If disabled people do not appear for pity appeals on mass perspective, what else could they be?
It is indisputable that the media, both social media and mass media, has an impact on our society. In particular, the mass media provide large amounts of material to a large audience. Whatever is presented through media channels affects people’s perspectives in both good and bad ways. And the same is true of people with disabilities.
Basically, disability is a condition of lack of basic physical abilities, including walking, lifting, speaking, hearing, seeing, and well pretty much anything that people take completely for granted. Some people are born with, some are caused by events later in life, or inherited conditions that may worsen with time. Also, mental illnesses such as dementia, autism are considered a mental disability. But the point here is that disability is not individual, or even a single grouping of things, it is many things that take many forms. And the popular media seems to differentiate disabled people into a few limited types and represent them with three main stereotypes on screen.
First of all, people with disabilities are usually portrayed as pitiable or pathetic by the victim. Their pictures are used by producers to earn sympathy from the audience. The media showed the characters are struggling with their life, with their disability as someone who just doesn’t want to live, and even kill themselves. In many cases, the patient is scared to approach others or overreacts when being helped. For example, people with disabilities were used to depict a wealthy but paralyzed man in the movie Me Before You in 2016. His life has become hopeless, living in misery after being paralyzed. The film conveys the message that disabled people cannot live joyful, and successful lives as ordinary people.
Another stereotype is the hero, the characters who are portrayed as extraordinary individuals for doing something inspirational or achieving something great. There are a bunch of stories describing disabled individuals as positive, inspirational people because of overcoming their disability. While this may appear to be a good point of view at first glance, it is still a stereotype. Although the producers have good intentions, the frequently exaggerated language gives the public prejudiced views of disabled people. The media just focuses on the individual who succeeds in overcoming their disability, rather than place on the many others who have to live with their impairment. It also puts disability out as a challenge that the character must triumph over, and only those who make an effort enough can do that. Furthermore, hero roles are mostly played by actors without disabilities, presenting a distorted image of disability. Consider “Glee”, its makers chose an able-bodied actor to play Artie, the main disabled character, and had him sit in a wheelchair and impersonate a disabled person. It limits the visibility of authentic representation and normalizes disability.
The flip side of the hero stereotype is the villain, the characters are depicted as evil persons with physical disabilities such as missing hands, eyes, or legs. Thus far, films and books have shown many strong links between disabilities and evil. There are numerous examples of bad guys with disabilities. Captain Hook in Peter Pan has a missing left hand and he is seen as the baddie. Joker in The Joker suffers from a mental illness and is viewed as the baddie as well. These characters create the idea that a person with a disability will always want to have revenge for whatever has happened to them. Also, there is an issue with creating such characters as Captain Hook, which makes children from a very early age fear disability in any form.
The stereotypes mentioned above also appear in many shows and movies in Thailand. Thai media still has been problematic in portraying people with disabilities and focus too much on presenting some particular appeal to gain the attention of audiences.
Kru Ice, Vision Disability teacher
The short movies are based on a true story from 7-11. The movie demonstrates the life of Mr.Ice, the visual disability teacher. The story was about how hard it is to be a vision disability teacher. He was disrespected and bullied by the students because of his disability.
In contrast to the interview, Mr.Ice said that the movie was overdramatic. His life is not sad as the movie tries to emphasize but it was the intention of the director to make a pitiful appearance in the movie. The director even asked him to cry in the scene to make it more dramatic.
All of those ways of representation lead to a profound lack of knowledge about who disabled people are as an individual and as a group. As a result, the discrimination and inequality between people with disability and others still happen in Thai society.
While Thailand has a long way to go in the way of disability representation, there are some films that feature more positive representation in the US.
The US is one of the countries that are successful in representing disabled people in the media. If you are a big fan of American movies, the image of people with disabilities in wheelchairs might give you a sense of familiarity. It is the technique called “Sugarcoat ” which means to make something seem more positive or pleasant than it really is. Therefore, the audiences can easily consume something they are not used to. That’s why the image of disabled people is normalized frequently in the US media, so the audience could be familiar with their existence and not feel like they are different.
For example, Glee is an American musical comedy-drama television series about the music club in high school. One of the main characters, Artie Abrams, a paraplegic manual wheelchair user who is a member of the glee club, and Quinn Fabray who is attacked by the car accident that has left her in a wheelchair. They both were presented as normal people and they still have a love storyline in the series where they can go to school and live like ordinary people without the piteous representation. This leads to the thoughts of the US people that they equally see disabled people as normal people and this reflects the beliefs that being disabled is not odd to their society.
There is no doubt that representation is very important. How the perception of the mass audience on people with disability is going to be, depending on how the media depict them. If the piteous images of disabled people can be reduced, society is going to view people with disabilities in the same role as normal people. Disable people do not want a spot in the media but all they want is just to be threatened or be represented as a normal person not forced to be stuck in some particular image.
The power of mainstream media to change the perception of people in society is not just happening, It was successfully done in recent years with the LGBTQIA+ movement in Thailand.
The coming of the Boy Love series in mainstream media changed the perception of people in society from teenagers to middle age and some elderly about the LGBTQIA+. Although it still remains controversial about the true objective of the Boy Love series, It is invincible to say that the Boy Love series could ring the bell of Thai society about the equality of LGBTQIA+.
One of the social movements that broad from the BL series includes the revising of article 1448 of the civil and commercial code. The section currently only recognizes marriage between a man and a woman. People demanded to amend this law to allow same-sex marriage like those other countries that have allowed same-sex couples to marry as civil partnerships. Although, this social movement is still in the court process. It is undeniable that BL series in mainstream media normalize the existence of LGBTQIA+ in Thailand.
The mass media is crucial because it can make people aware of the existence of people with disabilities, as the Thai mainstream media succeeded in changing the perception of the mass perspective in the case of LGBTQIA+. It makes a strong case that the mass media can also change the way people view disability by reducing stereotypical representations of disability and, in doing so, not only create equality for people in society but also stimulate the government to provide fundamental rights for people with disabilities in society. Moreover, the appearance of disability has to be standardized on screen. An especially efficient way would be via television programs because of their regularity. The audience can form an almost intimate link with the characters, get used to them, and want to see them in the daily story. Consequently, people can normalize the appearance of disability in everyday life.