Amputation in Pop Culture: Representation and Stereotypes
An amputation is sometimes necessary following a case of severe trauma to your limb, gangrene or diabetes complications. It can be a daunting prospect, as the person with the amputation needs to adapt and reorganise their life accordingly. They may also worry about a change in their self-image as shown in Country Life Magazine.
As with many things, portrayal in the media can feed into people’s perception of what life is like with an amputation.
The historical context
In Victorian times, people were very familiar with leg amputations. Charles Dickens, who was born during the Napoleonic War, must have seen his fair share of amputees as a child. This is evidenced by the frequency of characters with wooden legs in his novels. One of the most notable is Silas Wegg in Our Mutual Friend, a villainous but comedic character with a “peg leg”.
Back then, the type of prosthetic limb you had signalled your wealth. More well-off people could afford one made of ivory, steel and vulcanized rubber instead of wood.
Amputees in films
The film industry has been criticised for the lack of characters with physical disabilities in top films. More than half of the top films of 2022 didn’t feature a single character with a speaking role. In fact, top films in previous years like 2021 and 2015 had higher instances of this.
Amputees in TV programmes
There have been similar criticisms when it comes to TV programmes. In recent times, there have been a few programmes featuring amputees that have been received well, however. For example, there’s The Midnight Club, a horror/thriller series on Netflix that co-stars Ruth Codd, a teen actress with an amputation below the knee.
The non-fictional series Amputating Alice also aired recently on Channel 4. It follows the journey of Alice Tai, a Paralympic Champion swimmer as she undergoes an amputation to lessen the pain of a condition she was born with.
The impact on society
Media underrepresentation of physical disabilities means that the daily realities of living with an amputation are not on everyone’s radar.
It is important that more is done to fix this, and that the media portrays amputees respectfully and fairly. It’s positive that some progress has been made in this direction, even if it is not yet done fully to satisfaction.
It’s also important that storylines about amputees are empowering, not purely about inspiring pity. If you have had an amputation, you likely want to be seen for who you are rather than being defined by your disability. Some amputations occur due to other people’s carelessness, perhaps in a medical or industrial setting. If this is you, you might find it helps to make an amputation injury claim.
For those who haven’t been directly affected by a physical disability, it’s a great idea to take an interest in the lives of people who have. Thinking critically about the media you consume can help make sure you’re building a fair picture of what life with an amputation is like.