MEDIA - DISABILITY STUDIES LECTURE SERIES 2008
Disability Studies Lecture Series—The Geo-politics of Disability
Lecture Transcript - Robert McRuer - Bad Education: Crip Representation and the Limits of Tolerance
Professor David Mitchell:
I'd like to start by thanking everybody for coming. This is the first lecture in a year long lecture series in disability studies at Temple University. My name's David Mitchell. I'm the Executive Director of the Institute on Disabilities at Temple and also an associate professor in the Curriculum Instruction in Technology and Education Department in the College of Education. So please accept my warm welcome I really appreciate all of you coming out and creating such a good audience we had a great talked to and I'm personally looking for forward to it so it's nice to have a good turn out. We're particularly honored today to have Dean McGuire here, the Dean of the College of Education. I asked him to come over here because he's been so personally and administratively supportive of disability studies at Temple University, and he's offered to kind of kick us off by saying a few words at the beginning so please join me in welcoming Dean McGuire from the College of Education.
Dean Kent McGuire:
Thank you David. I'll be quite brief for several reasons. One is I don't have much of a voice left; two is I'm supposed to be somewhere else in a couple minutes. But let me just say this: I'm really very hopeful and happy that this lecture series is getting underway. My sense is that the institute stands to have a tangible, a palpable, impact on the academic mission of the college and the university through both this kind of thing and other things I know that David and his colleagues intend in the coming year. I think of it as unrealized potential that I'm certain we will realize in you know years to come. As a huge upside for students to be sure. I thought when I walked in the room, Dave, that we would have to offer some special incentives, extra credit or something, to get people to sit in the front because everyone seemed to be pushed way in the back but things have started to fill in. You might still want to think about, you know, lunch certificates or extracurricular something that sort of get people right up to the head of the room. But I think there will also be a big upside for faculty and staff at the university. We all need help in opening up our conceptions of the world, opening up our conceptions of teaching and learning, and opening up our sense of how ideas are formed, discussed, engaged, and communicated, and I'm just very optimistic that the Institute will help us with that. So please keep coming to these lectures. The fact that we're going to have one very frequently and all year provides you with opportunities to engage and I'm sure if you want to recruit your colleagues to engage in these and if we need to find an even bigger room we will. So thank you David for the opportunity to speak very briefly with you. I'm going to walk out of here as graciously as I can to try to catch my next event. Good luck with this. Thank you very much.
Professor David Mitchell:
To put on a lecture series is a massive endeavor and an enormous amount of work and before I talk a little bit about disability studies this morning, I'd like to just acknowledge some of the people who are faculty and staff at the Institute on Disabilities and in disability studies at Temple. At the beginning, Brian Zimmerman, who's my special assistant. Brian's coordinated an enormous amount of this lecture series. Mr. Marc Holmes, who's right in front in the blue shirt. Carol Marfisi, who's right over here, part of our faculty at the Institute and disability studies. Mike Dorn, sitting right up here, also faculty in the Institute on Disabilities and a member of the Urban Education department in the college of education. Mary Segal, who's a research scientist, somewhere in the back there, and also Jeremy Schipper, who was here—there he is in the back—he's in the department of religious studies. I couldn't do this and I couldn't mount an effort to develop disability studies at Temple University without the help of all of those people who are here practicing in the field and using their knowledge in order to inform of and infuse classrooms, so thank you to all of them. The institute has several associate directors who are principal in helping me to create this. Ann Marie who's in the back handles all things financial. Celia Feinstein and Amy Goldman, create and inform the bulk of the work of the Institute on Disabilities. Dean McGuire who was just here, the Dean Iglesias of the Graduate school, who actually came up and suggested that we run this lecture series all year round. It's set up to run every third Wednesday of each month. It will be at noon in this room, which we're appreciative to the president for offering up to the Institute in order to be able to hold these lectures in a very comfortable and nice setting. There are flyers up front for future lectures. I hope you'll take one. It's really participants like you who make the lecture series worthwhile and important to do. Now, let me just provide a brief kind of overview of the lecture series because I think it's important for conceptualizing for the work of today's speaker. The series features new work by recognized scholars in the field of disability studies. Disability studies explores the distance that exists between prevailing perspectives of disabilities as tragic embodiment as misfortune and more particularly informed that define themselves against that disability so I think this is a significant initiative for Temple particularly known for it's diversity and disability needs to be worked in that concept of diversity and this lecture series is one of our first efforts to create that sense of incorporation. The talks feature new ways of conceptualizing people with disabilities as social actors who resist revised and contrary understandings of human differences. In order to understand possibilities for the creation of new collective efforts to contest the assignment of disability to a stigmatized social status. To date I think in the United States disability studies has largely pursued what I call kind of liberal ends, in the sense that most efforts among people in the disability rights movement have been to argue on the basis of inclusion in the particular social system that exists in our country now. I think that this is important and of course inclusion is incredible significant to that effort. Although there is some limits to taking up essentially the world as it is and trying to work on into a system. One of the things I think that we need in particular is to try to situate a critique in terms of the systems operation itself, and I'm hoping he'll talk about that a little here today. Although there's always been I think that there's a turning increasing toward a critique of capitalism with respect to people with disabilities. "The Geo-politics of Disability" is to try to forward that critique