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May 2019, Week 4

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 		 [It’s not always perfect, but the nuances of the show’s
disabled characters make it stand out.] [https://portside.org/] 

 PORTSIDE CULTURE 

 THE GROUNDBREAKING DISABILITY REPRESENTATION IN DC UNIVERSE’S DOOM
PATROL  
[https://portside.org/2019-05-26/groundbreaking-disability-representation-dc-universes-doom-patrol]


 

 Chelsea Jackson 
 May 23, 2019
Polygon
[https://www.polygon.com/2019/5/23/18636134/doom-patrol-disability-representation-dc-universe]


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	* [https://portside.org/node/20123/printable/print]

 _ It’s not always perfect, but the nuances of the show’s disabled
characters make it stand out. _ 

 , 

 

Comics have long portrayed disabled people and other disenfranchised
groups as mutants, mortals, and meta-humans.
[https://www.polygon.com/comics/2019/2/18/18226318/umbrella-academy-x-men-doom-patrol-dc-comics-gerard-way-grant-morrison] Some
of these characters aren’t the most accurate representation of
real-world disabled issues, and some of them can potentially be
harmful. But while us real-life disabled folks might not have the
power of a telepath or empath — not for a lack of trying — we can
relate to a disabled superhero’s story, all the same.

DC Universe’s _Doom Patrol_
[https://www.polygon.com/tv/2019/2/15/18226740/doom-patrol-review-dc-comics-universe] TV
series has taken the concept of a group of tragically ostracized
superheroes further than ever before, and in the process, it’s
created some of the strongest representation of disabled people and
our issues on television today.

From superhero therapy to defeating internalized ableism, evergreen
disability metaphors thrive on _Doom Patrol_. Rita Farr exhibits
internalized ableism, in her belief that her powers — uncontrollable
elasticity — are a punishment; an adverse connotation of disability.
Larry Trainor assiduously hides his disfigurement; responding to the
stigma that disability should be visibly hidden. But in more subtle
ways, the show explores extremely topical aspects of modern disabled
life as well.

From navigating online dating while disabled to fighting government
agencies that want to cut off our resources and support (in the form
of the oppressive Bureau of Normalcy), the series shows how stressful
it is for its disabled characters to live in a world that doesn’t
accommodate their basic needs. _Doom Patrol_ tackles truly complex
themes of disability when the show illustrates the modern stress of
disabled parenting, from the point of view of both parents and
children.

As Cliff Steele, Robotman, struggles to adjust to his new, unwanted
robot body, his internalized ableist belief in his own freakishness
strains his relationship with his daughter, Clara. Clara doesn’t
know that he’s still alive, and Cliff worries that she’s better
off with no father than with a father who is just a brain in a metal
body.

He doesn’t think he deserves to have a relationship with her — or
even a family to begin with. As disabled people, our self-worth is
often a direct reflection of how society views and treats us. It can
be an inescapable feeling, when laws and bills favor abled people,
such as bills designed to prevent disabled people from having kids
[https://rewire.news/article/2018/03/12/parents-around-country-disability-can-mean-losing-custody-kids/],
and Cliff’s on-screen counterpart helps channel those feelings.

[Doom Patrol - three characters sitting around]Jace Downs/Warner Bros.
Entertainment

But the series also parallels Cliff’s desire to become a parent
again with Cyborg — another DC character whose body was augmented
with cybernetic parts without his consent. Victor Stone struggles with
his overprotective, abled father. Silas Stone gave Vic his
enhancements in the first place, and clearly thinks he knows what’s
best for his disabled son. Cliff and Cyborg are given an almost
sibling-like dynamic, to better show the mirror between Cliff’s arc
as a disabled parent and Silas Stone’s well-meaning intentions that
inevitably hurt his son, Victor.

Victor’s relationship with his father is complicated by the
memory-altering powers of the manipulative villain Mr. Nobody, but
it’s still an easy parallel to the way helicopter parenting can
affect a disabled child. That is, when a parent becomes even more
overprotective of their kid just because they’re disabled — or
worse, they try to govern their entire life or speak for their
desires. Silas tries to prevent Vic from being his own kind of hero,
and even prevented him from dating. And when Vic does get around his
dad’s digital walls to access his dating app, his experience of
rejection is equally relatable to anyone who has tried dating while
disabled — because navigating online dating is difficult enough
without dealing with ableism.

