Sunday, February 21, 2016

"How to Train Your Dragon" vs. the 7 Forms of Ableism

I've included the information in this post after receiving many requests for it. 
It's a topic I've covered multiple times at Salt Lake Comic Con.
I'll warn you, dear reader: Thar be spoilers ahead.

Ableism is discrimination against those with disabilities. 
Historically, there have been 7 major forms of Ableism. 
These are the versions we see over and over and over again.

Subhuman Organism
The idea that those with disabilities are incapable of being "like normal people"

Menace to Society
Disability = Evil

Object of Dread
This one comes from the medieval myth of the changeling
People believed that a normal child was spirited away by evil spirits in 
the night and replaced with a disabled, soulless child

Object of Pity
Compassion devoid of respect
Think of those telethons and charity advertisements
that use the visual image or the idea of a disabled
person to make you feel crappy

Diseased Organism
Belief that a disability is a temporary state
and that it can be easily cured by medication or psychology
(This one is rampant in online communities)

Holy Innocent
(aka: Eternal Child)
This one is a bit tricky
It tends to be exclusive to those deemed "Mentally Retarded"
They are considered incapable of sin
It's often a religious belief and it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy

Object of Ridicule
The best example of this is old timey freak shows
Disability is viewed as something disgusting

So how does 
"How to Train Your Dragon" 
stand up?

The books are full of Ableism. 
Ableist language, 
Ableist behavior... 
It's pretty bad. I can't recommend them.

What about the movie?

"How to Train Your Dragon" 
is the first movie I have 
found to specifically 
counter every one of the 
seven major types of Ableism.

(That's a pretty big deal. I've evaluated about 1000 films for instances of Ableism.)


Let's go back over the list.

Subhuman Organism
Dragon Defiance:
Even though Hiccup is considered to be less heroic and brave than the other vikings, he is expected to contribute just as much as everyone else. He is not viewed as less capable. Furthermore, Hiccup's mentor, Gobber, is revered for his contributions to society. Gobber has had multiple amputations and is sporting some pretty hardcore rudimentary prosthetics.

Menace to Society & Object of Dread
Dragon Defiance:
Disability is revered by the vikings when it comes in the form of injury. Hiccup is given a job where he can be of use to his community even though his father believes him to be unable to behave like the rest of the community.

Object of Pity
Dragon Defiance:
Disabilities are not allowed to define any of the characters.

Diseased Organism
Dragon Defiance:
Hiccup & Toothless are prime examples of this! They ADAPT to their limitations. They are NOT cured.

Holy Innocent
(aka: Eternal Child)
Dragon Defiance:
This goes back to Subhuman Organism a bit. Hiccup is deemed to be less able to show bravery or to 
help defend the village, but he is still expected to try. He is still given a job and he is expected to do it. When Hiccup experiences failure, it isn't written off.

Object of Ridicule
Dragon Defiance:
Ridicule of the disabled is never featured. In fact, the end of the film takes this a step further by showing how awesome prosthetics can be!



Queen Vishpla was a warrior queen in an epic poem, the Rig Veda. The Rig Veda goes back to a couple thousand years B.C. It tells the story of a great warrior queen who, after losing her leg, continued to lead her army by strapping a large iron early prosthetic to her side so she could continue to ride her horse.

It's the first historical reference to prosthesis. It's a pretty big deal in the history of disabilities.
The hero loses her leg. The hero fashions a suitable replacement so she can continue to ride her steed and lead her army. 

Sound familiar?

It should.
Hiccup does the exact same thing.

In fact, Hiccup does the same thing Vishpla did while riding on a Dragon that is also missing a limb,
has a prosthetic, and continues to lead.


DeBlois, D., & Sanders, C. (Directors). (2010). 
How to train your dragon[Motion picture]. 
United States: Dreamworks.

Understanding Human Differences: Multicultural Education for a Diverse America
by Kent L. Koppelman with R. Lee Goodheart
Copyright © 2005 by Pearson Education, Inc.
Published by Allyn and Bacon

Nooten, Barend A. Van, and Gary B. Holland. 
Rig Veda: A Metrically Restored Text with an Introduction and Notes
Cambridge, Mass: Dept. of Sanskrit and Indian Studies, Harvard U, 1994. Print.

(Disclaimer: I'm not certain that this last citation covers Vishpla. I'm making an assumption because I can't find better way to directly cite the Rig Veda.)

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