Ghoulish Greetings Everyone!
Welcome back to Fashioneyesta, today I am getting into the Halloween spirit with a topic that I have always wanted to discuss with you and that is the Disabled Villain.
When I started my Masters Degree in Children’s Literature last year I found myself drawn to the topic of disability representation in children’s literature. Since then I have been researching disability in the media from TV, Books, Comics, Film, Stage and so on and time and time again the disabled villain continues to creep up on me, cackling evilly.
So, seeing as its Halloween I wanted to discuss my views on this stock character, its social and historical context, what this says about the disability community and my views on the disabled villain as someone with a disability.
I also filmed a video on this topic which you can view below.
Now contrary to what the media may tell you, I do not sit in my room all night plotting my master scheme for world domination just because I happen to have a disability. I am not driven to evil plots or cunning tricks because I cannot see and no I do not have an evil laugh…no actually I do have an evil laugh according to my friends. But, anyhow let’s not side-track here, needless to say the disabled villain is one of the most prevalent stock characters we see throughout the course of TV, Literature, Film and Stage. In 2016 we still see films casting disabled characters in the role of villain, most commonly with that of mental health conditions. For years we have seen those with disabilities cast in this role and this says an awful lot about societies overall view of the disability community. Yet, a person with a disability does not become bad because they have a disability, not all those with disabilities will turn to the dark side, there is good and bad in all groups of people including the disability community.
In fact, Channel 4 made an advert for the return of The Super Humans in which they parodied this idea of the Disabled Villain.
The Tale of Three Stock Characters
Now I want to begin by describing three of the main stock characters that we see in respect of disability. A stock character is a character who is predominantly used in a plot and who conforms to a set of stereotypes.
Of course I am by no means saying that every disabled character in the media conforms to one of these three examples. Indeed there are plenty of positive characters we can find who are realistic and positive examples of disability like Iggy in Maximum Ride, Tyrion Lanester in Game Of Thrones or Nemo in Finding Nemo.
The first is of course the Villain, this is usually a character that is the antagonist of the plot, they are the infiltrators of evil, the ones who wait in the wings to thwart the heroes plans and ruin everyone’s life. They always have some form of disability from physical like an amputated limb like Freddy Kruger in Nightmare of Elm Street or sport some form of a facial injury like Scar in The Lion King; they may have a sensory disability or they may have some kind of cognitive or mental health disability. They may also have a kind of invisible disability, like epilepsy especially in horror films when characters have seizures do to being possessed by an evil apparition. Whatever their disability, these characters are usually evil, cruel, manipulative, egotistical and show a lack of regard for anyone else.
The Victim is the polarised opposite of the Villain, these characters are usually unable to care for themselves, they fall prey to the ill deeds of their counterparts and they warrant the audience’s pity and sympathy; Characters like Tiny Tim from A Christmas Carol or Suzy in Wait Until Dark are but a few examples. Where the Villain is strong, authoritative and inflicts pain on others, the Victim is the one who falls prey to their stronger counterparts.
Lastly we have the Inspiration, these characters are usually the ones who serves as the audience’s inspiration fix to live a better life. These characters are made inspirational because of their disability or they are not limited by their disability in any way whatsoever. Characters like Daredevil who is not limited by his blindness due to the fact that the toxic waste that made him blind has also heightened his other senses to the point where he does not need his sight to be a hero. These characters are usually never realistic or relatable to the characters with disabilities, they are too perfect and do not have any imperfections or limitations.
Historically Disabled Villains go right back to the beginning of the Folktale and Fairy-tale tradition. Many fairy tales appropriate this image of the elderly and the disabled assuming the role of villain; they are usually driven by jealousy towards the young and beautiful counterpart or they may be cruel and cunning like Rumplestiltskin. Now this idea of the disabled villain being jealous of the non-disabled and thus turning their hatred towards them has remained with us throughout the history of literature, film, TV and stage.
A strong consensus that runs throughout literature is that a person with a disability is innately driven towards evil due to their disability. Many earlier Puritan texts suggested this idea, that a child who was conceived with a disability is being punished for being innately immoral. However, one of the most famous examples of a Disabled Villain who believes their disability gives them soul licence for their misconduct is William Shakespeare’s Richard III.
Why, I in this weak piping time of peace
Have no delight to pass away the time,
Unless to spy my shadow in the sun
And descant on mine own deformity.
And therefore since I cannot prove a lover
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.
Richard III, Act I, Scene I
Richard III is the archetype of everything a Disabled Villain stands for, that a disability makes you evil and presents you from loving or being loved and that a disability is something to be feared and shunned.
The Disabled Villain is also a common element of children’s literature, most notably Captain Hook in J M Barrie’s Peter Pan and many Stage, TV and Film adaptations stay true to Hook’s initial appearance.
Captain Hook is an example of the Disabled Villain being driven by revenge after they become disabled through the actions of the hero. Hook, losing his hand subsequent to Peter’s actions adopts a sinister interest in his counterpart. Hook is but just one example of the many Pirates with disabilities who assume the role of Villain, plenty of Pirates we see in Film, TV and in literature have some kind of physical disability like a missing body part or a mobility disability. Yet, Hook is one of the most famous and embodies the classic Disabled Villain character. Hook is an example of how the Disabled Villain can evoke negative stereotypes of those with disabilities. Hook is bitter, antisocial, egotistical and lacks any regard for his associates. In modern day society I have come across people who equally have views that people with disabilities are all of the above.