and enunciate it. I think that this lecture series will not be necessary run-of-the-mill, or simply arguing for a concept of inclusion for people with disabilities, although it'll certainly do that as well. McRuer's scholarship—I think he's really becoming increasing one of the most influential voices in the field. His work, along with others, represents a kind of necessary feature that will develop. It comes out of an analysis of how capital functions at this particular historical moment how we're in the midst of an increasingly international scene where money flows across the borders of countries particularly easily, and this has enormous implications for people with disabilities in all countries. His work locates disabled people within this history, and he's been particularly good with thinking through a concept of informal economies and how economies that are not quite recognized within capitalism itself and international scale. Maybe he'll help us to think through why that is today. He really situates the concept of people with disabilities as an oppressed population rather than simply suffering discrimination. I think this kind of negative balance of the marginalization with people with disabilities is a significant strain in disability studies development and criticism. Perhaps we can finally attempt to explain and theorize the multiple ways that people with disabilities enter into activities of other disabled peoples and allies with respect to people with disabilities internationally, and often virtually as well. When one is thinking about disability studies I think it's important that we're not just talking about a U.S. phenomenon there's an enormous development of scholarship in increasingly transnational efforts to change the political system that is disenfranchising for people with disabilities. He's one of the people who's really moving to inform and deepen concepts of disability. I think that no one's doing that better than he is, and I think he's currently working on project that ties in a new form of criticism with disability studies, trying to enunciate what that might bring to our understanding of people with disabilities. Robert McRuer is an associate professor of English at George Washington University. He's come up to be with us today, and I'm incredibly grateful. He's a very good friend of mine. And I can't think of anybody better to start off this lecture series than Bob, so please give him a warm hand, thank him for coming to us and to share his thoughts on Bad Education.
Professor Robert McRuer:
Thank you, David, and thank you all so much. I'm very happy to be kicking off this lecture series. Everyone has been so great in organizing it, and Brian especially, who's been my main contact getting things all organized for today. I am going to show a clip before I read my paper. It's clip from the 2004 film Bad Education by Pedro Almodóvar, and what I will do—although in the paper I describe it as well—what I will do is first describe it, then my tech support will use this machine here to show you about four minutes of the film. Then I will read my paper, and the captioner will return. I will attempt to speak slowly, which is not my forte, to assist our captioner here today. What I'm going to show you is a clip from near the end of the film Bad Education. There will be captions, because the film is in Spanish, and I will read those, but what you will see: A middle aged businessman coming to tell a story to a gay filmmaker in the year 1980. The story entails the businessman's role in a death that happened three years before. The film will then dissolve to 1977 and you'll see him interacting with a heroin addicted transsexual who is in the midst of blackmailing him. She is blackmailing him to get funds for her transition surgery and for drug rehabilitation, and because of that the businessman is actually conspiring to kill her. So you will see him administering a lethal dose of heroin, and you will see her death as the heroin hits, and she falls face first down into the typewriter. She had been typing a letter to the gay filmmaker who was her childhood love, and that letter does not get concluded. It simply says, "Enrique I have succeeded ..." I will read the captions as we proceed.
My paper -- the title I sent is "Bad Education: Crip Representation and the Limits of Tolerance" might be as well "No Future For Crips: or Disability Studies on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" (An allusion to Almodóvar's film Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.) Before I start, I want to acknowledge two colleagues whose conversations have really influenced the writing of this paper and that is Anna Mollow and Nicole Markotic. I have published with both of these colleagues, and conversations with them in the process of writing with them have really influenced what I'm going to present to you today. I begin with a figure that has no future. Although this paper is largely a theoretical reflection on the disability movement or disability studies in a moment of danger (our own), my primary text today will be Pedro Almodóvar's 2004 film La Mala Educación, released in English as Bad Education. The film is notoriously difficult to summarize, although I will do so, as concisely as possible. Remember as I do, however, that it is the figure with no future that I want you to keep in mind: the heroin-addicted, preoperative transsexual with pallid skin and dirty blonde, unkempt hair who dies of an overdose near the end of the film, as she is typing a letter to her childhood love. Obviously, placing her in your minds paradoxically carries her (this figure with no future) into the future. Nonetheless, I hope to demonstrate just how difficult-well-nigh impossible, I would say—the conveyance of the drug-addicted tranny into the future is. Remember her if you can.
The plot of Bad Education interweaves three distinct periods: 1964, 1977, and 1980. In 1980, an actor claiming to be Ignacio Rodríguez (Gael García Bernal), but now going by the stage name of Ángel Andrade, arrives at the office of gay filmmaker Enrique Goded (Fele Martínez) to sell him on a script called "La Visita." It turns out that Ángel's script (which comes to life onscreen as Enrique reads it) fictionalizes Enrique and Ignacio's experiences as boys together in Catholic school in 1964: their pre-adolescent love and sexual play; the discovery of their affair by one of the teachers, Father Manolo; Enrique's expulsion from the school; and Ignacio's sacrifice for his boyhood love: in an attempt to keep the full details of their affair from emerging, the young Ignacio acquiesces to the predatory advances of Father Manolo. The 1977 section of the story or script has the adult Ignacio returning to the school in rural Valencia to blackmail Father Manolo. Now working as the transgender performer Zahara, and living as a woman, Ignacio demands money that will enable her to pay for sex-reassignment surgery. In return, she will remain silent about the abuse she survived as a boy.
