In the wake of a global economic downturn and mass unemployment, disabled people find themselves among the most vulnerable people in the jobs market, just at a time when welfare reforms place increasing pressure on us all to find work. Some of us have to consider branching out in ways that others may not thoroughly approve of. I know I've written before about my ample qualifications as a Bond Villain, but this subject has been bugging me lately, plus Yanub's Disability Blog Carnival is on the related subject Action Heroes - if I can get this posted in time.
The latest offense was in an otherwise benign youngsters' movie called The City of Ember where we meet a sinister character played by Mackenzie Crook (the one from The Office who was then in Pirates of the Carribbean). Now Crook does a decent sinister, he was made up with a very pale face and lank hair and in any case we knew from his actions that this character was not to be trusted long before - as in half an hour before - attention was drawn to his limping gait and built-up shoe.
There are so many disabled villains in movies that you almost don't notice – just as you almost don't notice the number of English accents among the fictional villain community. But the Englishness thing is okay; it's always an upper middle-class English accent which suggests sophistication as well as cunning and a cold heart. The disability thing is all about wrongness. This character is wrong whilst the uniformly perfect and pretty heroes and heroines are right, and if you couldn't work that out from what is being said and done (which you really ought to have), here's a big visual clue.
And of course the biggest objection, the massive great problem with disabled villains is that these are almost the only disabled characters in mainstream movies. It's okay to have black villains - well, Samuel L. Jackson, who seems to play all of them - because there are a handful of black heroes and side-kicks. But disabled folk are still either completely absent or rotten to the core.
So anyway, some say that we're going through a period of history when people are hungry for heroes, beacons of virtue and courage in a world that has been so damaged by greed and hate. However, there can't be any meaningful heroism if as disabled people, we don't hobble up to the plate and embrace the role the fates assigned to us. Plus the pay is good. So here are
Some Dos and Don'ts of Disabled Villainy
Do be eccentric. The great advantage of being disabled is that one has to think outside the box in so many aspects of one's life that one is already ideally suited to a novel career like supervillainy. One must fully embrace one's deviation. Consider Darth Vadar; the fetish had always been there, but only after he became disabled did he acquire the confidence to wear that gear in public. They say if you can't beat them, join them. I say if you can't join them, fire lasers as them.
Don't be bitter. There's a fine line between the misanthropy necessary for taking over the world by violent means and bitterness. Bitterness is ugly, it suggests a longing for the love and acceptance of a world that denies us access to public transport. Like Mrs Clennam in Little Dorrit - uh, maybe that's a little too classical a reference, but she was a rare example of a female disabled villain. Not a very good one though, as she used a wheelchair and in her bitterness chose to live upstairs in a structurally unsound to say nothing of DDA non-compliant building.
Do be charming. Whatever harm you wish to exact on the world, it still pays to be friendly. Think of Leigh Teabing in The Da Vinci Code (another English villain, as you could tell by the tea in his surname – it's all about the symbolism). He was such a pleasant and sophisticated gent, his English accent and post-polio syndrome were the only clues to his being a crook. Whereas the morbid Silas, with his magical albinism, well he was just a kinky fanatic with no charm to him whatsoever. Except in the movie he was played by Paul Bettany who is dreamy.
Don't be socially inept. People with impairments which can effect social skills are by no means barred from a career in villainy - in fact, as people with autism and mental illness are overrepresented in the ranks of geniuses, we must presume that a number are evil geniuses. Yet in order to make good in badness, one has to at least maintain a basic level of personal hygiene and social propriety. Living on a diet of raw fish (like the Penguin) and having a totally inappropriate sense of humour (like the Joker) may be a step too far.
Do have the funky tech. Villains and especially supervillains tend to have money and technology on their side, so one must have the most state-of-the-art prosthetics, wheelchairs, canes and so on. I'm sure the guy who made a USB-compatible prosthetic finger has since moved into his own underground lair. Dr. Loveless in Wild Wild West also had the right idea; the movie was set during the American Civil War and yet the guy had a steam-powered wheelchair. Which was the best thing about that movie, apart from the eye candy (Will Smith and Salma Hayek - I know both can act, but in that one they just looked pretty).
Don't fake it. Villains pretending to be disabled just gives the rest of us a bad name. Simon Grueber, the Jeremy Irons character in Die Hard with Avengence has a profound stammer which, considering the amount of talking the character does under considerable pressure isn't at all convincing. And Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey) in The Usual Suspects had Cerebral Palsy except... well, you know if you saw the movie, which you really should have by now. Clearly, both characters were putting it on for the parking spaces.
Do nurture the young. Was Long John Silver the best disabled fictional character of all time? Probably. On which subject,
Don't attempt to murder children or you might get eaten by a crocodile.
Do dress your wounds properly. Everyone knows that one of the most dangerous aspects of a severe burn is infection, but for some reason Hollywood villains leave these things completely exposed to the elements. Recent examples include the Afghani warlord in Iron Man and the character of Arthur Dent who I guess had become "Two-Face" by the end of The Dark Knight. It doesn't matter that they're out of comic books, it's just not hygienic.
And finally, perhaps most crucially
Do get away with it. Most supervillains, despite usually being much much smarter than their goody-goody adversaries, are ultimately defeated. One has responsibility to avoid this at all costs, not only to oneself, but to all disabled people who aspire to be bad. Think Mr Potts in It's a Wonderful Life. Nobody liked him, his actions drove a good man to attempt suicide, but hey, that guy didn't claim a penny in disability benefits his whole life. Now that's a role model.
( Yes, I am terribly ashamed of having watched, let alone remembered watching, some of the above movies. And once I've posted this, I shall think of a great number of far better and more respectable examples. Or perhaps you can. )