Suffering Cyborgs: Inhuman Pain, Human Subjects
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Popular culture in the U.S. has long constructed disability as a condition that results in inevitable suffering. The presumed link between disability and pain forms the basis of very concrete instances of disability oppression, but pain still remains a highly contentious and rarely discussed topic within disability studies. Suffering Cyborgs: Inhuman Pain, Human Subjects aims to address this gap through a critical theory examination of two seemingly contradictory cultural discourses of pain: popular culture narratives that construct pain as an inhuman experience and representations of cyborgs in films and television that deploy pain as a narrative device to humanize the inhuman. The thesis examines Time magazine cover articles written over the last ten years as case-study examples of the more pervasive discourse of pain as a dehumanizing experience. It then looks at this construction against the television show Caprica, which uses pain as a marker of humanness in the less-than-human figure of the cyborg to argue that in both examples, pain becomes a litmus test for what it means to be human. This discourse contributes to the ease with which disabled lives are judged to be less worthy of living. To conclude, the inquiry turns to the television show Battlestar Galactica to deconstruct an example where pain fails to accomplish its narrative function of explaining a character’s (less than human) actions. The author contends that the fissures within this narrative suggest the insufficiency of pain as a marker of humanness and signal an opportunity for a crip intervention in the cultural discourses of pain and disability.