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Alcoholism, AIDS and Disability

Outside Centre: Disability Perspectives
"Disability everywhere in everything at all times"

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Paul Darke
Paul Darke
A disabled writer and artist., Digital Disability
My favourite disability films are Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein and Lars von Trier's The Idiots, because they both work with the knowledge that disability is intrinsic to the social and cultural illusions that perpetuate the fantasy that the 'normal' exists.

Alcoholism, AIDS and Disability

 

Disability is not an illness; as disability is nothing to do with the body there is no way it could be. Illnesses, however, and a condition such as alcoholism, may have elements of disability attached to them. The consequences of being an alcoholic often results in the same identification and marginalisation of the individual as no longer 'normal' . Even if such a condition may prove temporary, the stigmatisation may be long-term, and can result in some socially disabling consequences. The disablement may include discrimination and the identification of the individual with their body. It is worth noting that alcoholism is not covered by the definitions of disability contained within Britain's Disability Discrimination Act (199 5).

The definition of the individual as their condition is often accompanied by a moral judgement of the individual's  past or current behaviour and morals. In terms of cinema,  this may encourage a narrative based on notions of cause and effect (as is usually the case in disability-orientated films). Such moralising processes are an intrinsic element of the social construction of disability as aberrant and abnormal.

 

Society's processes which construct the impaired as disabled are equally applied to  those  who  are  alcohol-abusers and who are ill, even if the condition is temporary. Thus,  those who are alcoholics or are suffering from an illness of  some kind are disabled in the same way as impairment-specific people are, If we accept that most filmic representations of disability are made according to the old medical model of disability (the disability is the impairment: the disability is a bodily illness) it is much easier to see the connection

between the representation of illness, alcoholism and impairment. All three groups suffer from a social definition of themselves as having aberrant and abnormal states of being which bring about particular social consequences.

As individuals, and as a group, each is devalued by society constantly seeking to promote and perpetuate the illusion that 'normality ' exists. There fore AIDS is just as much a disability issue as paralysis, deafness or other more 'traditional' disabilities.

 

Alcoholism and drug addiction have a long history in Hollywood: as much in fact as in fiction. Kenneth Anger's two volumes of Hollywood Babylon reveal the  prevalence of alcohol and drugs in the lives of the famous and the not-so-famous of Hollywood's golden era. Nowadays the range of available problems has widened to include depression, bulimia and obesity. In a town trading in the currency of fantasy, it is perhaps no surprise that its citizens fall victim to so many neuroses and afflictions. California is also obliged to deliver the additional fantasies of space exploration, intercontinental missile defence and cosmetic surgery. Contradictions abound: you can make a film for $100m about a social problem and then raise $100k at a charity premiere to its solution. Or maybe you earn

millions of dollars for a few weeks' work, then never find employment again. The false paradises offered by drugs, alcohol and even suicide continue to exert their appeal.