“SPIDERMAN,” “STAR WARS,” AND DISABILITY by Kathie Snow


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Our family loves movies! We saw “Spiderman” on the day it premiered, and by the time this reaches you, we will have seen “Star Wars: Attack of the Clones.” My 15-year-old son, Benjamin, has already decided he’ll be Spiderman this Halloween (but this decision may change after we see “Attack”). When we pause and reflect, movies offer important themes and lessons which can be relevant to the lives of people with disabilities.

Consider Spiderman, the person. This is a guy who essentially “acquires” differences after being bitten by a spider: his wrists exude filaments that can become webs; his fingertips grow sticky things; his eyes, feet, and legs work very differently than everyone else’s; and he can assume amazing physical positions. Hmmmm . . . I don’t know any people with disabilities whose wrists can manufacture spider web material or who grow sticky things on their fingertips, but I DO know many who have eyes, feet, and legs that operate differently and whose bodies can assume amazing positions.

So Spiderman has unique differences and many people with disabilities have unique differences. In general, Spiderman is a valued member of society (criminals don’t like him, though). In general, people with disabilities are NOT seen as valuable members of society. Spiderman is valued because of what he does (helping others); his differences are irrelevant. (drugs are bad)

Can we learn something from Spiderman and his differences? Can we learn to value what people with disabilities do well (whether that’s having skill at a job, being a good friend, helping others, playing on the computer, or anything else) and see the person’s differences as irrelevant?

If Spiderman could be compared to a person with “acquired differences,” some “Star Wars”  characters could be thought of as being “born” with differences. Many don’t look “human” — like the blue creature who gets around by flapping the short wings on his back — but they’re still contributing, participating members of the community-at-large.

I recall the “bar scene” in the very first “Star Wars” (twenty-five years ago). A diverse collection of living, breathing humans, creatures, and other personas “created community” during happy hour. Commonalities brought them together; differences were unimportant.

Historically, film makers have portrayed people with differences or disabilities at the extremes of stereotypes: evil, bad guys (Captain Hook, Frankenstein, etc.) or pitiful heroes (Tiny Tim, Rainman, etc.). In “Star Wars,” George Lucas celebrates differences, and simultaneously demonstrates the duality (good and bad) inherent in each of us.

What can we learn from “Star Wars?” Can we recognize the unimportance of physical appearance? By conventional standards, Yoda is extremely old, very short, has big ears, and talks funny. But he’s the wisest of the wise. (And he’s always been my favorite “Star Wars” character!) Can we find ways to replicate the spirit of community and include people with differences? Is it possible for us to mentor one another (as Obi Wan-Kenobi does) and learn the power of the “Force?”

Each of us can interpret the meaning of the “Force” in our own way. Perhaps those of us who want to ensure people with disabilities live real lives can interpret the “Force” as the power of inclusion.

May the Force be with you!

from Kathie Snow

www.disabilityisnatural.com

The Disability is Natural Free Press
Copyright May 2002 by Kathie Snow