The actor Ángel in 1980 and the performer Zahara in 1977 are absolutely seductive, partly by virtue of Bernal's amazing performance and mostly by virtue of their function in the narrative. I would argue, in fact, that audiences are—in a sort of trademark Almodóvar move—encouraged to fall in love with these gay and transgender figures. I call them gay and transgender pointedly so that you will read them in relation to those identity categories, even though you already know that one (Ángel) is an actor and that the other (Zahara) is a performer—they are, in other words, in the business of taking on and off identities. With some qualifications, however, I argue that audiences are, in fact, encouraged to receive them as gay, or as transgender—identities increasingly tolerated in the New Spain, whether we are talking about the "hedonistic" post-Franco days of the late 1970s and early 1980s or the neoliberal present, when the film was released (D'Lugo 122). Even if, as with any film noir, you are always aware that something is amiss, you are seduced by their performance and you fall in love.
It turns out, however, that Ángel is not the real Ignacio. Through a bit of detective work in 1980, Enrique—who begins an affair with Ángel after reading the script—learns that the real Ignacio died in 1977, and that his younger brother Juan (again, Gael García Bernal) has assumed Ignacio's identity and story to jump-start his acting career. A man named Mr. Berenguer (Lluís Homar), who formerly had been the priest Father Manolo but is now a successful and married business executive, arrives at Enrique's office and eventually tells him the truth: the real Ignacio had been a heroin-addicted tranny who had attempted to blackmail Berenguer for a million pesetas. In the 1977 scenes, which unfold for audiences through a series of flashbacks as Berenguer tells the story, the real Ignacio (Francisco Boira) plans to use the blackmail money on drug rehab and reassignment surgery. In the process of delivering what Ignacio demands, however, Berenguer becomes erotically obsessed with Ignacio's brother Juan and, as the two begin an affair, they plot to murder Ignacio and run off with the money Berenguer is acquiring from the bank. Providing the dosage of pure heroin that will lead to her death, Juan and Berenguer watch as Ignacio overdoses at the typewriter, halfway through the first sentence of a letter: "Enrique, I have succeeded..."
In what follows, I read Bad Education as a crip film in and through what can be read as its critique of tolerance, identity, neoliberalism, and futurity. In preparation for that (concluding) argument, however, I turn first to a somewhat extended consideration of the antifutural or antisocial thesis that is, at this point, well-known in queer theory but that has no clear analogue in disability studies. Ultimately, even as I critique Lee Edelman, the queer theorist most associated with the antisocial thesis and antifuturity, this paper provides some tentative notes toward what such a thesis might look like in disability studies or crip theory.
There are now three sections of the paper that will follow and I'm going to give you just an overview so you have a map in your head of where I'm going with the paper. The first section is essentially a disability reading or critique of some issues in queer theory. The second section reverses that: it's a queer critique of some tendencies in disability studies. The third section in turn weaves these issues together with the return to Spain and to Bad Education. So the first section is called "No Future for Crips."
No Future for Crips
In his book No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive, Edelman calls on us to fuck the future. In a complex analysis of the figure of the Child in contemporary politics, culture, and society, Edelman argues against what he calls "reproductive futurism." Reproductive futurism, across the political spectrum (indeed, defining politics as such), compels us, over and over, to invest in the future "for the sake of our children." Founding what Edelman describes as the only permissible or imaginable future and the only imaginable social order, reproductive futurism requires us to "kneel at the shrine of the sacred Child: the Child who might witness lewd or inappropriate intimate behavior; the Child who might find information about dangerous 'lifestyles' on the Internet; the Child who might choose a provocative book from the shelves of the public library" (19, 21). If the adult is always (regretfully) implicated in desire, the Child is the figure for the future who is always unmarked by desire and in need of protection from it. Queerness, in turn, is always that which disrupts this phantasmatic figuration of childhood and innocence; for Edelman, queers are phobically figured or produced by the social order as the primary threat to reproductive futurism and, consequently, to the sacred Child.
Blasphemously, Edelman calls on us not to resist or decry that phobic figuration, as—for example—normative movements for gay marriage, military service, or adoption invariably do, thereby jumping on the bandwagon of reproductive futurism and phobically shifting the burden of queerness to more abject others: don't worry, we're not like that, we're just like you, we're not your worst nightmare. Edelman, instead, calls on us to acquiesce to the charge that we are society's worst nightmare and to embrace our figuration as the negative force working against the social order: "while not seeking to refute the lies that pervade . . . familiar right-wing diatribes [about our capacity to destroy society], do we also have the courage to acknowledge, and even embrace, their correlative truths?" (22). In his most notorious (or nefarious) assertion, Edelman goes on to insist, "Fuck the social order and the Child in whose name we're collectively terrorized; fuck Annie; fuck the waif from Les Mis; fuck the poor, innocent kid on the Net; fuck Laws both with capital ls and with small; fuck the whole network of Symbolic relations and the future that serves as its prop" (29).
Although he doesn't say it directly in his litany of children being fucked, we might add, for our own purposes, "fuck Tiny Tim," since earlier in his study, Edelman insists that pitiful and innocent literary characters such as Tiny Tim are invariably endangered by evil, narcissistic (and, not incidentally, unmarried) men. Only when Ebenezer Scrooge renounces his queer, antisocial peculiarities and joins the community in an embrace of the figure of the Child is Tiny Tim ensured a future. Or, to again put it slightly differently for our purposes, through Scrooge's rehabilitation, the crip formerly known as Tiny Tim becomes the Child in whose name the only acceptable future can again be scripted. Fuck that, Edelman implicitly says.
