Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Problem With a Hard of Hearing Darth Vader

The following is video from Youtube entitled, Star Wars: Hard of Hearing Vader.  At this time of the writing of this piece it has received 229,064 views.

The premise behind this latest mashup is that Vader’s helmet makes it difficult for him to hear and so he repeatedly squeals,”what,” every time someone addresses him. Of course, the commenters on Youtube find this absolutely hilarious. To be clear laughing at a difficult to hear is ableist.

What makes this video so problematic is that most fail to recognize that despite being the antagonist in the story, at least in 4-6, Vader is disabled.  He in fact, accounts for fifty percent of the disabled characters in the series. His iconic black suit is a disability aid because without it, he would be unable to live.  So essentially, by proposing that Vader has difficulty hearing because of his suit and then laughing about it, you are laughing at a disability aid and the effects of a disability aid.

Choosing a character whose helmet wasn’t a disability aid would have made things somewhat better - perhaps a character wearing a ridiculously impractical costume that hinders them in several ways (I think I’ve even seen books where knights wore super-duper helmets that had so much eye protection they completely blocked the wearer’s field of vision), but this video carries too many implications to be funny.

What makes Darth Vader different from so many PWD in the media, is that is he not constructed as playing super crip and rising above, nor he is simple minded and pleasant.  There can be no doubt that not only is he evil, he is meant to be thought of as evil.  Though the very nature of his character is negative the fact that this is coming from a disabled character to this day is a good because it steps outside of the many media tropes associated with disability.  Some would argue that Vader’s association with darkness and disability is a negative but I feel that it humanizes disability.  The fact of the matter is that disabled people are like any other people on the planet, some of them are good and some of them are bad.

Vader’s disability is central to who he is as a character. Amidst all the futuristic settings and technology, it serves to make him imperfect; more human.  To then turn this identity into a joke, not only dehumanizes Vader, but all disabled people.  Someone who has difficulty hearing for whatever reason, is not someone to be laughed at. That people assume that because the person in question is Darth Vader that the opposite is true, only serves to prove that many still do not take disability seriously, or understand how difficult it is to live in a disableist society.