Masters in Media Studies, University of Western Ontario (2008)

Masters Defense: Summer 2008
Thesis:
 Augmented Ability, Integrated Identity: Understanding Sapienism, Adaptive Technology, and the Construction of Disability

Abstract: To some, individuals with disabilities are loathsome objects of pity, where wheelchairs are symbolic of confinement. While the words used to identify the disabled have changed, the connotative perceptions linger. Rather than choose another phrase that relies on the language of loss, this thesis calls for a language that depicts the true nature of the disability community, one of technological adaptation: a cyborg community. Ray Kurzweil and Donna Haraway believe the integration of technology into our bodies provides the opportunity to normalize or amplify human ability. David Noble and Willem Vanderburg argue this penetration subverts our humanity, a stance I dub sapienism. With Iain Banks and Richard Morgan’s perceptions on imbedded technology and identity, I suggest that while the adaptive technology used by the disabled may penetrate the body and alter our identity, it is a site for liberation rather than a source of limitation.

Keywords: Disability Studies, cyborgs, science fiction, technology and humans, Richard Morgan, Iain Banks

Doctoral Candidate in Media Studies, University of Western Ontario

Doctoral Defense: Summer 2014
Thesis: Fantasizing Disability: Representation of Loss and Limitation in Popular Television and Film

Abstract: Film and television programs that include disabled characters are often constructed by individuals who are nondisabled and, as such, are based on what the nondisabled imagine it would be like to be disabled – a perception that is informed by the fantasy of disability. This project proposes and investigates the fantasy of disability: a net of ideas, created by no single individual but perpetuated and circulated between subjects and which seeks to contain the danger of limitation, to subject it to a set of societal preconceived notions about what it means to be disabled and how a person is expected to act and react to the diagnoses of disablement. The project is guided by three key questions: 1. What are the unconscious fantasies circulating in representations of disability? 2. What role do these fantasies play in defining the condition of disability? 3. What can these fantasies teach us about human vulnerability writ large? By looking at Vietnam War films, such as Coming Home (1978) and Born on the Fourth of July (1989), and modern teen drama, such as Degrassi: The Next Generation (2001) and Glee (2009), this project argues that depictions of disability in the media are driven by repressed anxieties of bodily rupture, which in turn, generate particular fantasies that aim at neutralizing these anxieties. In this way, the real purpose of the fantasy of disability is to consolidate and strengthen the idea that disability is indeed foreign: that there is a difference between the disabled and the nondisabled, and moreover, that this difference safe guards the nondisabled from the repressed threat of castration called forth by disability and the subsequent risk to our narcissistic sense of self. In this way, Fantasizing Loss explores how depictions of disability are informed by anxieties of fractured identity and crushing emasculation with disabled characters being driven by fantasies of rebirth and reconstitution – dreams constructed to neutralize the anxieties of the nondisabled subject when encountering their own inherent vulnerability.

Courses

MIT3435F: Disabilty in Popular Culture: Heroes, Villains, and Burdens

Fusing traditional media scholarship with the emergent field of disability studies, this course aims to untangle the complex representations of disability in popular culture (film, television and news media) to explore the myth of disability and the construction of the disabled subject.

MIT3652G: Communication Through Meme: Cool Story, Bro

Whether referring to someone as the “salt of the earth” or placing black and white text over an image of a cat, Western society has long used “memes” as cultural shorthand; a means of expressing complex emotions and wit in as few words or images as possible. Half historical analysis, half critical media theory, this course charts the evolution of how common stories, stories that form the backbone of our culture, are employed, deployed and remixed to become a part of our common discourse. At its core, this class explores the memes, especially those online, that both enrich the communicative process while at the same time setting boundaries on what and how we think about the world around us.

DS2211B: Disability Art, Sport & Leisure

Art, sport, and leisure are sub-cultures through which we can examine broader issues within disability studies, such as inclusion and exclusion, participation and its consequences, and the lived body.

DS2216B: Disability, Media & Madness

This course aims to examine cultural contexts and attitudes that produce diverse, evolving mythology of disability and normalcy in private reflections and public media (news, policies, memoirs, arts, social media). Throughout the course, students will critique existing media representations and work on constructive alternatives.