Historically, performing the role of the disabled has been one of the surest roads to the Oscars. As evidenced by Dustin Hoffman's Rain Man, Tom Hanks' Forrest Gump, Al Pacino's Scent of a Woman, and Daniel Day Lewis’ My Left Foot, portraying disabled characters has been considered one of the most challenging tasks for an actor. Yet, despite—or perhaps because of—the challenge, until very recently, the mainstream iconography of the disabled still operated mostly via stereotypes: the disabled were a plot problem that has to be either cured (in optimistic, inspirational narratives), or disposed of (in heroic, redemptive stories). Like African-American and LGBT characters before them, the disabled characters were often represented as existential metaphors, sentimental symbols, melodramatic and inspirational devises, or narrative props.
Drawing on interdisciplinary research from cognitive science, art, film, and disability studies, this project looks at how the concept of the bionic body affects representation of the disabled in contemporary culture (theatre, film, new media) and, in turn, how representation of the disabled body affects the changing boundaries of what is and what isn’t considered "human." The category of ‘human’ was historically used to circumscribe the boundaries of belonging and the categories of valuation: some groups that were deemed ‘sub-human,’ including the disabled, were so designated for commodification or extinction; however, the technological progress is changing the perception of what the disabled body is and can do: not only do the newest prosthetics no longer mimic "human" bodies, but their capacities put into question the capacities and limits of the non-disabled body. Voluntary cyborg-like enhancements of the human body redefine previous categories of what is and isn’t a disabled body; in comparison to the technologically enhanced bionic body, every body can be thought of as a "disabled" body.
Magda Romanska is a Visiting Associate Professor of Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism at Yale School of Drama and Associate Professor of Dramaturgy and Theatre Studies at Emerson College. She is also a Research Associate at Harvard University’s Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies and Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies. In the past, she has been Visiting Associate Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures and Visiting Associate Professor of Dramatic Arts at Harvard University.
In her lecture, Professor Magda Romanska provides a penetrating and in-depth look at various modern representations of the disabled, answering some of the most pressing questions on the topic. How does the concept of the bionic body affect representation of the disabled in contemporary culture (theatre, film, new media), and, in turn, how does the representation of the disabled body affect the changing boundaries of what is and what isn’t considered "human"?