Over the past few months, I have become increasingly frustrated with ignorance in society and the lack of disability representation in pop culture. I don’t consider myself an influencer or an activist, in fact, I really dislike the term influencer, and I’m not very good at the whole activist gig either. What I am is a geek and what I am good at is talking about pop culture. Representation is important, and as the quote goes “be the change you wish to see in the world”. I could keep posting tweets about diversity, disability awareness and representation or I could stand up and do something.
Well, GeekDis is that something and I am inviting you all to join me.
For the month of September, I’m inviting you all to join me for a month-long discussion of disability representation in pop culture.
Disability Presentation in Pop Culture
GeekDis is a collaborative event for members of the disability community to talk about disability representation in pop culture. While writing the information for this page I tried to work out how to communicate the importance of disability representation. I realised that my own disability story did just that. Born with a genetic condition that affects the formation of collagen in my body (hypermobile Ehlers Danlos Syndrome) I was born disabled, however, I didn’t recognise myself as disabled until my mid-twenties.
One of the reasons I failed to know my identity as a disabled person was that there was no representation in pop culture for people like me. While there were the stereotypical teenager loners who were bullied for being smart, weird or geeky, none of them had anxiety or depression. There were no children who hid ankle supports under their tights for years because their ankles were so weak they tore ligaments by just stepping off a bus.
It wasn’t just people like me, people with invisible disabilities, that were underrepresented in pop culture though. Even disabilities that you could see were underrepresented or not represented.
That was 15 to 20 years ago and hardly anything has changed.
There is still a distinct lack of disability representation in pop culture, and when the disability community is represented it is through such a narrow viewpoint that only a fraction of the disabled community is represented and even then it is usually done so incorrectly. In entertainment only 5% of disabled characters are played by disabled actors (Source). Such a low percentage is not due to a lack of disabled actors, it’s because no effort is given to even find disabled actors.
As Frances Ryan points out, society no longer accepts “blacking up” so why is “cripping up” acceptable?
Not using disabled actors also allows the audience to buy into the illusion that disabilities aren’t real, Christopher Shinn remarks in his excellent essay for The Atlantic. Shinn explains that while non-disabled actors can research a role they are unable to draw on real experience. As a result, the audience is “able to “enjoy” them without really confronting disability’s deepest implications for human life”. In other words, the audience wants the fantasy of disability, not the reality. When they finish the episode of a TV show or a film ends they don’t connect the disabled character with reality, with real disabled people. Whereas, if the character was played by a real disabled person they would not be able to dismiss the storyline so easily because it is rooted in reality.
In 2007 Santina Muha, a disabled actor and writer, appeared on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? in her wheelchair, the first contestant to do so (Source). After her episodes aired she received fanmail and messages from across the world from disabled people, including a 6-year-old boy who’s mother told her he was inspired by seeing someone else in a wheelchair.
“I was on TV for, like, 10 minutes, and I got fan mail from other countries,” Muha said. “Disability needs to be normalized.”
It really should be, and fourteen years later it still isn’t.
What is in Pop Culture?
We hear the term “pop culture” all the time, but what does it actually mean?
Pop culture is everywhere and the Internet has made it even more widely available, allowing us to devour it at an even faster rate. As MrPopCulture.com explains “Pop culture has affected and is continuously affecting all of us [….] Test yourself. The last time you spoke to your good friend, wasn’t pop culture part of that conversation?”.
Pop culture includes fashion, entertainment (books, TV, film, video games, music), the Internet, technology and sports. You can browse Wikipedia’s pop culture categories here for more information.
What is GeekDis?
GeekDis is a collaborative event for members of the disability community to talk about disability representation in pop culture. That’s a bit of a mouthful, isn’t it? In short, using whatever medium you prefer (blogging, social media, youtube, etc.) I’m inviting you to talk about disability representation in pop culture during September 2021.
I know that not everyone feels comfortable using the words disability/disabled and the “Dis” in “GeekDis” represents “discussion” as much as it does “disability”. I encourage anyone who would like to take part to use the language they are comfortable with. I have chosen to use disability in this post, not due to any preferred choice on my part but because it is the most widely recognised and used terminology (If you disagree why not choose to write about it in September?).
