020 – Freaks!

“Gooble Gobble!” everyone! This week, Ollie and I learn to not make fun of differently abled people, because you could end up . . . different yourself? It’s Tod Browning’s “Freaks” from 1932 and is it ever a trip! Like a good trip. It’s good.



5 thoughts on “020 – Freaks!”

  1. Hi Phil and Ollie!

    So, I found your show through the mexopolis twitter page and it’s one of my favorite podcasts I’ve been listening to ever since! I am also a wheelchair user and listen to a lot of disability related podcasts; my disability being Cerebral Palsy which I’ve been diagnosed with since I was born.

    That being said, the horror genre has always been my favorite in any medium, I would’ve been born in October if it hadn’t been earlier mid September, and my mother said my original due date would’ve been ether October 30th or 31st. So it’s like, what can ya do but not love that?

    HOWEVER, we realize that the horror genre has never been quite accessible or kind to people with disabilities, and whenever I try to look information up on disabilities and their delicate relationship with the horror genre or how other disabled people relate to that: It always comes back to this fudging movie, or disability related podcasts discussing ‘FREAK SHOW’ for a halloween episode and like, that’s all there is unless I look up something specific.

    Needless to say, I’ve avoided this movie and the podcasts discussing it on virtue of being the only recommended to me when I type in the words: “Disability and the Horror Genre”, but I do plan to watch ‘FREAKS’ in my own time and I’d been looking forward watching this episode and seeing how you’d handle the subject matter and discussing how you think Del Toro relates to it. Since I’m too afraid to look it up (abled bodied people make me apprehensive) but lately, I’ve been noticing a sort of pattern when it comes to “disabilities” and Del Toro’s work that I find… interesting …..

    Like, I REFUSE to watch ‘Mimic’, I DESPISE Trollhunters and the fact that Argh was originally female and had a CANONICAL DISABILITY that she needed to “OVERCOME” (you should know why that’s wrong) AND DIED (again, you should know why that’s wrong) and then they had the GALL to write *THAT JOKE* (you KNOW which “joke” I am talking about but for all this shows flaws, I never see people talking about *THAT ONE*) just made me hate the series even more ….. and I might have died because: “WELL, my favorite director hates me.”

    But then Carmen in ‘The Devil’s Backbone’ and this entire thing with the ‘Shape of Water’…. I cried and thought: “Maybe not so much …”

    When I learned through this podcast who Argh actually was in the books however, the sting was still there and the more I look at Del Toro’s work leading up to ‘The Shape of Water, and how he uses, or seems to like using, what I think can be classified as depictions of “disability” throughout his work, I don’t kow if that has anything to do with the way ‘FREAKS’ influenced him, but all I can think is: “You can do better Guillermo, you can do better!” And maybe ‘The Shape of Water’ is a sign (yes, I typed that) that he’s becoming more accessible. He’s the most accessible to me, and I feel most comfortable with his works, I am not praising him by any means, and the abled-bodied casting of Sally Hawkin’s to play Eliza is another issue, but…. I’m still really looking forward to Del Toro’s new movie! Even though the actual disability of the CHARACTER of Eliza ( and yes, that’s what Eliza has: A DISABILITY!) is already being erased and overshadowed by some …. content, in the movie. As for the whole “incomplete” thing, which is the same problem as the idea of Argh needing to “overcome” anything and dying because of it, I’m just gonna chalk it up to the time period that ‘The Shape of Water’ takes place in. Which I know Trollhunters CERTAINLY doesn’t have that excuse so, BOO….LAR!

    On the topic of discussing disability and language and doing better though, I noticed that in this particular podcast how, you were both reluctant/avoidant of actually using the word “disabled” in regards to these actually disabled people and their characters. You know that it is it actually okay to use the word “disabled” in regards to disabled people, right? In fact there’s a whole campaign on twitter, started by disabled people, to get abled bodied people to just #SayTheWord (Disabled), because we regard euphemisms such as “differently abled” to be actually worse! And when I saw that, I kind of rolled my eyes but I REALLY like this podcast and you guys are more reachable than Guillermo Del Toro so I figured I’d … get this discussion rolling! I might have written all those previous paragraphs’ just to segway into this final one but again’ like I said, when you love something what are ya gonna do?

    P.S: I am unable to respond to any emails. I am sorry!


