Sunday, October 05, 2008

Blindness, not insightful

As far back as I can remember, my grandfather was legally blind. With his glasses, I think he could perceive shapes when he held things next to his nose. But he didn't live in the world of the sighted. Every day he got up, bathed, dressed himself, tied his tie -- and retreated to the woodworking shop he'd set up in the attic which was the focus of his life in retirement. If I was very quiet, stayed in a corner, and promised not to move anything, I'd be allowed to watch him use a bandsaw, a drill press, and a table saw, as well as hand tools. He made kitchen utensils, furniture, and best of all, jigsaw puzzles for me. His being blind meant he had to move carefully and deliberately with dangerous tools, but it certainly didn't stop him.

So when my partner came home from a movie multiplex reporting that supporters of the National Federation of the Blind had been flyering in protest of a new film called Blindness, I was interested. Apparently the movie's plot is pretty simple: a mysterious disease starts making people blind. Locked away together in quarantine, the newly blind are unable to dress themselves, and are reduced to defecating on themselves. They then replicate the story of violent social disintegration in the novel Lord of the Flies, finally discover they can emerge from their prison, and mysteriously recover their sight without explanation. Pretty thin stuff -- and a load of defamatory drivel that reinforces fears and misconceptions about blindness that make real blind people's lives more difficult.

From NFB's flyer:
  • Blind people are responsible; a sense of responsibility is not in any way related to visual acuity.
  • Blind people can care for themselves both physically and emotionally.
  • Blind people are conscious of the importance of hygiene and personal appearance; they do not live in filth and squalor.
  • Blind people can successfully travel; they are not generally disoriented or wandering without direction.
  • Blind people are unique individuals; they are not without identity.
  • Blind people are active in society, not isolated from others and the world.
  • Blind people can perceive their surroundings and exercise judgment.
  • Blind people are as dignified and conscientious as their sighted peers.
Thanks for saying it, NFB. Thanks for my grandfather!


sfmike said...

So what's your take on John Wyndham's end-of-the-world sci-fi thriller from the 1950s, "The Day of The Triffids"? I'm wondering why I've never seen it brought up when the Nobel prize winning book turned bad movie is mentioned.

janinsanfran said...

Mike -- you've hit one of my many areas of ignorance. Somewhere along the line I stopped exploring sci-fi and so missed this one.

I suspect I could be sympathetic to what I, subjectively, considered "good allegory." Everything I've heard about this particular instance says exploitative sensationalism. Of course I could be wrong...

sfmike said...

Do pick up "Day of the Triffids" then. It's short and brilliantly chilling because everyone is being so 1950s stiff-upper-lip British while the world is literally falling apart around them.

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