I’m also aware that not everyone may refer to themselves as disabled, so I want to confirm what I mean by “disabled” and reassure people that this is not an elitist event. I will not be requiring any confirmation that you “qualify” or are “disabled enough”, nor will I tolerate anyone making comments of the sort about participants. Just Geeking By is a safe and welcoming environment for everyone who does not have hate in their hearts which means this event is open to members of the disabled community of all genders, sexual orientations, races, religions, etcetera. It is not open to people who are prejudice in any way.
I previously came across this definition of disability on We Need Diverse Books and thought it to be one of the most inclusive definitions I have seen:
We subscribe to a broad definition of disability, which includes but is not limited to physical, sensory, cognitive, intellectual, or developmental disabilities, chronic conditions, and mental illnesses (this may also include addiction). Furthermore, we subscribe to a social model of disability, which presents disability as created by barriers in the social environment, due to lack of equal access, stereotyping, and other forms of marginalization.We Need Diverse Books
GeekDis welcomes anyone who has physical, mental and/or developmental disabilities to join in the discussion. Everyone is welcome to take part. If you are still unsure whether this includes you please do not hesitate to talk to me.
How can I take part in GeekDis?
There are multiple ways to take part in GeekDis:
- Post a blog post (or as many as you like!) on your own blog during September 2021
- Review books, films, tv shows, video games that feature disability characters, disabled actors or are written by disabled writers on your blog
- Alternatively write critical reviews of books, films, tv shows, video games written by non-disabled writers and discuss the problems with them
- Collaborate with myself or other bloggers on a topic
- Post on social media about disability representation in pop culture during September 2021 using the hashtag #GeekDis
- Vlog or stream for GeekDis during September 2021
- “Discuss” through art – discussion doesn’t need to be with words! (please create original disabled characters rather than “cripping up” pre-existing ones)
- Guest post here at Just Geeking By if you do not have a blog of your own
- Take part by joining in a collaborative topic here at Just Geeking By (perfect for anyone who is unable to commit to a full blog post) – even just a few words is great! You can find a list of collaborative topics I’m working on for GeekDis here!
- Disabled bloggers, creators, actors and anyone connected to the world of publishing/entertainment, I’d love to interview you here at Just Geeking By! Please get in touch 🙂
- Any other ideas you may have!
I want to emphasise that this is not an exhaustive list at all. I am available to talk through any and all ideas you have! There is a Google Doc of topic ideas for people to browse and contribute to here so if you’re not sure what to “discuss” take a look through it. If you’re still not sure don’t worry about it, we’ll work something out! 🙂
Weekly Discussion Topics
There will be a few questions per week for an informal weekly discussion that people can take part in as well. The individual questions can be found here, the themes for each week are:
- 1st to 5th – Your thoughts on Disability Representation
- 6th to 12th – Disability Representation in Entertainment
- 13th to 19th – Disability Representation in the Media
- 20th to 26th – Disability Representation in Technology and Social Media
- 27th to 30th – GeekDis Round-Up
September (as it always seems to) has awkward weeks so the first and last week is only five and four days long, respectively. If you have anything you would like to discuss in these discussions please let me know!
Sign Up for GeekDis
If you are interested in taking part in GeekDis, an open discussion on disability representation in pop culture, taking part in September 2021 I would appreciate it if you could “sign up” using this form. This sign-up form is to give me an idea of who wants to take part, how you plan to take part and what topic you’re thinking about discussing and so on. You do not have to “officially” sign up – if you want to take part in GeekDis you are welcome to do so! This is just to help me organise 🙂
Don’t worry if you have no idea what you want to talk about right now. That’s absolutely fine! I just want to get an idea of numbers and for those who want to collaborate with others I can match people together.
Frequently Asked Questions
Have a question that is not listed below? You can drop me a comment or if you would prefer to ask something privarely you can submit it here.
Over to you
Thank you for reading all about GeekDis! Many thanks to the people who I’ve reached out to or spoken to over the last month about GeekDis. Your interest and encouragement have helped make this happen. A special shoutout to my close friends Megan, Cherri and Snow who have been a constant source of support for many years and who helped me finalise the information for GeekDis.
I am terrified to put this out into the wild after working on it for so long and keeping it a secret. All I can do is ask that you hit the share buttons and help spread the word about this wide and far.
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