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That joke isn't funny any more: Impairment, disability and audience in the films of the Farrelly brothers

Deborah Williams, Reality Productions/University of York
Co-author(s): Alison Wilde


This paper traces the evolution of the representational strategies taken in depicting disabled characters in the films of the Farrelly Brothers. In particular, it explores some of the paradoxes of deliberate attempts to raise disability concerns in accessible forms of mainstream comedy. Focussing on such films as Me, Myself and Irene, Something about Mary, Kingpin, and Stuck on You, we will highlight cinematic devices which grapple with the multiple and fluid identities of disabled characters, and will examine the roles disabled actors play. We will also discuss the engagement with audiences and their psycho-emotional attachments. This will be followed by an exploration of the ways that these films play with and manipulate disabled and non-disabled viewer's prejudices and audience reactions, exposing the cultural misrecognition of disabled people in mainstream attitudes. Finally we raise important questions about the industry's resistance to the increasingly social and political disability related content of these and other genres.

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