107- Social Justice Successes and Failures

The Mythcreant Podcast
We’ve all got our social justice axes to grind, and as we are joined by Fay for a third week, this is the time to get them out. We discuss several episodes of Star Trek that tried for a positive message but shot themselves in the foot, how Dragonlance needs to understand that racism isn’t just for goblins and orcs, and some basic ways to separate ableism from positive depictions of disability. But somehow, most impressively, we don’t spend the entire episode raving about Zootopia! 

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Opening and closing theme: The Princess Who Saved Herself by Jonathan Coulton. Used with permission.

Show Notes:

Fay’s website is Writing Alchemy, where ze talks about storytelling and posts stories.

Toph, from Avatar: The Last Airbender (pronounced with a soft “o” sound. Our bad)

Lineage, a Voyager episode that almost understands casual racism.

Code of Honor, the most racist episode of Trek ever.

Tasha Yar and Kathryn Janeway from The Next Generation and Voyager, respectively.

The Dragonlance books


Elsa S. Henry, the advocate Chris mentioned on the show, talks about Daredevil and other social justice issues on her website, Feminist Sonar.

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  1. SunlessNick

    Regarding the example of Toph vs Daredevil, another factor is that Toph’s vibration sense is something any earthbender can do; her blindness is only *why* she bothered to develop the ability. Sort of like how the average human being can hear well enough for basic echolocation, but few sighted people bother to practice it. Whereas Daredevil’s counteractions are unique powers.

    Regarding Sense8, it’s worth noting that the trans character is actually played by a transwoman.

    • Fay Onyx

      Really good points. Thank you!

      Having trans actors play trans characters is a super big deal because it is still so rare and has such a big effect! (Having male actors portray trans women reinforces harmful stereotypes even if they do a good job.)

  2. GeniusLemur

    IIRC, Daredevil can read because his mutant super-touch is so sensitive he can feel where the ink is.

  3. Michael

    Yeah, it is problematic where they show a disabled person who’s really not affected by it (like Daredevil, or Geordi La Forge). I wonder about portrayals such as Professor X. He has a super power, but it’s certainly not making him need a wheelchair any less. On the other hand, his disability doesn’t seem to affect him that much (that I’ve seen anyway, having not read all of the X-Men comics). I don’t know much about paraplegia, but I’d imagine it would in ways this doesn’t show.

    • Fay Onyx

      Professor X does seem to be a better portrayal to me, especially in terms of character concept. I agree the portrayal of his disability doesn’t feel as fully realized as it could be and I suspect this has something to do with the writers and something to do with his wealth. Professor X isn’t spending his time trying to navigate a city where many of the buildings aren’t accessible and where things he needs might be in one of those inaccessible buildings. Instead he spends most of his time in a expensive and isolate estate where everything is wheelchair accessible. In addition, he doesn’t have to deal with biases as much as the average wheelchair user because he is mostly interacting with people he knows who already respect him.

      I do think that the “disabled person with a super mind” is a bit of a trope that comes up whenever a character crosses a certain threshold of physical disability where they are clearly not able to operate physically in the ways that able bodied people can. This pattern as a whole can perpetuate the idea that physically disabled characters are physically incapable and that our minds are the only things we can contribute. (Of course, in the real world there are physically disabled painters and dancers as well as scientists and thinkers).

      Just imagine if Professor X had superman’s powers, he could easily fly around, rescue people, and combat villains. There is no reason we couldn’t have characters like that, be we don’t.

      • Michael

        Yes, very good point. Being rich enough to have his own mansion and hire any help he might need is a definite benefit I’m sure.

        It’s true, psychic powers to apparently crop up with disabled characters at a high frequency. Sometimes it can even occur when the character is mentally disabled, so they make this even more into a contrast I guess. I’m not sure what the reasoning behind this is. Perhaps a well-meaning sort of “See, disabled people do get extraordinary powers too” which is nice, but sometimes also takes away from their disability. Aside from fictional powers there is an over focus on the autistic savants and things already.

        At least originally, Superman needed to leap, so that would be something a paraplegic character couldn’t do at least. The rest would be doable and interesting though.

        • Fay Onyx

          I suspect that part of the reason for this is that for an able bodied writer it is harder to work out the way a physical disability would interact with a physical superpower. I also think that ableism makes many writers uncomfortable addressing the physically embodied realities of disabled people and encourages them to think of characters with significant physical disabilities as physically incapable.

          I am actually in the process of starting a project that will address some of these gaps in the collective imagination (a big part of the answer is making more room for creativity by disabled people). It is going to be a podcast series called Unfamiliar Heroes in which I will record disabled people playing disabled characters in tabletop RPG one shots that will be going up on my podcast, Writing Alchemy.

          I have players and a GM lined up for the first game and a bunch of interested people for future games, so I’m hoping that I’ll be able to start releasing the first episodes in a few months or so.

          If you are interested, I have more info at: http://writingalchemy.net/podcast-2/unfamiliar-heroes/

          • Michael

            Yes, that’s probably true. I know I’m simply ignorant myself of a lot here.

            That definitely sounds interesting, thanks.

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