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Katherine’s Final Exam: The Refreshingly Truthful and Informative Presentation of Autism within Keiko Tobe’s “With the Light: Raising and Autistic Child – Volume 6”

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Keiko Tobe unapologetically presents autism as one valuable point on the spectrum of human experience.  In her graphic text, With the Light: Raising and Autistic Child – Volume 6, Tobe asserts and demonstrates that autism is not a “curable disease” from which someone “suffers,” but a set of characteristics that form how an individual experiences the world.  Tobe also risks the validity of her text as a whole by offering support and information directly to her audience, not just by implying advice through her characters.  Further, this presentation of autism, in some ways atypical, in other ways emotionally truthful, roots this text firmly within the canon of disability studies in that it offers a unique, truthful, life-like gaze into the tensions and epiphanies of a family who is raising an autistic child.

Tobe creates a believable space within this family by offering the same tensions found in the real world: acceptance against rejection, understanding against ignorance, and hope against doubt.  For example, in juxtaposition against her mother-in-law, Sachiko does not try to change Hikaru’s behaviors or ignore them. Instead, Sachiko accepts Hikaru exactly the way he is, and learns to adapt to how Hikaru experiences his world instead of trying to destroy it.  Although Sachiko does occasionally wonder what life would be like if Hikaru did not have autism, this detail of the text only adds to the multi-dimensional reality of the family.  After witnessing how Sachiko and Masato have learned to adapt themselves to Hikaru’s world, the mother-in-law begins to see that Hikaru is not as “far way” as she had assumed.  These tensions are made even more believable as they are selectively resolved or reinforced in both the familial home, as well as the public setting.

On a more raw, functional level, this text even (possibly only in the English translation) offers tips and reassuring notes to parents and families caring for autistic individuals.  In any other text that takes the form of a graphic novel, this bold risk would completely break the “third wall” between the world of the characters, and the reality of the audience.  Interestingly, this detail only serves to add to the richness of this text.  One of these little notes can be seen on page 444, in a footnote, where Tobe directly addresses the reader and offers them more information about how to acquire earmuffs to help autistic individuals concentrate.  Within the genres of graphic novel and manga, it is remarkably rare for the author to purposefully break this “third wall,” and may even be seen as a flaw in some texts if done by accident; but Tobe’s purposefulness adds to the truthful functionality of this text: not only to give emotions and situations to identify with, but to also inform and act as a resource.

The view of autism found within Keiko Tobe’s With the Light is both highly realistic, and inspiringly optimistic, in that every detail of its presentation functions to form a unified text that may serve as a beacon of light within the dark, conflicted halls of autistic studies.  The family dynamics and genuine acceptance found within this text can serve as a guiding light for families of autistic individuals and those studying autistic theory.

Word count:  547

Written by Katherine Sullivan

December 8th, 2010 at 11:28 am

Syrian Soaps and Longmore’s Telethon Dilema (A revised post)

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Hey, y’all! While checking out the BBC News website this afternoon, I came across this video about Syrian soap operasthat are beginning to “confront taboos and spark debate.” Below is the site’s summary of the video.

Ramadan is a time for prayer and reflection but it is also the most popular season to unveil new TV dramas in the Middle East.

Syrian soaps have become popular across the region in recent years due to their realistic plots which have also caused controversy.

Religious leaders in Syria have already called for one soap to be banned this year due to its hard-hitting storyline.

Lina Sinjab reports from Damascus.

Surprisingly, one of the examples of soaps that confront taboos are two soap operas that “talk about people with special needs.” The interviewee adds, “We didn’t talk about that before.” The video isn’t solely concerned with disability topics; however it is interesting to note the context in which disability appears here. A description of the taboos says that  they are “difficult to touch” in a public setting. Other examples of taboos in soaps are gay characters or characters critical of radical Islam.

Thoughts? This reminds me of our readings about the history of disability, specifically Western disability, and how the topic was/is a taboo and was/is associated with other taboos such as sexuality, ideology, or religious dissent.

Also, I’m curious to see if the portrayal of “people with special needs” on these Syrian soap operas is cliche, realistic, or a mixture. Perhaps the answer is obvious; they are, after all, soap operas.

As a psych major with an interest in cross-cultural psych and stigma associated with psychology, this video really gave me a lot to ponder.

Have a great weekend! Guess I just confirmed my nerd status by posting on a Friday afternoon. ; )

**BELOW you’ll find additional thoughts that I had on this topic after reading Longmore’s “The Cultural Framing of Disability: Telethons as a Case Study.” I originally posted this as a comment (also below!)***

…after reading Longmore’s “The Cultural Framing of Disability: Telethons as a Case Study,” I would argue that representations of disability on soap operas are similar to those on telethons.

Specifically, these representations share Garland-Thompson’s sentiments that “…The dominant mode of looking at the disability in this culture is staring” (502). Staring is precisely what people do when watching these representations on television. This staring, as Garland-Thompson theorizes, carries a lot of weight and “constitut[es] the starer as normal and the object of the stare as different, it creates disability as a state of absolute difference, rather than as simply one more variation in human form” (502).

As stated in my original post and as evident in the news clip, the object – disability in our case – created as a state of absolute difference is similar to the other “taboos” mentioned in the video (homosexuality, etc.) Just as Longmore argues in his article, these representations are very problematic because television “seems to posses even more truth-value than photography” (504).

Just as concerning is Longmore’s argument that “live television seems to posses even more truth-value than photography” and that “the seeming veraciousness of television masks the extent to which the makers of live TV manufacture the ‘reality’ of the present” (504).

When soap operas or telethons are some of the only representations of disability in a culture, then there is a risk that the very conveyance of this topic (television media) can skew the reality of disability.

Any ideas for improvements?

Written by Robert

August 27th, 2010 at 4:29 pm