“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Freaks (continued)

Five years before the release of the movie "Freaks," Supreme Court Justice Holmes stated the following in relation to imposed sterilization of persons with severe disability.

"We have seen more than once that the public welfare may call upon the best citizens for their lives. It would be strange if it could not call upon those who already sap the strength of the State for these lesser sacrifices, often not felt to be such by those concerned, in order to prevent our being swamped with incompetents. It is better for the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover the cutting of Fallopian tubes . . .Three generations of idiots are enough"(May 2, 1927).

This is just an example of the ignorance and fear that swirled around persons with disability at that time. The thinking was that they were breeding almost uncontrollably, and the only way to stop their growth in numbers was through their sterilization. But needless to day, sterilization would have had little or no effect as most persons with disability are born to nondisabled parents.

The above quote, which I shared last night in a Cal Baptist class I am teaching, illustrates how "Freaks" took people who were misunderstood and feared (when in reality they were just people, and in some cases cogntiviely disabled people) and via a horror movie biased an already discriminatory public towards them. A modern equivalent does not come to mind. But you have a somewhat helpless group, many of whom cannot even understand the most basic of things occurring around themselves, who are hated and feared for totally irrational reasons, and a film maker plays on those stereotypical attitudes by portraying them in a manner which supports the destructive perceptions. Now I am sure that as a result of the film people didn't go out and kill masses of disabled people (at least not in the US, as part of the eugenic movement it did occur in Germany, although I suspect the film had little to do with that), but it surely supported the attitudes under the surface which were governing the inappropriate treatment of those persons which continued on for another 30 years. Vestiges of those attitudes persist today.


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