Identity Constructions of People with Disability in German Film. An Analysis of the sensory Disabilities Deafness and Blindness in Jenseits der Stille and Erbsen auf Halb Sechs
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To date, the subject of disability has been highly disregarded in Germany’s academia. In the field of Arts, the topic is a derivative. This thesis makes a contribution to the discipline of Disability Studies and approaches the problematic from the field of German Studies. The analysis focuses on the sensory disabilities deafness and blindness and its depiction in the movies Jenseits der Stille und Erbsen auf Halb Sechs. The goal of this paper is to attract notice to the ways of representation of disability in German media in general. On the one hand, film reflects generally accepted public attitudes. But since film is a mass media, it has the potency to alter and question the communal opinion on the other hand. Thus, it can change society’s mindset about people with disability. Furthermore, this paper points out the different starting points for further liberal arts oriented approaches for investigations of disability in the media. However, the film analysis is based on two theses. The first one claims that the focus in the representation of people with disability does not concentrate on the human beings. On the contrary, it rather concentrates on the disability itself and the consequences that spring of it. The second thesis pursues this thought and says that the movies not only focus on the depiction of disability. In fact the disabled figures define themselves by their handicap and, in return, are defined by their physical aberrance by their social surroundings, which is foremost not disabled. Thereby, the disability forms an almost insuperable interpersonal obstacle. The analysis of the two movies is done along three research questions. The first one concerns the connection of physical handicap and the way people with disability think and act in relation to their surroundings and life in general. The second question is what factors, like gender, social class, or age, are crucial in self- and external perception, and therefore, in the formation of identity. The last investigation concentrates on the special abilities of people with disability, and scrutinizes if the aptitudes serve as compensations for their disabilities. The basis of this paper is Michel Foucault’s theory of mechanisms of societal exclusion, and the construction of categories such as norm and abnormity. Especially his works Wahnsinn und Gesellschaft, Überwachen und Strafen and his lecture course of Die Anormalen are essential in this perspective. In addition, the cultural and social currents in the disability studies serve as fundamental approaches. These two theories help to identify the vague term disability, and consequently, the object of investigation in this paper. In summary, the analysis of Jenseits der Stille and Erbsen auf Halb Sechs shows that the representation of disabled people in German film is predominantly stereotypic. Therein, disablement means great misfortune, and the loss of the central position in discourse. The disabled figures are socially alienated from their non-disabled surroundings. The isolation, however, is brought about by discursive mechanisms such as the power of medicine. In both movies, the disabled and non-disabled people are focused on the disability in their self and external perception. Accordingly, disability is linked to the feeling of shame, a lack of acceptance and the stigmatization of deviants. Self-acceptance can only be accomplished outside of the discourse of the normal, in which disabled are stigmatized. This paper reveals that the representation of people with disability in German film still shows a rather stereotypic image. Therefore, they tend to confirm societal prejudices rather than to challenge them.