just another less obvious form of exploitation for profit. When I read that  the recently trans gendered Chaz Bono was going to be on this season of Dancing with Stars, I thought it was an amazing advancement for the trans community to get mainstream recognition. Then recently there has been a lot of ridiculous press on the apparent controversy of having a transgendered contestant on a "family" show. People have even gone as far as to warn parents not to let their children watch the show in fear that it would confuse the child's own formation of gender identity. These news articles are perpetuating the exploitation (not visibility) of a transgendered person. Now I feel as though many people will be tuning into the show not to support the community or to better understand what transgendered is, but instead to mock and gaze at a "freak". 


Kammy's picture

visibility or exploitation?

Kim, you bring up a great question when you ask regarding the line between positive cultural visibility and exploitation. I think that it is indeed a fine line, and can be taken in either direction. With regards to Josh Blue, it seemed to me as if he did indeed make fun of and exploit his disability, his queerness and "otherness" - and I will admit that I got a good laugh out of it. What occurs to me though, is the fact that Blue is a commedian, and humor is often times very subversive and perverse.  In this instance of subversion, Blue calls attention to his "disability" and  contrasts it to his audience's "ability" under particular circumstances (e.g. getting pulled over by the police). In this manner, Blue challenges societal notions of the "normal" by making those notions explicit and forcing his audience to acknowledge the construction (of normal), rather than letting the "normal" be implied, assumed, and overlooked. And so, despite the fact that Blue might be exploiting his disabilty in order to make a joke, it seems to me as if he is making a positive impact via the social commentary that his humor provides. And of course, I must add that Blue has a great amount of agency in the enactment of his routines.


On the other hand, I also want to look at Chaz Bono on Dancing with the stars. Whereas I think that Blue's exploitation of his disability has its place in promoting visibility and challenging the norm, I don't feel comfortable saying the same about Bono. More than anything, I think it has to do with the issue of agency and subjectivity. Whereas I see the possibility for Blue's situation (perception of) as more than a commedian and more than a disabled man, Bono is so enwrapped in his parents' celebrity and more of a public figure, such that his exploitation would be a matter of entertainment and voyeurism as he is portrayed in popular culture.

I guess it comes down to the public gaze, what challenges that gaze, what subverts the norm rather than only illustrating and reinforcing the differences.