ᐱᐣᑎᑫᐣ (Come In)
Surviving and Fighting Dehumanizing Practices in Ontario Institutions
Passing Through the Darkness of our Past Lives into the Light of our Present Lives
Some refer to disability humour as liberatory and a way to challenge and change oppressive social systems.1(footnote) Disability humour draws on personal experience to redirect power, requiring others to gain new perspectives. In their book, Seriously Funny: Disability and the Paradoxical Power of Humor, Shawn Bingham and Sara Green show how “disability humor is a raucous inversion of the assumption that people with disabilities live sick or pitiful lives. By pointing out the social ills that disable individuals with impairments, this kind of humor makes the slur ‘sick humor’ all the more ironic.”2(footnote) Bingham and Green discuss disability humour as an action of reimagining vital relations in the world. As such, disability humour can change the deficit and tragic narrative of disability into an active and fully vital work that can make change in the world.
Disability humour also challenges traditional performance aesthetics that perpetuate a narrow notion of human experience. While the institution is a space designed to foster isolating, abusive, and death-making encounters with those whose very existence challenges such narrow notions of human life, humour is a form of encounter that allows people to invent, design, and create interactions with disability and different bodymind experiences to usher in new effects.3(footnote)
Marie Slark uses humour to teach us about how some people attempt to diminish the lives of survivors by denying and even pathologizing their truth telling. In doing so, she transforms individual experience into a larger collective experience with her use of the words “they” and “we.” Slark is not isolated, as the institution would have it, but connected to community. Her humour, as Bingham and Green have noted, is incongruous in that she “unveil[s] common treatment of people with disabilities as well as […] highlights the advantages of the disability experience.”4(footnote)
Humour can serve as a “survival mechanism” in relation to socially unsafe spaces and encounters.5(footnote) For example, Karin Melberg Schwier’s graphic illustration, “What life is like in the institution…”, creates space to speak about the abuses people have experienced in institutions while also creating some emotional distance from the abuse. Her illustration also asserts insider knowledge and understanding that those outside the community who work to perpetuate the institutionalization of mindbody difference often misunderstand.6(footnote)
Slark and Schwier use humour to educate people about the strategies society uses to justify institutionalization and abuse. Slark’s humour shows how people who deny the existence of institutional abuse use accusations that survivors are lying as a weapon to pathologize them and justify the ongoing controlling, shaming, and undermining of survivors’ voices. Schwier shows us how professional assessments, policies, and rules slip easily from care to control when staff believe they are doing their job well. However, what is resulting instead is the loss of social connection, agency, voice, dignity, and spirit of the residents. Slark and Schwier’s humour turns the survivors into fully human social contributors and, at the same time, the deniers and perpetrators of violence into the ones who are wrong. For Carrie Sandahl, such humour is a method and tactic for critiquing prevalent and “deadly notions of disability” and “reflects a response toward a world that does not want to see disabled people as fully human.”7(footnote)
Courtesy of Karin Melberg Schwier
Shawn Chandler Bingham and Sara E. Green, Seriously Funny: Disability and the Paradoxical Power of Humor (Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc, 2016).
Shawn Chandler Bingham and Sara E. Green, Seriously Funny, 160.
Shawn Chandler Bingham and Sara E. Green, Seriously Funny, 152.
Shawn Chandler Bingham and Sara E. Green, Seriously Funny, 148.
Shawn Chandler Bingham and Sara E. Green, Seriously Funny, 4.
Disability studies scholar Margaret Price uses the term “mindbody” (from Babette Rothschild) to braid together the notions that still become separate in our understandings. See Robert McRuer and Merri Lisa Johnson, “Proliferating Cripistemologies: A Virtual Roundtable,” Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies 8, no. 2 (2014): 149-169, 242, 153.
Robert McRuer and Merri Lisa Johnson, “Proliferating Cripistemologies: A Virtual Roundtable,” Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies 8, no. 2 (2014): 149-169, 242, 167, (Source).