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Saturday, May 5, 2012

Chen Guangcheng: Bad Ass

Last week my son sent me an article from the Huffington Post about Chen Guangcheng. He was following the news about Chen Guangcheng, the Chinese activist, who he described as a being a "bad ass of epic proportions". Why was Chen Guangcheng a "bad ass of epic proportion"? In my son's estimation he was a real life Rutger Hauer as in the Grade B 1980s movie Blind Fury. I am not a fan of this movie. We watched it together a long time ago. After the film I explained to my son why I had serious reservations about the content. I explained it was based on a faulty premise and followed a well worn super cripple belief used throughout film history. My son listened politely and said "Dad, its just a cool movie, you know the suspension of willing disbelief and all that stuff". 

I was reminded of this exchange because in the last week dozens of stories about Chen Guangcheng have appeared in nearly every news media outlet. As I hoped, Stephen Kuusisto has chimed in at Planet of the Blind and is quoted in a very good article by Alan Greenblatt. Greenblatt notes that central to all stories about Guangcheng is the fact he is blind. He wonders if Chen Guangcheng is in the news because of his activism or because he is blind. This is a damn good question. Kuusisto is quoted as stating "His blindness did not give him any particular bravery or insight. It is just a factor in a much larger life". I completely agree with this statement. Predictably tabloids have had a field day as they are prone to when it comes to any sort of disability.  I perceive no change in the way Chen Guangchang is described--there is always a reference to the fact he is blind. Kuusisto is quoted as noting "Blindness stands as a kind of metaphorical intensifier. The cleric [Omar Abdel Rashman the so called blind sheik] is angrier than other people because he is blind. In that way Chen is more miraculous and heroic because he is blind". This is in part exactly why my son was so enamored with the movie Blind Fury. Rutger Hauer was not an ordinary bad ass. He was an epic bad ass because he was blind. Chen Guangcheng is no ordinary activist, he is as Kuusisto observes a miraculous and heroic activist.

When people I know, and the many I do not know, note my assessment of how far people with a disability have come in terms of disability rights is inherently negative stories such as Chen Guangchang come to mind. Have we made any progress since the 1980s--progress here in a cultural not legal sense? Legally yes culturally no. Many laws exist that are designed to protect my civil rights. On bad days I think there these laws are useless because there is no social mandate to enforce them. I am distressed by people in positions of power who hold an antiquated view of disability. Here Mayor Bloomberg comes to mind and his all out effort to have the so called Taxi of Tomorrow approved in spite of the fact it is not accessible. Bloomberg is simply one of many that think providing basic and what are known as "reasonable accommodations" is a matter of choice not law. And this is the real problem, American culture--something Robert Murphy noted when he wrote the Body Silent. In short, progress is taking place but at a glacial pace.



Erica said...

Yes, it is sad (wish I could think of a better word) that a person's disability is given such attention. It's tiresome, really.

But it's like that with race as well. As a Canadian, I was inundated with news coverage of the "historical" election of your first black President. In all honesty, I didn't even notice he was not Caucasian until it was pointed out to me. Or rather, until I was beaten over the head with it. How frustrating and disappointing it must be for President Obama to frequently have his ethnicity mentioned.

Barack Obama is the President of the United States. Period. Chen Guangcheng is an activist. Period.

We need more "periods" in our social sentences. We use far too many adjectives to describe people's physical appearance. My, what shallow creatures we are!

Matthew Smith said...

There is a spelling mistake in this piece - it's Omar Abdel-Rahman, not Rashman.

Also, having read a little bit about him, I don't think for a minute that he harboured anger at being blind. After he lost his sight as a child (from an illness), he was sent to religious school, then to the al-Azhar university in Cairo where he became a pretty high-profile scholar. There have been plenty of Muslim religious scholars who have been blind, including some of the greatest. I also read that he considered becoming blind the best thing that happened to him - he would have come from a religious family and would likely have been grateful for the increased opportunity to gain knowledge of his religion, besides the fact that being an imam is a more comfortable and prestigious job than whatever job he would otherwise have held. Of course, he was widely regarded as an extremist, even by those who regard him as innocent of what he was charged with, but there are plenty of extremists who aren't blind.

william Peace said...

Erica, Tiresome indeed. Bigotry of all sorts bothers me--racism being the most obvious. As for disability, it is used all the time as a social marker. Hope that ends in my life time.
Matthew, Thanks for the correction r.e Omar Abdel-Rahman. I figured you would know more than I do. His blindness was widely used in tabloids in this country to portray him as especially evil. His blindness of course was not relevant. It did make for good headlines though.

Ajax said...

There are fairly egregious lapses in the legal system still though, also. I just learned an employer with fewer than 15 employees isn't under a lot of the American's With Disabilities Act (therefore able to disclose certain medical information in the event they are contacted as a reference, in my case).

So they're allowed to discriminate against 14 employees, but God-forbid 15? Seems pretty arbitrary to me.

william Peace said...

Ajax, The ADA is hopelessly flawed. This is what happens when laws are passed into law with virtually no debate. In retrospect this was a mistake by disabled law makers. It will be very interesting to see if the Supreme Court attacks the ADA Restoration Act when cases are heard at some point in the years to come.

Eyre Pollock said...

I agree with you re: Chen Guangcheng. I would love to know why Stephen Kuusisto thinks he can have it both ways, though... would he have the career he does if he hadn't written extensively about his blindness? Just saying.