Saturday, November 9th, 2013 01:18 pm
The first and most obvious reason is that it's terrifying. Cecil may be able to put a positive spin on massive death rates and repressive secret police but personally I'd rather stay in a town where the librarians don't try to eat you and steal your children. YMMV.

The second reason is that there are no ramps in Night Vale. The writers have gone to great efforts to create a world with no acceptance of homophobia, racism or sexism and have been rightfully applauded for doing so. Yet when it comes to disability the town doesn't do so well(*).

As the most recent episode (34 - A Beautiful Dream) made explicitely clear, this is a town where ableism is rampant for exactly the same reasons it is in the real world (albeit with a surreal Night Vale spin), where disabled children are held up as tragic, pitiable figures doomed to misery as their calls for accessibility are either ignored or have to be destroyed for the greater good. Where Cecil refers to them as a sympathetic but helpless other who need "our" charity, not part of the weird but cohesive "us" that includes able bodied queer people, women and POC (for contrast, see this quote from the voice actor Cecil Baldwin)

Which is admittedly no worse that the treatment disabled characters get in 90% of the canons I enjoy, and better than the ones where we're all evil or whatever. But I feel like they should know better, and I'm sick of disability being an afterthought at best. Also, I think a lot of my annoyance is less because of the show itself and more a result of the way fandom holds the show up as Perfect (asides from occasional criticisms of the well meaning but patchy handling of race).

There was the two-headed quarterback: disabled identity in night vale but I must admit I found the satirical writing style impenetrable so I'm not sure what points they were making. There's also the cute tumblr Welcome To Disabled Vale and I'm glad they're having fun but they are working against canon like any other "wouldn't it be cool if canon was more inclusive" fandom thing.

Meanwhile we have posts like The Monster and the Closet: Welcome to Night Vale and Queer SpecFic, which asides from various other issues(**) presents the "weird" bodies and minds of Night Vale as a metaphor for queerness (or even inherently queer). How can she talk for so long about monstrous bodies and not even mention disability? My previous interactions with Thingswithwings have been very positive and I'm sure she'd be open to criticism, unfortunately all attempts at articulating my problems with that post descend quickly into angry capslock which is not my preferred mode of interaction.

But...we are not a metaphor. We are not tragic victims. We are not a cause for ablebodied protagonists to support to make them look progressive (though that was certainly preferable to Cecil being ableist) We are real actual people, who listen to radio shows and live in weird little towns and are just as deserving of stories that don't reduce us to nothing but our limitations and oppressions.

nb I am SO BEHIND ON MY MAIL RIGHT NOW, will try to get to comments eventually but may take a while.

(*) I am in no way arguing that Night Vale's inclusiveness about sexuality/gender/race is bad. I'm a queer woman myself, I love it! But that doesn't make the poor treatment of disability ok. And then there's the fact that even disembodied hands are cisgendered (kinda? Or maybe not? Less convinced of this than I was), I haven't thought about that so much but would be interested in hearing other people's thoughts. There's more to queerness than the experience of cis same-sex-loving folk. There's probably other issues I'm not even noticing, but such is life.
(**) Here's a ffa thread on the post where various people express issues with her treatment of "queerness", I don't agree with everything they say but there are definitely some valid points.
Saturday, November 9th, 2013 10:43 am (UTC)
Ugh. Hugs?

I'm writing a fantasy world myself in which the treatment of disability is a... plot point, I guess? I mean, it's part of the worldbuilding in several respects. I'm trying to make it not be clunky and obvious and awful, but I think it's going to take a few more revisions. Ugh. But one thing that conversations like this have taught me is that it pays to pay attention to as many kinds of people as possible and ask how the fuck they get treated in these worlds.

*hands* I'm not looking for cookies, I'm just saying your writing among others have made it impossible for me to consider worldbuilding without thinking about ramps and medical care and social constructions of disability, visible and invisible. So you're doing something right, even if I still fuck it up.
Tuesday, November 12th, 2013 10:43 pm (UTC)
Hi, can we link this at metanews?
Wednesday, November 20th, 2013 06:29 pm (UTC)
This is a tiny little tangent to most of your post, but I'm surprised that you're calling the disembodied man's hand -- who is identified unambiguously as a female character, and treated as such in-universe -- "cisgendered." I can understand not taking her as good representation for IRL trans people in the same way that, say, Cecil is good representation for IRL queer people, but I can't see any reason to call her [the fantastical horror-comedy equivalent of] cis, either.
Thursday, November 21st, 2013 03:03 am (UTC)
Hang on, in (a) here you claim Megan is gendered male, and in (b) you claim she's gendered female.

My assumption was always that the phrase "a man's hand" was used to specify Megan's biological sex (the hand is later described as large and hairy, so "biological male" is not an unreasonable assumption to make), and terms like "daughter", "she", etc. were used to refer to Megan's true gender (as determined through some kind of Night Vale magic/telepathy/what have you).

And I don't think an IRL trans person would be any less trans if it were recognized at birth that their gender identity wasn't the one usually associated with their biological sex, and if they spent their whole lives having their genders treated as legitimate. On the contrary -- it seems like that would be the ideal situation for trans people! Similar to the way that having your same-sex romantic attractions recognized and treated as legitimate all your life is the ideal situation for queer people.

Again, Megan's situation is way different from any IRL experience, and she's probably more fantasy!trans (as well as fantasy!disabled, of course!) than anything else...but I do think the logical corollary is that Night Valeans with complete human bodies also get their gender identities treated as inherently valid, regardless of biology.

I'm just not getting cis-centric thinking out of any of it.

(As a data point, my trans housemate's reaction was "I guess trans?" if she had to choose, and then "But you can't really apply real-world concepts here. She's a detached hand!")
Thursday, November 21st, 2013 05:02 am (UTC)
Fair enough =)
Wednesday, November 20th, 2013 11:57 pm (UTC)
Hi, may I link this at [community profile] access_fandom?
Thursday, November 21st, 2013 12:02 am (UTC)
P.s. It sucks that a lot of the images at "Welcome to Disabled Vale" don't have image descriptions. *sigh*
Thursday, November 21st, 2013 02:20 am (UTC)
Here via access_fandom, and yeah, Episode 34 wasn't actually something I was expecting out of Night Vale, because not only was it ableist, but it had bonus tired trope-y "AIs always turn bad" and ugh, really? Did we really need that? Lazy writing all around.

Lots of food for thought here, thank you for sharing.