Edelman's argument in No Future is essentially exceptionalist (and he has been criticized for this). Edelman, in other words, sees queerness in particular as the (universalized) negative force that disrupts or destroys the social order and reproductive futurism. But as the location of Tiny Tim and other examples suggest (such as the first set of pictures in the book, which includes a still of Tom Hanks in an oxygen mask from the 1993 film Philadelphia), No Future—and by extension, antifutural thinking in general—is saturated with disability, and the sacred Child, the one projected into the future, is always able-bodied: "everybody," after all, or so the saying goes, "wants a healthy baby." At the same time, despite this commonplace desire, the imagined future is actually inescapably inaccessible; no real, flesh-and-blood child can ever embody the innocence, health, and ability associated with the sacred Child. This universal inaccessibility, however, does not stop (and in fact propels) the production of both queers and crips as scapegoats—monstrous figures endangering the Child and blocking access to the future we supposedly all desire.
Given the related antifutural function played by queers and crips in or against the social order, it is somewhat puzzling that no antisocial thesis is legible in contemporary disability studies. It becomes all the more puzzling when we consider the particular array of illegitimate figures currently populating queer theory: over and over again, the queer theory we seem to want these days—again, in opposition to the normative thrust of the mainstream lgbt movement—is concerned with the invalidated and the unthinkable; with figures that are sick, infected, deranged, addicted, scarred, wounded, or traumatized. Judith Halberstam, for instance (to bring forward an antisocial queer theorist working in a more materialist and less exceptionalist vein than Edelman), argues for what she calls "queer time" as that which is non-productive, wasteful, and even toxic. As I quote from Halberstam's In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives, I want you to note two things: first, how able-bodied the dominant life cycle she sketches is and, second, how the figure or exemplar she imagines as outside this life cycle—a figure who indeed might be read as queer—might as easily (or more easily?) be read as "disabled" or crip. Halberstam writes:
I try to use the concept of queer time to make clear how respectability, and notions of the normal on which it depends, may be upheld by a middle-class logic of reproductive temporality. And so, in Western cultures, we chart the emergence of the adult from the dangerous and unruly period of adolescence as a desired process of maturation; and we create longevity as the most desirable future, applaud the pursuit of long life (under any circumstances), and pathologize modes of living that show little or no concern for longevity. Within the life cycle of the Western human subject, long periods of stability are considered to be desirable, and people who live in rapid bursts (drug addicts, for example) are characterized as immature and even dangerous. (4-5)
Halberstam confirms here what I told you at the beginning; or have you already forgotten the drug-addicted tranny I asked you to keep in your minds? Following Halberstam, we might now read her as an exemplary figure against whom hegemonic, able-bodied notions of futurity are shaped. It's difficult to convey someone into the future if, by definition, the future is where and what she is not.
As I suggested, contemporary queer theory is full of exemplary figures, like Halberstam's drug addict, who are sick, infectious, obsessed, crazy, unstable, or deranged. It's fascinating to me both that we really don't question the queerness of such figures and that the more unusual academic argument is the crip theory argument I'm making today, an argument that would read them, rather (or additionally), in relation to disability. [And just as an anecdotal aside, invariably when I would tell someone I was cripping Bad Education for this paper, they would say, "huh, how?" If I had said I was queering Bad Education, they would have thought I was being redundant, or perhaps even passé.
This is just to give you a sense of how unusual it is to think through certain figures in relation to disability even when they are quite readily understood in relation to queerness. The second section now is shifting, as I said, from a disability of queer theory to the reverse, and this section is called "Ability Trouble: or, Disabled Liberalism" and actually dovetails with some of the stuff David was saying.
Ability Trouble; or, Disabled Liberalism
My critique in the previous section was, primarily, of elisions in queer theory, of an exceptionalism that makes it difficult to comprehend how disability is connected to our most central arguments. To excavate further why we have such trouble reading all the crips in contemporary queer theory in relation to disability, however, I turn now to some tentative, qualified critiques of the disability movement. The absence of an antisocial thesis in disability studies, I argue, has to do with the dominance of liberalism in the field and movement. Long after other fields (feminism, critical race theory, queer theory) have sharply critiqued inclusion, tolerance, or multiculturalism, or have moved to more radical questions about the limits of tolerance or about figures who are always already excluded from, or sacrificed by, multiculturalism, the disability movement (in and out of the academy) continues to be a project largely indebted to liberalism.
One relatively famous example will have to suffice for my purposes today, and poetically, the example will carry us back to 1977, the year of Ignacio's death. In April 1977, a month now often understood as a "coming of age" moment for the disability movement in the United States (at least as the moment is narrated in disability studies), disabled activists demonstrated in Washington, D.C., at the home and at the offices of Secretary Joseph Califano of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. These activists were protesting the Carter Administration's failure to enforce section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibited discrimination against disabled people by any institution receiving federal funding.
