Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy


Media Studies


Dr. Sharon Sliwinski


Most media texts currently being developed with disabled characters are crafted by individuals who are nondisabled and, as such, are based on what the nondisabled think it would be like to be disabled—a perception that is informed by the fantasy of disability. The fantasy of disability is a net of ideas, created by no single individual but perpetuated and circulated between subjects and which seeks to contain the danger of limitation, to subject it to a set of societal preconceived notions about what it means to be disabled and how a person is expected to act and react to the diagnoses of disablement. With the help of French psychoanalysts Jacques Lacan and Julia Kristeva, this project seeks to answer three key questions currently underserviced by the existing field of media and disability studies: 1. What are the unconscious fantasies circulating in representations of disability? 2. What role do these fantasies play in defining the condition of disability? 3. What can these fantasies teach us about human vulnerability writ large. By looking at war films, such as Coming Home (1978) and Born on the Fourth of July (1989), and modern teen drama, such as Degrassi: The Next Generation (2001) and Glee (2009), this project postulates that depictions of disability in the media are representative of the nondisabled producers encountering their own potential disablement, with the real purpose of the fantasy of disability being to consolidate and strengthen the perception that disability is indeed foreign—there is a difference between the disabled and the nondisabled—a line that must be drawn to safe guard the nondisabled from the perceived threat of castration posed by disability and the risk of suffering a “narcissistic identity wound.” In this way, depictions of disability are formed by anxieties of ruptured identity and crushing emasculation while disabled characters are driven by fantasies of rebirth and reconstitution: dreams constructed to neutralize the anxieties of the nondisabled subject when encountering their own inherent vulnerability.