  2. Hey! Wow! Thanks so much for the comment. I’m super scattered right now with work and my other podcasts, so forgive me if this isn’t particularly coherent, but I wanted to respond so you didn’t feel like I was blowing you off.

    I, too, find del Toro’s interaction with disabilities to be . . . well . . . when you come right down to it, there’s a fundamental problem with the fetishizing of “otherness” inherent in “Monster Movies.” I noticed that in his “At Home With Monsters” exhibit. The man surrounds himself with images of deformities, disabled performers and examples of the “grotesque.” And, while he certainly has the luxury to divorce that of any sort of context in regards to the disabled community, it’s definitely *there* for anyone who cares to look. I certainly don’t have the experience or knowledge to intelligently explore his films through that lens, but it’s something I notice. Is this something you write about often?

    As far as the language I use on our show, my day job involves talking almost daily with and about people with brain injuries in Minnesota. The brain injury community here is very politically active and very specific about how they choose to be referred to. I mean, of course they are. So, I use the language our disability activists and advocates use which currently happens to be “people with brain injury” as opposed to “brain injured people” and “people with disabilities” as opposed to “disabled people.” I’m not telling you this because I think it’s right or wrong! I just have a vocabulary that I have to use on the job and that colors my day to day interactions. Maybe it’s regional? I don’t know. But, if I say “disabled people” on the clock, I get taken to the mat, so I tend to play it safe whenever I open my extremely abled mouth. I call people whatever they asked to be called in conversation though.

    But! Language changes all the time, and I’m going to refer the #SayTheWord movement to our advocates and see what they think.

    I’m rambling. I’m sorry. Do you have a space where you write or broadcast?


  3. You are welcome! Don’t worry about it. I’m feeling a little scattered right now myself. I don’t feel “blown off” however, I just feel off. But after all it’s only been one day!

    Last night I had started too worry through, about how Del Toro might actually perceive disabled people. I happened upon some nonsense a person was spouting about ‘The Shape’ of Water, basically stating how in the perception of the person who was doing the spouting: Del Toro had cast a white man (Doug Jones) to play “a stinky fishman” (there own words) which (the “stinky fishman” is supposed to be a “metaphor for a Mexican” (their own words) and how they think “Eliza, a white women, is a stand in for a black man” (their own words) and how again, in this persons perspective, Del Toro is making a metaphor for an interracial relationship, depicting Mexicans as monsters, and how Eliza, the “stand in for a black man” (???) is supposed represent the white savior and save this “whitewashed” monster who is a metaphor for a Mexican and how Del Toro has a white savior complex and how the person who wrote this claims the movie is “white washed” or some such shiz (again, this was all in their own words).

    Thankfully, someone linked them to an interview with Del Toro, explaining how the movie had came from his own experiences as a Mexican and Del Toro has stated as such; that was the version that I came across (and yes, before you ask, this was through Tumblr, Ollie knows better than I).

    But the thing that “stood out” to me, and what I had focused on above all the bullgonk, as Princess Bubblegum would say!- Was that the original poster perceived Eliza as a white women “standing in for a black man” and that’s the only thing they said.

    Nothing of the characters own minority status, which the character CLEARLY HAS, like …. Eliza is not an abled bodied white women! And this takes place in the 60’s!

    Because I saw that and I wanted to add like: Yes, Del Toro would CERTAINLY do well to have more black and brown and other people of color in and leading his films. I would NOT have even seen Crimson Peak and will rue the day he casts Cumberbatch in a lead… (which he was planning to do, Hiddleston and Madd’s are understandable and tolerable but not …. that).

    But I wanted to say like, the character of Eliza is her own minority! The minority being that she is, literally for all intents and purposes, a disabled women! Her disability being that she is mute! She has an interpreter (as far as I can tell) she uses sign language, and the man even asks if she’s death, for goodness sakes she is DISABLED and I just wish that EVERYONE would STOP ERASING THIS CHARACTER’S ENTIRE IDENTITY WHEN THEY TALK ABOUT THIS FILM!

    Even Del Toro.

    I’m going to copy and paste a little bit of an excerpt of the interview that made reflect on it, so you can better understand what I mean, when Del Toro talks about being “different”:

    “Hopefully one of the things the movie shows is that from 1962 to now, we’ve taken baby steps — and a lot of them not everyone takes. The thing that is inherent in social control is fear. The way they control a population is by pointing at somebody else — whether they’re gay, Mexican, Jewish, black — and saying, “They are different than you. They’re the reason you’re in the shape you’re in. You’re not responsible.” And when they exonerate you through vilifying and demonizing someone else, they control you.”