Demonstrations for section 504 took place at several other regional offices; in California, more than 120 activists occupied San Francisco City Hall for almost a month. Since many of the protesters did not have attendants with them, or other necessary services or equipment, their lives were literally on the line. Joseph P. Shapiro calls the occupation "their own disability city, a mini Woodstock" and details how other groups (the Black Panthers, and a gay group called the Butterfly Brigade) expressed solidarity with the protestors and helped to facilitate the action (64-70). For Shapiro and many others (myself included, as I read, teach, or talk about the event), the City Hall take-over—with its emphasis on disability identity and disability community—consolidated the disability movement for the future. Not only was section 504 successfully implemented (on April 28, 1977); so too was the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (later known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). This legislation had passed earlier in the decade (1975) but was never enforced. And yes, the poetics of an investment in futurity again bringing us back to children is also not lost on me.
I would never want to argue that these 1977 events were not important; I would never, ever, ever want to argue that they were not good, or even great. They were, however (and given the compulsory, celebratory position we are meant to have on these events, even saying this seems blasphemous and diminishing), liberal appeals, first, to the state for inclusion and, second, to society (increasingly understood as multicultural) for tolerance of difference. And thus, inescapably, the contradictions of liberalism are apparent in the wake of these events: liberal tolerance, inclusion, and community all have clear limits. Indeed, President Jimmy Carter and Joseph Califano, Shapiro tells us, "were afraid of the public outcry if alcoholics, drug addicts, and homosexuals were to claim protection under the law" (66). Would the crips and queers from the previous section be understood as part of the disability community I'm bringing forward for you now, a community entering, to call back Halberstam, "a desired process of maturation"? Shapiro, before going on to detail the incredible "success" of the City Hall take-over, delivers an unequivocal no: "an HEW team already had concluded they would not be eligible to [claim protection based on these documents]" (66).
Again, I'm not suggesting that we can, currently, do without actions such as the HEW protests or documents such as section 504 or—to move a decade into the future—the Americans with Disabilities Act. I am, however, as I move back towards a reading of Bad Education, extending Walter Benjamin's famous assertion that "there has never been a document of culture which is not at one and the same time a document of barbarism" (qtd. in Spivak 168). Documents in disability history (those generated by, or as a result of, the movement) have not, to my knowledge, been analyzed for their "barbarism." A literal reading of Benjamin's dictum, however, doesn't really allow for a free pass: there has never been a non-barbaric document of culture. Were I to trace the operations of Benjaminian "barbarism" in relation to section 504 and the City Hall take-over, then, I would note two things: whether necessary or not, the ready sacrifice of alcoholics, drug addicts, and homosexuals is barbaric, and—even more—the always-celebratory, post-1977 narration of the events as unequivocal achievements carrying us into the future—a narration that erases the sacrifice upon which the achievement is founded (and thereby redoubles the sacrifice)—is barbaric. Don't get me wrong (I told you my critiques here would be very qualified); I'm not advocating now reading 1977 as a bleak year in disability history. I'm arguing that we should read that history rigorously, understand its connection to liberalism, understand how liberalism and neoliberalism continue to shape or found disability studies, and always grapple with the sacrifices and erasures liberalism demands. Benjamin would argue that there are no unequivocal achievements in modernity. And I would add that it's simply bad education to suggest otherwise.
My final section, returning to Bad Education, is named after a more recent film by Almodóvar, "Volver, or Almodóvar and los minusválidos," the disabled, though it's actually not the best term for disability. It is used here more regarding the invalidated figures in the film and in the earlier points I was making.
Volver; or, Almodóvar y los Minusválidos
My contention in the last section was that the extent to which we have been defined by liberalism has largely precluded the development of an antisocial thesis in disability studies. In this final section, I return to Bad Education and the figure with no future in the Spain imagined by Almodóvar. Almodóvar himself articulates, as early as the late 1980s, some of the points about his films that are now foundational theses for those approaching his work: "[My films] represent more than others, I suppose, the New Spain, this kind of new mentality that appears in Spain after Franco dies, especially after 1977 till now. Stories about the New Spain have appeared in the mass media of every country. Everybody has heard that now everything is different in Spain. . . . I think in my films they see how Spain has changed" (qtd. in D'Lugo 131). Marvin D'Lugo underscores this assessment, not only in relation to the films of the immediate post-Franco period, but also in relation to more recent films, including Bad Education. Both Bad Education and Carne Tremula (Live Flesh, 1997), for instance, are examples for D'Lugo of Almodóvar wrestling with the ways in which "the demons of the past survive in new forms," and with "the problematic persistence of Old Spain in its varied disguises" (127, 128). That the period between Live Flesh and Bad Education (1997-2004) is marked by the dominance of the conservative Partido Popular suggests that Almodóvar continues to stand for some notion of an open and liberated "New Spain" as against what D'Lugo calls "the specters of Francoism" (127).
While not disagreeing with D'Lugo (or Almodóvar himself, for that matter), I am uncomfortable, at this point, with the stark distinction between Old Spain and New Spain, particularly because that binary opposition fails to do justice to the new New Spain—to the ways, that is, in which neoliberalism has taken hold in Spain (since before the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, although that date is certainly a convenient one for my purposes). The new New Spain is, at this point, one of the most gay-friendly locations in the world. Not only is an openly gay filmmaker one of the country's most recognizable, globally-disseminated commodities, but 70% of the population supported gay marriage at the time of its ratification four years ago (when Bad Education premiered), representations of "tolerance" or acceptance of homosexuality abound, and Madrid, Barcelona, Sitges, and other locations are major gay tourist sites marketed to gay-identified consumers everywhere. The San Francisco gay travel magazine Passport announces, for instance, "Few cities in Europe boast the kind of frenetic fun people can experience in Madrid. . . . A few may be coy about their sexuality outside the gay quarters or at work, but once they get to Chuecea [Madrid's most famous gay neighborhood]—well, you'll have to see it with your own eyes" (qtd. in Giorgio 60). In this context, I argue, "Old Spain," even as it does persist in spectral forms, is at times a bit of a straw target. I also contend that neoliberal tolerance or even celebration of gay people is more complicated than it at first appears and that those complications are legible in a film like Bad Education.
