nothing can replace reality

I rather like clubs. They’re fun. Some of my favourite memories have concerned clubs, such as the club we went to after graduation, or the clubs in Newquay. They may not be everyone’s cup of tea, and sometimes I’d rather stay home, but when you go with a load of your friends, and you’re all dressed up, there’s nothing greater.

Perhaps I have a secondary motive for going clubbing, too. As a disabled person, I want to live as normal a life as possible, participating in as much as possible. Moreover, I think it important that people see me do this – how would people realise that we crips can be as reckless and carefree as anyone else? Simply to stay at home wouldn’t just be boring, it would be perpetuating a negative stereotype of disability. At the same time, people shouldn’t think me brave for going out – it’s just normal. Having said that, I think that my presence in a club would have the effect of breaking down stereotypes; certainly, one or two of my uni friends have told me how I helped change their minds upon issues relating to disability. I reckon our presence anywhere, clubs, pubs, university bars, would break down barriers. What’s more, we shouldn’t hide who we are – to try to hide dribble and uncontrolled movement would defeat the object, as would not dressing how you want. I say if people can’t tolerate a spastic in a fairy costume, fuck them. Note the fairy costume is just my personal addition.

Now, I’ve been hearing a lot about ‘Second Life’ recently. This is an online world which I suppose is akin to the Sims, but where every sim is controlled by a person behind a computer. It’s apparently serious business, with real money exchanges. Interestingly, very interestingly, disability exists in this world. Why shouldn’t it? People want to portray themselves, be themselves in second life; why shouldn’t it be as diverse as the real world? It’s great, isn’t it?

I’m not completely sure it is so brilliant though. Yes, second life should be as diverse as reality, but, paradoxically, that might be reinforcing negative stereotypes. That is to say, I’m not sure that you can argue that disability portrayal in the s.l is equivalent to disability portrayal in the real world, as some people have. This is because the s.l portrayal of disability is simply an avatar in a chair, albeit a stylish one. To me, this is not the grand breaking down of barriers as some seem to think it is: given that only the photo* can show the Lacanian real, only it can truly reflect reality on screen. In other words, in order to get to grips with the reality of disability in an artistic framework, you need to use film. Yes, it can be described linguistically, and I’ve seen it done so with panache, but to me, only the photo can re-present reality.

Hence, in terms of breaking down stereotypes and barriers to do with disability, something like s.l could be counterproductive inasmuch as they present a sanitised, cut down version of crippledom. An avatar is not a photograph, but a computer-generated facsimile; it therefore does not dribble, or grunt, or have uncontrolled movement. The point is that, while I have no objection to people with disabilities using second life, I really do not think that one can draw parallels between my clubbing experiences (that is, physical, real events, which of course arent exclusive to me) and the appearance of disability in second life. On top of the fact that disability in s.l is sanitises, there is still the fact of the barrier – users remain at home behind their computers. There is no actual physical contact, which in a way means that stereotypes are in fact reinforced. Hence, to hail the appearance of disability in second life as some momentous, brave step, I think is wrong. At the end of the day, s.l is peopled by users behind their computers, for the barriers to break down, there must be actual physical contact or accurate portrayal. In second life, you have neither. Moreover the fact the fact that users are innately separated, kept at home, may even help perpetuate the negative stereotype pf the ‘stay at home’ cripple. It may be good fun, but, in terms of disability portrayal and rights, it is nothing compared to actually going out, physically participating,, and having a great time with your friends.

*Here I’m using a Barthesian perspective.

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