    He doesn’t include “disabled” in that, doesn’t even think too. And yes, while you could reason well from your perspective with “the language changing” I don’t think he’d care!


    Unless…. the director really *does* see Eliza as something else maybe….. *”incomplete”*.

    Though…. other interviews….. really made me reflect on how this Guillermo might see disability through his eyes, he has described Eliza as being able to relate and connect strongly and “see herself” in OTHER political metaphors in the story because she is “different” herself. As for depictions of “disability” in his other works, I personally wouldn’t say he has a “fetish” for it. Because his depictions of “disability” (in his human characters) are very subtle, and your certainly right in saying that there’s something *there* for those who think about. But I wouldn’t call it a *”fetish”* or “*exploitive*” outside of ‘Mimic” because his “disabled characters” I’ve noticed for the most part get to be fully fleshed out characters with backstories and motives, that we get to know and love and not see as pitiful helpless *THINGS* at least BEFORE they have to die for the plot and if they *DON’T* have to die for the plot, or at least cut themselves out of a Kaiju after being ASSUMED dead, their “disabilities” are mostly just these ambiguous little quirks yet still clearly effect them and could do with being explored more in my opinion. They only thing to *pity* about this is that those who get to live white guys who don’t like asian women.

    But I don’t think Del Toro has a “whitewashing” complex or a devotee complex or “fetish”. I DO think he has a “disability- aesthetic- complex” if that makes sense. It’s not (necessarily) “exploitive” nor is it “exploring” actual disabilities in anyway, because I do not think he even realizes that he HAS ONE (WHICH IS AN ISSUE IN AND OF ITSELF) and I just thought of the word “aesthetic” as I was typing this because that’s what disability is to him: an aesthetic. I just realized. Which is EXTREMELY harmful and with realization I don’t know how to feel now; as through I’m being disabili-bated.

    THIS MOVIE JUST OPENED UP A CAN OF WORMS AND I’M BEING REELED INTO THEATRE LIKE I’M THE FISH! OR in my case, wheeled in, with a pack of sour gummy worms in my hands on opening night because I’d rather see someone who reminds of me, even if our situations are different, be in love with a monster man, and (hopefully) be happy, than I would go to see a man think himself a monster, be miserable, because he’s in chair like me and then go and euthanize himself because of it: The infamous ‘ME BEFORE YOU’ .

    Oh, this is a sticky situation indeed!

    Because for me, it’s one of “Pick your Poison”. And the poison is my representation.
    If Del Toro sees disability as an aesthetic because disability IS “different” and he’s and he’s always been attached to different and “other” than I’d rather be different than dead. Again, NOT praising Del Toro’s depictions in the least bit. It’s just if GTD sees disability as a “difference” as nothing else, then I’d rather see Eliza as a “complete woman” as Guillermo still referred to her, living in a time period where it’s not okay to be different and in that difference, finding a monster of a love inside an Abe Sepien like creature who lights a fire in her and makes her feel alive inside, enough to flip off her boss using SIGN LANGUAGE, HER *OWN LANGUAGE*, AND GOIN’ OFF TO SAVE HER MONSTER LOVE AND GETTING SOME (can I say that?) and just … however that ends, watching Eliza being a fully fleshed out disabled protagonist in a monster romance movie WHERE SHE’S THE MAIN LOVE INTEREST, BUT NEITHER OF THEM SPEAK TO EACH OTHER BECAUSE NOT A WORD NEED BE SPOKEN. AND THEM GETTING TO SAVE *EACH OTHER* THROUGH THAT LOVE… IT’S JUST … IT’S ALL I ASK FOR! Even if they don’t #SayTheWord.

    As opposed to seeing a white man in a wheelchair travel to Switzerland to kill himself because he’s “differently abled” and dead inside.

    But this is where I become concerned. Because Eliza’a main “difference” from Del Toro’s other characters is going to go SO FAR BEYOND AND SO MUCH DEEPER THAN JUST THE “AESTHETICS” NOW. BECAUSE SHE’S MUTE. HER DISABILITY IS RIGHT THERE. IT HAS A NAME. Which is why ‘The Shape of Water’ is making me worried now: Because considering the way that Del Toro has treated his other, let’s call them “disability coded” characters in the past, then what is going to happen Eliza?