Gabriel Giorgio, in "Madrid en Tránsito: Travelers, Visibility, and Gay Identity," argues that "in a democracy that still needs to demonstrate its strength and its resemblance to the older, so-called advanced democracies of the United States and northern Europe, gay visibility [in Spain] stands out as a symbol, a token of social tolerance and achieved freedom" (61). To borrow a few lines from another Spanish film of 2004, Alejandro Amenábar's Mar adentro (The Sea Inside), "We are a civilized nation." If, in the New Spain gender and sexual difference marked "freedom" and "liberation" in opposition to the "repression" of the fascist past, in the new New Spain, gay bodies now mark civilization and tolerance as opposed to barbarism and irrationality. Gay identity (indeed, identity in general) is, I argue, disciplined in this new, neoliberal formation. Giorgio insists that "gayness . . . sets in motion a narrative that locates bodies in a geopolitical order, making them visible in some ways and determining their visibility under different conditions" (73); for Giorgio, a legible gay identity in Spain now marketed globally to gay and non-gay consumers (decidedly different conditions from the immediate post-Franco years) ghosts larger economic and cultural processes—such as, most centrally, the dependence of the new New Spain on immigrant labor and immigrant bodies.
Bad Education, in my reading, can be interpreted as exposing this neoliberal pedagogy. Tellingly, Almodóvar gives us, in the film, a gay filmmaker (Enrique) caught up in processes or histories much larger than himself. And, indeed, outside the film, Almodóvar likewise cannot fully control the uses to which his own body and identity are put—as one of Spain's most recognizable commodities, he is inescapably a character in the new gay-friendly story about a tolerant, civilized, cosmopolitan Spain. Bad Education, however, seduces you with gay and transgender identities that you learn to tolerate or even love, and then strikes back against that compulsory affect, pulling the rug out from under you and giving you a figure that is almost impossible to love, a figure that has no future in the new social order, a drug-addicted crip who fails spectacularly even as she types the unfinished sentence "Enrique, I have succeeded. . ." (and remember here what I said earlier about no unequivocal achievements or successes in modernity).
Since I invoked The Sea Inside a moment ago, you might conclude that disability in general functions somewhat differently from sex and gender in the new New Spain, since the film both represents the seemingly rational, civilized desire of a quadriplegic to kill himself and schools you in how "we" should respond: "we are a civilized nation," Ramón Sampedro's lawyers argue in court as they advocate for his death. You might conclude from the invocation of The Sea Inside, in other words, that even as some gay bodies are now tolerated or "included," disabled bodies are still "excluded" in expected ways and that a disabled life is necessarily perceived as intolerable. Yet as I said at the beginning, my concern is the disability movement in a moment of danger (our own, neoliberal moment) and-as Michel Foucault famously recognized, arguing "not that everything is bad, but that everything is dangerous"-moments of danger always present a range of possible responses or outcomes. As it narrates for itself a story of civilization and tolerance, then, the new New Spain can, without question, in a very familiar (although I would call it residual) move, position recognizably disabled bodies like Sampedro's as expendable. But recognizably disabled bodies can also be disciplined in ways not unlike recognizably gay bodies, and this, I would say, represents a more emergent neoliberal discourse in Spain (and elsewhere) today, a discourse again organized around identity and again ghosting much larger cultural and economic processes: as Jesús Hernández, accessibility director of Spain's ONCE Foundation (Spain's largest disability organization) insists, in relation to the new disabled tourism, "No te preocupes de mis derechos, preocúpate de mi cartera"—"don't overly concern yourself about my rights, pay attention to my wallet!"
Bad Education is a crip film because it paradoxically keeps alive the notion that there is no future for crips even as it critiques the futures we are inheriting (and "critique" is necessarily futural, so my point here is that the film—simultaneously futural and antifutural—hands us a logical contradiction). The real Ignacio dies, in the film, imbibing a substance that she herself needs but cannot biologically "tolerate." Similarly, at another level, through figurations that cannot be tolerated or re-membered to fit the new social order but that also can never be entirely forgotten, Almodóvar presents us with impossible bodies—with specters that we, in order to do justice to somebody (as Judith Butler might say), must attend to.
Professor David Mitchell:
Thanks so much, Bob, for that incredibly stimulating paper, and helping us think beyond limits of where we often go in terms of understanding concepts of inclusion and what's necessary in order to improve the social order. I thought of two things while you were talking, before we open this up—I think Bob might be willing to take a few questions from the audience—but two things: A good friend of mine went to a school that was just for disabled children in Ohio, and the school, which was set up in a very kind of elaborate Italianate building as a place to go for disabled children, ended at sixth grade. The concept of the ways that we find it difficult or are incapable of imagining futures for people with disabilities, for folks like the character in the Almodóvar film, strikes me as the most significant challenge. Because as the kids got to sixth grade the school itself didn't know what to do with them, and then they had to add an 8th grade.
