February 23, 2013
In her piece titled Performing Race and Gender in Brazil, Lorraine Leu posits that the objectification of certain racialized and sexualized bodies is a component in the way that the dominating society forms its own national imagery by outlining a process of racial formation that highlights an overarching homogenizing nationalist project. The creation of the freak, the cripple, and the rock star are designed to do the same work that a racialized sexuality does, sometimes in the same way, sometimes in a different way.
Who determines what is categorized as ‘freak’? This subjective term requires a template of what is normal against which to define itself. In a society of brown bodies, a white body would be looked upon as a freak. In a Muslim world, the Christian is a freak. The elemental criteria for freakdom is that it be an anomaly. The same definition can be attributed to what describes an object of value. Its very rarity is what gives it value. This rarity has been “coveted, revered, and dreaded”, at times, all at once. (2, Thomson). For a society that seeks to elevate itself as superior, it must form a sense of nationhood that depends upon a sense of unity and belonging that relies upon an essential sameness. This is done by pointing out what is not the same. This diversion from sameness allows for a politicizing of the freak body as society maps its concerns upon the freak body as a meditation on nationhood, and identity (2, Thomson).
The creation of the cripple does much of the same work in creating a homogenous imagery. The cripple is the same as the freak in that its definition depends upon the template of what is not cripple. However, the work that modern day handicapped politization does, does so with an illusion of inclusion that also allows for the formation of nationhood. What I mean by this is that while earlier categorizations of handicap worked much like freakdom is separating and highlighting its difference, modern day discourse works to pat itself on the back for allowing the inclusion of the cripple via accessible parking, pavement cutouts, accommodated seating in public venues, etc. However this inclusion is mostly perfunctory, because it allows for the inclusion of a few and continues to exclude the larger body of the very community it claims to include. The true work being done by modern day cripple accommodation is not the inclusion of a previously excluded group, but rather the continued perpetuation of a nationalist agenda that now seeks to “locate people with disabilities in a much larger, nationalistic narrative” of a “wonderfully American identity” of diversity and able-bodiedness. This new agenda isn’t so much for the disabled person as it is for the larger body politic (1, 2, McRuer, Wilkerson).
The rock star is a post industrial construct that allows society to continue to form nationhood by categorizing and defining what is different. It also allows the continuation of societies desire to place the anomalous body on display. The rock star allows for the adoration and propagation of the white heteronormative paradigm while simultaneously placing it into the role of the freak. Therock star is both the same and yet not the same as the culture that it represents. The rock star becomes the alpha representation of its society and is adored for what it represents and at the same time repulses for its excesses. The subverted historical preoccupation with coveting the freak is now able to come full circle. The colonizing society that has been fascinated by what is different is not able to create the illusion of itself as different and to worship itself for that difference and therefore no longer needs the freak.
Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie. Freakery: Cultural Spectacles of the Extraordinary Body. New
York: New York UP, 1996. Print.
Leu, Lorraine. “Performing Race and Gender in Brazil”. Race/Ethnicity Vol. 4/No. 1. Autumn
McRuer, Robert and Wilkerson, Abby L. “Cripping the (Queer) Nation”. Gay and Lesbian
Quarterly 9:1-2 Copyright 2003 Duke University Press.