Many people would be hard pressed to name a Canadian ﬁctional television program, let alone one that began in the late 1970s, that is still on the air some thirty years later, with new episodes continuing to abound. However, for much of the 1980s and early 1990s, the Degrassi franchise played a signiﬁcant role in the development of hundreds of thousands of young Canadians looking to television to help make sense of the world around them. After nearly a decade hiatus the series was relaunched in 2001 under the title Degrassi: The Next Generation and would once again begin tackling issues facing Canadian teens. While the original Degrassi series did involve a tertiary female character with a disability, Degrassi: The Next Generation is of particular interest as it marks the ﬁrst time in which a star character, Jimmy Brooks, portrayed by Aubrey Graham, becomes fully reliant on a wheelchair. Disabled by a school shooting in the fourth season, Jimmy spends the
remainder of his tenure on Degrassi: The Next Generation using a wheelchair (Degrassi: The Next Generation – Season 4 2007). While Jimmy’s disability is a primary storyline throughout three seasons, he is also shown generally integrating into the school like any other student. In this way, Jimmy’s disability was not merely a storyline, but rather a fundamental part of his new identity: Wheelchair Jimmy.1 This sensibility in which disability is a permanent feature of daily life – rather than a temporary plot device – oﬀers a venue for a deeper grappling with the anxieties of human vulnerability. A popular student and basketball star to start the series, Jimmy changes
radically once he becomes disabled, shifting from a world of expressively physical masculinity to one of vulnerability and passivity. Much like Luke Martin in Coming Home (1978) and Ron Kovic in Born on the Fourth of July (1989), the world of disability is perceived to be incongruent with masculinity, shattering the individual’s sense of self and forcing them to rebuild along lines of fragility, dependency, and sexual impotence. Also like these two ﬁlms, Degrassi is not representative of the lived experience of physical disability, but
rather the interpretation of disablement as produced by the writers, directors, and actors attempting to tell the story. In this way, the story of Jimmy Brooks is not so much an exploration of disability proper but about the confrontation of disability by the normate and the resulting anxieties and protective fantasies. The moment of confrontation between the disabled and the normate is laid bare to the viewer and subsequently becomes central to this character and his storyline. According to Kristeva, confronting disability becomes an intersubjective
moment in which the normate suﬀers a “narcissistic identity wound” as the physically disabled body forces an interrogation with their own inherent vulnerability (Kristeva 2010, 29). Disability is dangerous, and therefore must be subjugated, because the experience of disability is too familiar – disability elicits feelings of what Freud describes as “the uncanny” because we can imagine our bodies becoming broken, a fantasy so terrifying that we must reject the association completely in an act of disavowal. As explored in the war texts previously, this wound is deeply connected to the mirror stage, and the questioning of our narcissistic fantasy of wholeness and the attainability of the ideal I. The wound caused by disability is also connected to our anxiety around castration, which is solidiﬁed at the conclusion of the Oedipal phase. As a result, disability becomes fantasized based on the belief that the disabled population pose a threat to the normate, that to be disabled is to be wholly dependent upon those around you because, essentially, the disabled body is a weak and castrated body, represented as one incapable of sexual potency, and inherently connected with death. In confronting these anxieties, the response present within the war ﬁlms
discussed in the previous chapter revealed a desire to protect the normate from the proximity of disability, and the normate’s fear of their own vulnerability, a desire that surfaces once again in Degrassi. Throughout the story of Jimmy Brooks, space is constantly enforced between the disabled and the normate through fantasies of safety through cure of disability, of containment of the disabled, through parental and medical power, and of full-blown segregation, in which the disabled and normate populations are separated linguistically and interpretively.