Instead of listening to what Vic wanted in life or why he loves being
a hero, Silas integrated overtly protective parameters into his
digital interface, and instead of protecting Vic from the world, it
just secluded him. The whole premise of this arc shows how these
parental tactics actively make disabled kids feel less normal, not
because of the actions of their peers or the outside world, but
because their parent excludes them from these activities. When Vic
refuses to allow his father to alter his cybernetics until he can
prove he can be trusted, it shows that disabled kids deserve to have
autonomy of their life decisions.

[Doom Patrol - two characters arguing]Warner Bros. Entertainment

The final father figure in _Doom Patrol _is the often absent Niles
Caulder, whose fear of being tracked down by Mr. Nobody could be said
to drive his desire to seclude the Doom Patrol from society.
Experience with isolation is a running theme that brings the whole
team closer together, but for Crazy Jane, her self-imposed isolation
was a survival mechanism in an inaccessible world. Her path to
becoming a Doom Patrol member allows her to find a family — to
recognize Niles as a father figure — and to reclaim her self, in all
its fractures, for her and nobody else.

Not every disabled person is fond of the term “crazy,” especially
in proximity to mental health and characters with psychological
disabilities, but the term is implicitly a part of Jane’s
reclamation arc. Beyond stopping the apocalypse and killing fascists,
Jane has a resounding agency over her mental health — she’s
reclaimed her control from her abuser. Like Jane, the entirety of the
team has redistributed their internalized-ableism-related anger toward
their disabilities to dismantling agencies that actively harm disabled
superheroes.

Like real-life disabled lawmakers, representatives, and
activists, _Doom Patrol_ uses its eponymous team as an exaggerated
metaphor to show how disabled activists are continuously fighting to
support and protect disability rights when it brings the Doom Patrol
up against the Bureau of Normalcy. As an evergreen villain, the series
uses the Bureau to critique more recent issues with how legislature
threatens disabled livelihoods. Adapting Morrison’s _Doom
Patrol_ run and other classic arcs for a more mainstream audience
creates exceptionally positive imagery of disabled superheroes taking
down a government organization that threatens the freedom, existence,
and autonomy of marginalized people.

[Doom Patrol - Niles Caulder]

Warner Bros. Entertainment

_Doom Patrol_ channels its heroes’ rage toward bullies —
including a Nazi scientist and his followers, Mr. Nobody, and the
Bureau of Normalcy — who try to make them question their self-worth
as disabled heroes. Disabled characters wielding their justified anger
to destroy infrastructures that hinder their fellow implicitly
disabled heroes is a triumphant message.

One of the only places that _Doom Patrol_ falls into a regressive
trope of disabled characters is with the mysterious Niles Caulder.
Niles is a character who’s notorious for being in and out of his
wheelchair — and not because he’s an ambulatory wheelchair user.
Rather, he tends to periodically become disabled, find a miracle cure,
and then become disabled again, both in the comics and in DC
Universe’s series

Niles’ recent heinous confession also hints at an adjacent comic arc
where he faked his disability for a period of time. While our fan
theories will have to wait until season 2 before Doom Patrol clarifies
everything about Niles’ past, his emergence as the villainous
wheelchair user trope has some hefty implications. Given the evergreen
and dangerous myth that real disabled people fake their disabilities
to receive government benefits — which, in many jurisdictions,
barely cover rent and utilities, let alone our necessary medical
procedures — Niles’ fluctuating, potentially fraudulent,
disability contributes to an already prevalent stigma that disability
is an excuse or a scheme. When the Trump administration is currently
proposing a system to monitor disabled people
[https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/10/us/politics/social-security-disability-trump-facebook.html] based
on stereotypical concepts of what disabled people look and act like,
Niles’ current characterization warrants some clarification.

Overall, the portrayals of disabilities on _Doom Patrol_ do
accurately represent disabled people and our modern-day issues. More
importantly, many of the metaphors radiate positive messages about
what disenfranchised groups of people can accomplish together.

Set in today’s landscape, the_ Doom Patrol _series takes a clever
approach to intertwine disability discourse in the dialogue,
characterization, and plot; a reflection of our real-world society.
Reforming disabled superheroes for a modern audience, the show even
changes some of the less than favorable portrayals of comics past,
with Cliff’s longing for connection with his daughter. In other
instances, as with Niles, the value of the representation is still
subject to interpretation.

_Doom Patrol_’s TV adaptation gives us a chance to re-admire our
favorite team of disabled superheroes — because, beyond all the
horror, comedy, and weirdness, we just love that we can see realistic
representations of disabilities beyond the powers.

Chelsea Jackson is a disabled critic and freelance pop culture writer
who spends too much time reading comics.

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