In other words, it's a literal, material effect of not being able to imagine disabled children in the way that we imagine other people: moving forward into a future. My daughter, who also has a disability, is going to a school in Swarthmore, and (I told this story earlier) she got her IEP back this year. And the scene is changed in that there is a 7th and 8th grade in Swathmore, but she had come from Chicago, an integrated school setting all of her educational life, and when she got to Swarthmore—and we've only been here a few months—the school put her into a contained classroom separate from other kids disabled and nondisabled alike. My daughter's comment was, "How 1920s!" and, you know, her own comment upon the way the schools can only imagine a certain kind of educational participation for people with disabilities, and then her sense of being subject to an incredibly limited circumstance inscribed the parameter for her educational experience. So I really appreciate your paper in the sense that it points out that without the ability to think through futures that are alternative to the concepts that even now we will argue are critical to inclusion—let's include people with disabilities or gay people because, in fact, they're folks just like us, exactly resembling the future that is premised for all people. I think is kind of critical problem, a fulcrum for the analysis that you offer, so thanks so much for that I really appreciate it. Comments, questions from people in the audience? You've all been sitting here wonderfully patiently as an interested participant group of folks.
[The transcript of the question and answer session is less clear than the transcript of the earlier portions of the event.]
One of the authors you cited as barbaric I was just curious being unfamiliar with how it's qualified barbaric the qualities and such
No he was writing mid century much more generally he was not writing directly about disability culture and what I'm doing in that section of the paper is thinking through how this particular the insides that he has us might be useful for us indisability studies so his point is to make it impossible to look at any document of culture anywhere and not pay attention to how that achievement whatever culture achievement might be makes it impossible for us to see all of the suffering and pain and hardship and exclusion that that successfully document in culture requires in order to get to a certain point and so what I'm sort of saying is there has been and should be a wonderful celebration and documents that we have managed to generate through affect and scholarship and yet what I'm trying to do is say if we take seriously what got by those achievements and by those celebrations. So he's not talking about disability culture at all and what I'm doing is applying his incites to the particular moment that we have in disability studies
Audience Member [Carol Marfisi]:
>>>: I was wondering do you think [inaudible]
The question was and correct me if I am wrong Carol that do I think that the of people with disabilities is what makes disabled children more palpable to culture than disabled adults? Yeah. I mean, the short answer would be yes that you sort of picking up on what David's saying about these complex processes and where identity and the child are used in representations and discourses to cover over these other processes I mean I actually think of trying and the ways of which that baby was passed around at the national convention and what you as a viewer encouraged is think not just that's the future but I also think that a child with disabilities and you are encouraged and that completely makes invisible the lives of disabled adults in Alaska for whom she is not done much because I don't think that entail privatizing healthcare medication or being in the back pockets of the insurance industries you know a photo open with a certain movement of a sacred child and a moment of viewers doesn't do anything about the ways in which disabilities are in fact not being guaranteed futures in Alaska under those policies, so yes sort of put a little meat on that cultural process.
Audience Member [Melania Moscoso]: Intolerance is [inaudible]
She's saying situation in Spain right now is that everybody has a token gay friend and the follow up is to say well it's not a civilized as one might think though in essence that's exactly what I'm saying is that sort of gay bodies pat one self's on the back and token aren't we tolerant aren't we accepting and in fact aren't we the country look at us how could we possibly become phobic if we have this figure representing us culturally to the world and I think that's a really problematic position. So the argument that one would make is that we can export a tolerance through having you know these gay buddies but that you know the crip experience in Spain is being is a shadow in general
I would also the queer experience because if the knee owe liberal gay identity is very much marrying identity and one other popular film of recent Spanish culture was one called queens which involved this mass wedding of all these same sex couples so you get a sort of and everybody accepts that Spain is a country that allows for gay marriage but experiences that are more defiant as would be then that queer ER in a way are not at the center of so both crip and queer experiences I think are made marginal by the identification of certain good bodies both gay and disabled.
Just so we fulfill our educational function can you quickly neoliberalism in as condensed a form
Classical neo liberalism turn to the state for protection throughout most of the 20th century the welfare state through a certain kind of check on markets and protection for workers and various other groups. Neoliberalism from the seventies on to the present is about taking away those protections dismantling the welfare state privatizing services, eliminating barriers to the flow people and often of ideas are put up neoliberalism also is about as opposed to mass production of mid century neoliberalism target markets smaller and smaller segments that are produced and marketed to so they dutifully consume along the lines of identities and neoliberalism currently dominates the culture in the U.S. the culture in Europe on most ends of the spectrum. John McCain but they are neoliberal figures because these ideas from the era of this they are often taken as common sense what my work and I think others David's work what we're attempting to grapple with what are the cultural ramifications of this political theories.
the comment was looking at the ways in which modern notions of tolerance have been inherited by us due to liberal thinkers like and has all these problems largely because tolerance involves always a figure who tolerates and one who is tolerated and so the terms are always on the side of those who are doing the tolerating, but the comments was saying if I'm getting you right are more perhaps radical in the sense of trying to do away with that structural opposition tolerating and tolerated one of the most important. Hospitality always welcomes the other and hospitality is dangerous because you don't know whether the other could kill you really openness to difference and he believes that sort of pure unconditional hospitality has been impossible but that it's always worth striving for. There was a hand way in the back that I think I missed
You were talking about in 77 one of the issues about why they didn't want to give disability rights was in fear that the drug addicted like organized and argue for their rights as well. Is that something that has potential right now those sorts of actions?