    I dunno. But I’ll have to find out. I’ll just … have too. I dunno. Maybe one day Guillermo will “divorce” his works from the idea that disabled people are “aesthetics” and actually cast some in his movies. That’s something I think about quite often yes, after all, disability is NOT an aesthetic, it my culture and my life. Funny, I guess what Guillermo is doing with disability, or lack there of could be considered a type of Cultural Appropriation, even with ‘The Shape of Water’.

    What I DO KNOW though is that I don’t like Mini Soda’s, they taste like hospital.

    It’s good that you call people whatever they ask to called in conversation though. Did you ever think of asking your (clients?) instead of the (assumedly abled bodied?) advocates and activists, what they like to be called for THEMSELVES first instead of just what their one-on-ones (?) might be telling you? Like, I dunno what mean by “regional”? Are you referring to a specific region of the brain that helps decide on person first vs. identity first language? Do the the aids or nurses or “advocates” where you work think that the clients are too “scattered” to decide these things for themselves or?

    Ah yes, I love going on the mat! Physical therapy! P.T! Or as the professionals call it: “Pain and Torture!” A little Pain and Torture never hurt nobody! Builds some character, does you some good! Who needs yoga when have you sadism? Although, only sadistic people do yoga, and then they become physical therapists!

    …. Yeah it’s a vicious cycle, no good can come of it.

    And well, I think even Guillermo Del Toro would agree that some languages are ancient. As ancient as a 23 year old disabled person feels after enduring physical therapy for two days in a row or conversing with “extremely abled-bodied mouths” all day and only finishing just after their sleeping medication kicks in. But I’m rambling.

    Unfortunately, I do not have a space where I write or broadcast, I live like Hellboy. Very isolated living space full of cats. Maybe one day I’ll have clean air and green hills if the government doesn’t decide to erase my entire existence or “reboot” it with a bunch of different names or something- OH WAIT!

    I almost forgot! I think you can get the #SayTheWord saying on a T-SHIRT NOW! You and your work buddies should totally bye one!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I really liked your use of the word “aesthetic” and I think that’s what I was trying to get to by “fetish.” It certainly feels a lot cleaner as a descriptor.

      And, yes, our advocates are all disabled. At least the ones who make the decisions. We were founded on the notion that no one knows the needs of disabled people better than disabled people so we make sure that our advocates represent the community they’re advocating for. Of course, a lot of family members get involved as well, especially in the case of parents whose children die from brain injury, but all the decisions as far as language are made by the people who have the most at stake.

      Would you be interested in turning what you’ve written above into a blog entry that I could publish as a guest writer? Ollie and I were talking last night as we recorded that, while the format and timing of our show doesn’t allow for us to explore all facets of a film, we’d love to have different voices commenting on and calling out problematic or even just questionable aspects of del Toro’s work. I host another podcast about the Berenstain Bears and before launching it I contacted the Berenstain company to give them a heads up. I said I was going to explore their work and praise it when it deserved it but also poke holes in it and point out flaws when I saw them. Mike Berenstain wrote back that any art worthy of exploration is worthy of criticism. I believe del Toro feels the same way. So, if you’re interested and turning your comments into a post, I’d love to share it on this blog.



  4. Well as long as the advocates and activists wherever you work WANT to use person first over identity first language that’s THEIR BAG. But if those decisions have been heavily influenced by an ableist environment and their heavily “involved” parents, then I donno. If one way of language and identifying is all that they’ve learned and known most their life then….

    At least those children are free now.

    And that’s very sweet of you to offer me but, I don’t think I’d be inclined to run a blog segment for you and the audience members at this time, unless of course we should come to a compromise .

    I just got the chance to reflect on all these issues myself as I’d been writing these responses, and would rather like to share my …. “observations” of the pattern that I’ve found and just reflected on within Del Toro’s work, and discuss that with my own people first instead of with outsiders. But maybe we can work something out.

    That’s also very good of Mr. Bernstein, and yes! I’m sure that Guillermo would agree! But I trust that you will not share any of our exchanges with Mr. Del Toro. Thank you!

    If I DID consider writing a blog piece for your podcast however, then how much do you think you would be willing to pay me?


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