August 4th, 2012

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Superpowers and Disabilities

I like reading and writing about characters with disabilities, because that broadens the diversity of stories that can happen.  One thing I like, that a lot of people don't, is adaptive equipment that works as well as or better than the original.  This is not actually a new motif; in fact it goes back as far as storytelling.  I think it's an important  motif ... because it gives us the idea that occasionally, a loss can pave the way for a greater gain.

Once upon a time, somebody looked at a foreshortened leg and thought it would help to make a wooden peg to stand on; and it did.  Later, somebody got dissatisfied with that peg, and built a more articulated prosthetic that worked similar to a human leg; and that was an improvement.  Then somebody thought, why try to duplicate what meat does?  Let's try something different, something better.  And that led to contemporary carbon-fiber prosthetics so good that able-bodied athletes whined they would give a handicapped runner an unfair advantage.

Oscar Pistorius just made the men's 400-meter semifinals in the Olympics.  He had to fight for years to earn the right to compete in the regular Olympics, with his prosthetics.  So while he's not the same as a guy with legs, he is capable of competing at the same level and succeeding.  That story matters.  That story deserves to be told.

I think we might not have this if we didn't tell stories about magical or mechanical marvels that let characters overcome handicaps in ways people could only dream about at the time.  Because times change and people invent stuff, but it helps a lot if the public domain is full of ideas for awesome things that inventors could try to make.