I don't even know how to put it. Those sorts of things that they were afraid of happening in that instance are those things in modern times discussed or talked about The question was if there was a panic around whether homosexuals drug addicts might claim protection based on the documents in 1977 the questioner is asking now are we at a moment where people are talking about those kinds of inclusions I would say well in a way yes and no in that obviously California and other places you now have bills that are organized around gay identity and around inclusion of a certain kind of gay relationship so you do have with discourses of tolerance or inclusion ways in which other groups are later going to make demands on the state in similar ways but I do think that that process of always sacrificing is one that we still have like any bill that comes up to protect a certain group always generates this panic about if we do this this group might claim protection around it. And I think you know that's largely the history of the ADA. On the Supreme Court taking off his glasses and saying does this mean I'm disabled the panic is just how many people could this include. This could include everybody and so I think that tendency to make sure we have clear limits around who can claim it and who can't.
Just throw in as a comment on that in the social Social Security disability system if you're a person with a disability who is also a drug addict you need to demonstrate that the drug addiction is not a cause of the disability not a factor in that because otherwise you fall out of the category as deserving ill and becoming And in the ADA a disabled person with addiction can only be covered if they're
So the two comments first from Brian was that Social Security requires if you are receiving benefits both for drug addiction and disability or seeking to.
Seeking benefits for disability you need to demonstrate that drug addiction is not a factor in the disability in order to be qualified.
So drug addiction needs to not have been a factor in the disability in order to qualify and that also is in circulation around the ADA.
Well I was curious if you had any comments because it seems as if we're talking about disabilities and we're talking about queer theory but there are people with disabilities who are queer who are homosexual and so it seems as if we need to include that so it's not one or the other, but you can be an individual with a disability and have a none heterosexual orientation and I'd like to see if you wanted to comment on that or how that fits in to your paper.
It actually sort of those questions a lot of my work this paper included in some way I think identity politics and the ways in which identity politics always asks for representative figures makes it difficult for us to think of those intersectional identities so the representative gay person according to a certain is not disabled the representative disabled person is not queer so think about those places where identity get messy and don't fit in the model and some ways that's the point of the paper. If certain kinds of representative Spain where does someone like the real Ignacio fit. She's not eligible to be in the running for representative crip or queer because of just how far outside the space of tolerance her life is. So the short answer is yes you're exactly right and we have a very hard time thinking about those
Audience Member [David Mitchell]:
I was I was president of the society for disability studies in the late 1990s and one of the members called me a number of times and told me there aren't any gay people in the society for disability studies I think that we should openly welcome and host them and I just found myself thinking that people who have bodies that are considered defiant or outside of the norm in some way or other are incredibly adept in fashioning alternative sexual relationships and in some ways gay identity was abounded at the societies of disability never address the question of gay identity because to a significant extent. So I've been fascinated with that apparent conflict and I think it speaks to your own remarks today which is that we have difficulty imagining those overlapping forms of marginality and yet at the same time there are all of these alternatives being pursued that can't be spoken about because as soon as you speak about them those alternatives seem to shrink and fade with respect to the fact that there fashioned in order to accommodate bodies that aren't accommodated within the discourse of sexuality in general. Other comments or questions?
Going on the rights of homosexuals the alcoholics drug addicts et cetera et cetera it was if you're disabled and it's not your choice that I can being gay was a choice but then if your drug addiction and alcoholism do you feel the way you would go to O you can't fault the insurance primary healthcare and that was your choice do you agree with the fact that there wouldn't alcoholics and drug addicts moved into this group do you see that ever happening as well?
Well, the question is basically about the who often of is included in a liberal society often those who are included from various bills and I think both Carol and Brian's comments are those who can somehow be held culpable from behavior. Gay people used to be in that category and still are for many people. Certainly a lot of people HIV who smoke and get lung cancer, people who and it's perceived linked people who are alcoholics and drug addicts is choice. The sort of drunk dividing line between acceptance and inclusion and I think that yeah those boundaries are always shifting and life as we know it where he talks about how because starts to direct our gays so you look and more people as making bad choices why did you have why should I have to pay for that child million dollars baby why don't you choose to kill yourself rather than being a burden one level there are certain identities that are always excluded because they're so wrapped up in choice making bad choices as not behaving in the ways that they should for our owe site.
I in that film the clip we saw she was trying to bribe him for money so she could go to rehab and also get reassignment she has to raise her own money to go and down that because of the fact that that's her choice she got herself in that mess but it's also her nature was almost lumped together with her addiction problem.
Right. The follow up was saying in the film she's represented as making all these choices at various levels and so is ineligible for a certain kind of inclusion and tolerance around drug addiction, around various things and I think that's true that's part of why she's so impossible to figure into the new New Spain both the transgender and gay identities who are encouraged to tolerate and love before the film tricks you. They're just part of the multicultural.
I think I'm going to end our fascinating liberations there. Please join me in thanking Bob for his incredible inciteful comments. (Applause) I'm being prompted by mark to make sure I remind everybody on your way out please sign the registration and contact form because we'd like to be able to send you notice about future events to get you back here. I think if you all bring friends and colleagues that would be great and hear the words. Please come back to the next event which is October 15.