DHD 102 Week 9 reading Reinforcing Stigma Gattaca(1).docx -...

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REINFORCING THE STIGMA: THE REPRESENTATION OF DISABILITY IN GATTACA IN 1997 WHEN GATTACA WAS released its director, New Zealander Andrew Niccols, said he wanted his movie to entertain audiences and provoke them to consider the direction society is taking 1 . Now it’s 2002 and as we head closer to the ‘not too distant’ future GATTACA portrays, it’s looking frighteningly more familiar. Although purporting to caution against one possible path society could take; GATTACA actually encourages it through its representation of disability and ‘normality’. Public opinion about the representation of minority groups has shifted dramatically in the last fifty years with the recognition that discriminatory environments are responsible for the marginalization of these groups. People with disabilities are one of the only remaining minority groups where the problem continues to be located in the damaged body rather than in an unadaptive society. 2 This article briefly traces the representation of disability in films for the purposes of situating GATTACA in relation to an emerging ‘normality’ genre, and to reflect on its implications on the experience and perception of disability. I aim to position this film’s treatment of disability within the context of how disability has been perceived historically, currently, and even in the ‘not too distant future’. I proceed from the hypothesis that disability is a paranoia of wider society 3 and disability is interpreted from and defined by an able bodied position. 4 In GATTACA discrimination is not based on race, class, or gender ‘we had discrimination down to a science’; instead your genes determine where you end up in life. In the world of GATTACA, parents opt to procreate with the help of a geneticist and a petri dish. Children born in what we would consider the customary way become part of the genetic underclass and are known as an ‘In-valid’, ‘man-of-god’, ‘faith birth’, ‘black jack birth’, ‘godchild’, ‘genojunk’, or ‘ge-gnome’. Alternatively, products of genetic engineering who form the genetic elite are ‘valid’. Intolerance and discrimination motivate this imaginary world, something we can all relate to. But does GATTACA show us a new kind of discrimination or does it take one that already exists and disguise it in a production design worthy of an academy award nomination? Vincent (Ethan Hawke) explains in his voice over narration that genes determine your future in this world that strives for perfection, ‘I belonged to a new underclass no longer determined by social status or the color of your skin’. However as the geneticist points out economics determine whether or not you can have a genetically engineered baby. This contradicts the film’s claim that class is not a factor in discrimination but rather economics and social barriers influence our fate. The same is true of disability today. As Mary Deegan and Nancy Brooks in their book Women and

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