Examining Representations of Diabetes

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I’m enrolled in a course this semester called “Disability and Culture.” In this class we are looking at representations of disability in film, art, writing, etc. A major take-away from our first lecture was that representations of disability are inherently value-laden. This means that every single time a character or piece of art presents with a disability, there is a value-based meaning attached to it.

Forrest Gump. Hodor. Mad-Eye Moody.

All three characters are defined, motivated, and behave according to the their respective impairments (or rather, to the able-bodied expectations of their impairments). Try and think of a single time you’ve seen a disability presented without some value-based meaning attached to it. You can’t! It’s impossible! Even acute injuries are contextualized, joked about, justified.

Considering this argument, I have been thinking about how diabetes is presented. What first came to mind was of course: fat, lazy, gluttonous, old. Upon a second, and perhaps deeper, reflection I thought: sad, careless, lacking, dependent, unaware, bad.

I’ll be the first to admit I watch a LOT of television. In my observations, the most common representations of diabetes are used as a comedic device or as a plot-pivoting clue. The former is no surprise, right? It might look like this: Character A sits on a couch eating a plate of donuts. Character B remarks “You’re gonna get diabetes.” [Insert laughter here?]. This first common representation of diabetes is one we [in the diabetes online community] have spent post after post, tweet after tweet, trying to dismantle. We do not take this [mis]representation lightly, as it contributes to the stereotypes and stigma attached to living with diabetes.

But the second representation, the plot pivoting-clue, is one we talk about in the diabetes community far less frequently. It might look like this: Crime detective reads blood test results from crime scene, says “The blood sugar level is 350, the murderer must be the wife because she is the only one with diabetes.” My opinion on this representation is not fully formed. I’m mostly filled with questions about how we ought to interpret this as a community. Is the diabetes responsible for the crime? Are people with diabetes easier to catch? Are we being objectified in this process? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments. gfn15xals34wy

In a first attempt to tease out the meaning behind diabetes represented for the purpose of developing or pivoting a plot, I’d argue that diabetes is inconsequential or expendable in this context and can be, rather, taken just as measurable human deviance. In other words, the representation is not of diabetes itself, but simply as a deviant Other. I use deviant in this context to mean “away from the average.” If we take this assumption to be true, then we can also ascertain that diabetes is Other-ing. Diabetes is that which makes us different.

Diabetes is the contrast, the evidence, the scapegoat, the giveaway.

Diabetes is that odd deviation see-able through the microscope.

Diabetes is, then, not only what makes us different, but also what makes us see-able. It makes our invisible variation of difference visible.

I’m not sure about you, but it is curious to feel seen.

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