Monday, November 26, 2012

LOOK WHAT YOUR BROTHER DID TO THE DOOR: A LOOK AT THE IDEOLOGY OF THE PHYSICALLY AND MENTALLY DISABLED IN THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE

Hi, have you missed me?  I'll spare the gritty details of why my absence has been exactly one month, but in short, MAMA'S BEEN BUSY! I took a well needed break and I'm feeling better than ever.  Which means more fun for you :) Earlier today I posted on my instagram the cover photo for a paper I wrote for my film class on the ideology ideology of the physically and mentally disabled in The Texas Chain Saw Masscare . Well, apparently you fools want to read it.  I've modified the original content just a tad so it'll read less like an academic article and more like a BJ-C blog entry, but without further ado, THE IDEOLOGY OF THE PHYSICALLY AND MENTALLY DISABLED IN THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE!!

Hailing from the desert plains of Texas, a college professor and documentary cameraman by the name of Tobe Hooper was dabbling with independent films, while attempting to wrangle up a crew for a feature film of his own. Alongside writing partner Kim Henkel and comprised predominately of college professors and local students, Hooper armed himself with an estimated $60,000 budget and created one of the most iconic horror films of all time, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Following the story of Sally Hardesty, her brother Franklin, their friend Jerry, their friend Pam, and Pam’s boyfriend Kirk, the audience is shown a look into flower children on a road trip across the state in hopes of visiting a home from Sally and Franklin’s childhood as well as investigating a recent grave robbing.  Why anyone would desire to visit a dead body impaled through the asshole by a gravestone is beyond me, but the '70s were a weird fucking era.  The youngsters living in an era before picking up strangers from the road was seen as strange take it upon themselves to pick up a mysterious hitchhiker along their journey who turns violent, erratic, and then forces the troupe to stop along their trip just to deal with his insanity. Who would have thought picking up a sweaty stranger with weird jewelry and a camera dangling off his neck was going to be anything but sane.  After a bit more of a drive, the “Van Family” as they are called, comes across the old house and later on, the Leatherface family residing just next door.

Taking place towards the end of the Vietnam War, the film acts as subtle commentary on the current socio-political climate as well as an exploitation in an immense amount of ideologies of American culture. Arguably, it is the emergence of disabled characters in cinema that acts as one of the most overlooked attribute of the film's importance. Before 1974, mentally and physically handicapped individuals were few and far between on the silver screen, but The Texas Chain Saw Massacre showcases a physically handicapped man and a family of seemingly mentally handicapped individuals. For those grateful enough to live without any sort of physical or mental handicaps, it can be difficult at times to understand or have the proper know how in terms of existing around the disabled. To put it simply, we're some pretty politically incorrect assholes who stare at the disabled or make off-handed comments.  TCM exploits the human’s tendency to treat those with physical handicaps with pity or condolences while greeting the mentally disabled with fear, hostility, and judgment.

The character of Franklin Hardesty is immediately pinpointed as the outcast of the “Van Family”. Surrounded by thin, conventionally attractive flower children, Franklin is overweight, sweaty, temperamental, and paralyzed from the waist down. It becomes rather obvious that Franklin is a black sheep and is to be treated as such. When the Van Family picks up the mysterious hitchhiker, Franklin is the first one to be mistreated on the van. His inability to escape due to the confines of his chair cause the audience to feel a sense of sympathy for him and his condition. Individuals that are physically capable and able to escape if placed in a similar scenario watch this scene without the levity of taking their ability to run away for granted. This severs any connection to the emotional struggle needed to understand and interpret the motives of how each character is interpreted, regardless of their motives. In later scenes, Franklin is shown struggling with entering the home due to the poor traction of the wheelchair, or needing the aide of Sally to push him through the forest in order to escape the dangers that lie ahead. Instead of feeling scared or worried for the well being of his character, audiences instead are geared to feel pity towards his situation.

Audiences know from the beginning that his wheelchair is going to be responsible for his decline, (due to the limited mobility and the struggle of wheeling around the rough terrain) and because of that, we no longer fear for his safety but rather look down upon him for being doomed from the start. Unfortunately, this state of mind seems to be one that is frequently instilled within human psyche regardless of time period. Tobe Hooper utilizes Franklin's condition to garner and molest the notions and misconceptions that we as a society feel towards the handicapped. Is Franklin's physical limitations a result of his demise or not? It's not the act of examining these shortcomings but rather a needed reflection as a whole of why we view this as any reason to segregate this character from any other victim.

In contrast to the physical disability of Franklin, The Leatherface family is often attributed to some form of mental illness as a means to explain their murderous and cannibalistic tendencies. Without further dissection, it is vital that it is mentioned that there is a very strong possibility that the Leatherface family is without any sort of mental disability at all. The progeny of the Leatherface family live as male descendents of a character known only as “Grandpa”. As the patriarch of the household, all of the men born into this family line have been raised from birth to be relentless killing machines. A life of manipulation, death, and destruction is the only way of life these individuals know. Without divulging into far more rooted arguments of nature vs. nurture, let it be known that criminal actions do not equate mental illness. Whether or not the Leatherface family was suffering from a mental illness is irrelevant, because to the victims in the film, they associated their actions with that of a “crazy” person and reacted to them in response to that assumption. During the ‘dinner party,’ Sally screams in terror "You’re crazy,” something that audiences watching the films more than likely agreed with. This statement alone is the sole proof of the way the audience views the Leatherface family. Mental disabilities are highly misunderstood and the actions it causes those suffering with the disability to perform are often so different than that of “normal” society that it invokes an uncontrollable sense of fear in those that are without the mental disability. Sally makes her panicked assumption of the mental state of mind of the Leatherface family in a frantic, screaming, and traumatic situation. From the very beginning, the Van family treats those that behave even the slightest inkling outside of “normal” with hostility and cruelty. Is it that we as society value our physical capabilities over our mental capacities, or is it that we truly fear what the human mind is capable of causing the body to do? Regardless of the answer to this question, the ideology of the way society handles those with handicaps is reflected as clear as crystal in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.  Crazy should be handled with hostility and even starting to sit and think of the reasoning behind the "insane" actions is simply a waste.
Once Sally has escaped the traumatic events, she is shown in her final scenes in a state of manic laughter.  Has she survived? Yes. At what cost? That is the real question.  In a world of overly political correctness, it's difficult to swallow the behaviors shown in films of yesteryear.  What audiences NEED to understand is a sense of context, and to accept that films are a product of their time.  While using racial slurs or derogatory language towards specific minority groups would be deemed improper in today's film world, our views towards those suffering from physical and mental disabilities appears not to have changed.  It may be difficult to grasp, but by simply taking a look back at The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, we as a society can be forced to look dead on at how slowly we've evolved in terms of sensitivity to the disabled.

2 comment(s):

The Goodkind said...

I think you're right on here. Cinematic manifestations of racism and sexism or misogyny are much more coded and concealed now, but they're still there. Perhaps it is the frequent inability of the mentally handicapped to articulate the discrimination they experience, coupled with the potential threat (fear) that any of us might suffer debilitating brain trauma that is behind our cultural hangups on this subject. Another interesting angle on this might be the dynamic between the city-folks vs the country-folks and how those stereotypes of culture/intelligence play into TCM.
Thanks for sharing!

Illsa Gorrey said...

I was never able to get into the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but after reading your review, I may try it again. I'm seeing it in a different light. Being someone who lives with mental illness myself, I know all too well what it's like to be misunderstood and to be told "just stop thinking/acting like that." I've never been violent, except towards myself, though.

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