In modern day Film and TV the Disabled Villain is still a prevalent stock character. One of the most recent examples I have come across is the Alpha Male in Teen Wolf who happens to be blind. Apart from the fact that his overall persona and appearance contributes to the stigma of what it is to ‘look bind’ he is also evil, selfish and lacks any empathy for others.
Now with any Villain you always have to question their motives. What drives them? What makes them tick? Some times there is no clear answer to this, sometimes they simply want to cause destruction wherever they go. In which case when we consider the Disabled Villain regarding this, this caricature suggests that people with disabilities denigrate society and the space around them. Which is an extremely negative stereotype. But, there are cases where their reasons are apparent, which give us an insight into society’s perception of disability.
Now one of the big motives that drives a lot of this schemers is the need for revenge, either against society as a whole or against a particular individual. With disability this said individual may be the alleged ‘hero’ who’s actions caused them to have a disability in the first place.
Take a look at Maleficent for example, Disney’s 2014 remake staring Angelina Jolie gives us the backstory to this well loved Villain and sheds a light on her disability and the history to how she became to be. The story shows how Maleficent was betrayed by Stefan when he cut off her wings, thus physically disabling her, in order to trick his way to becoming the King. Maleficent, driven by revenge and hatred turns into the Villain she is best known for and goes as far to curse an infant in her bid for revenge. Although in the 2014 version she turns back to the forces of good and sees the error of her ways. Maleficent is an example of how using a Disabled Villain in a plot can raise thought provoking questions about who is Villain and who is Hero. Like in Maleficent and to some extent peter Pan, although the Disabled Villains are by standards of Canon, the Villain, the backstory to how they got there may allude to something different. Thus presenting the case to the audience that good and evil isn’t so easy to distinguish from each other. Like it isn’t so easy to tell who is Villain and Hero with Stefan and Maleficent.
The Disabled Villain’s all consuming need for revenge also predicates the idea that those with disabilities are bitter towards their becoming disabled. Which is not reflective of the disability community, people with disabilities are able to move on from their disability and advance in their life. We don’t all turn to the dark side because we have a disability. It also suggests the idea that people with disabilities can become consumed by their disability, like these Disabled Villains are consumed by the need for avenge themselves which thus majorly inhibits their ability to lead a normal life.
The second motive that usually drives them is the need to obtain power and control over their own destiny and the lives of others on some scale. Whether that is world domination, kidnap, theft or combat the Disabled Villain usually presents the need to obtain control over others. Now when we consider this next to the Disabled Vitim character, the Disabled Villain suddenly becomes a lot more of a positive character. The Disabled Villain we may say is a character who has become acclimatised to the idea that society can be judgemental and an unproductive place for those with disabilities. Thus, they subvert the social norm of the person with a disability not being able to defend themselves or be self-sufficient. Instead of accepting their fate to be dictated to and unrepresented by society they instead decide to defend themselves and gain power over others so that they are able to be the leader of their own lives. Thus, when we look at the Disabled Villain from this angle, the Disabled Villain is not as unappealing as we would first imagine. Because the Disabled Villain mirrors societies attitudes towards disability and represents the desire to obtain autonomy over ones life; something that I’m sure many of us will recognise and something that many of us can relate to in everyday life. Thus the Disabled Villain may be closer to home than we may have initially imagined.
The Disabled Villain also embodies society’s fear towards disability and the idea that disability is something to be avoided like the Disabled Villain. Thus in this sense there is a very negative correlation between the Disabled Villain and Disability and is that respect the Disabled Villain becomes a very negative and harmful stereotype; Because it feeds into the stigma that surrounds disability that it is uncomfortable, awkward and something to be afraid of. When in fact it is not.
The general consensus that is shared by those from the disability community is the Disabled Villain is a majorly negative stock character and that they don’t accurately reflect those with disabilities. Now, whilst I, for the most part, agree with my peers on this matter, I wouldn’t argue that everything about the characterisation of the Disabled Villain is negative.
The Disabled Villain is a character who, although they may be evil, self-centred, violent, angry and manipulative, also has a lot of positive attributes. They may be intelligent and good at thinking of solutions to problems. They may be good at combat on some level whether that be intellectually or physically like Darth Vadar in Star Wars. They may have good talking and negotiating skills, they may be cunning and thus able to negotiate what they need. They may have good leadership skills to control their henchmen or those who work under them. These characters usually have a lot of finesse and aesthetic prowess. These are the characters we usually remember for their imposing appearance and the lingering impression they leave on us.
So, you see they aren’t so negative, as at the very least they subvert the stigma that those with disabilities are unable to be successful in what they do, have particular skills or lead their own life. As Disabled Villains are just that, Villains, they are the Antagonist and the hero always has to consider the Villains each and every move and to play their own moves very carefully. The Disabled Villain is equal to the hero in the stance they have in the plot, unlike the Victim who usually has a significantly lower position in the character hierarchy.
So, what do you think? What are you’re views on the Disabled Villain? Feel free to leave your comments below.
That concludes it for this special Halloween feature today, I really hope you all enjoyed it. Be sure to subscribe to my blog for more posts and I would like to wish you all a very Happy Halloween.