Chronic Youth: Disability, Sexuality, and U.S. Media by Julie Passanante Elman

By Julie Passanante Elman

The teen has frequently seemed in tradition as an apprehensive determine, the repository for American goals and worst nightmares, instantaneously close to luck and forthcoming failure. Spotlighting the “troubled teenager” as a domain of father cultural, scientific, and governmental intervention, continual early life lines the teen as a determine in which huge threats to the normative order were negotiated and contained.

Examining tv, renowned novels, technology journalism, new media, and public coverage, Julie Passanante Elman indicates how the teen grew to become a cultural touchstone for moving notions of able-bodiedness, heteronormativity, and neoliberalism within the overdue 20th century. via the overdue Nineteen Seventies, media industries in addition to policymakers begun constructing new problem-driven ‘edutainment’ prominently that includes narratives of disability—from the immunocompromised The Boy within the Plastic Bubble to ABC’s After university Specials and teenage sick-lit. even if this conjoining of incapacity and early life begun as a storytelling conference, incapacity turned even more than a metaphor because the technique of medicalizing formative years intensified by means of the Nineties, with parenting books containing neuro-scientific warnings in regards to the incomplete and risky “teen brain.” project a cultural historical past of teenybopper that mixes incapacity, queer, feminist, and comparative media stories, Elman deals a provocative new account of the way American cultural manufacturers, policymakers, and doctors have mobilized discourses of incapacity to forged early life as a treatable “condition.” by means of tracing the teen’s asymmetric passage from postwar insurgent to twenty first century sufferer, power formative years exhibits how little ones grew to become a lynchpin for a tradition of perpetual rehabilitation and neoliberal governmentality.

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Additional info for Chronic Youth: Disability, Sexuality, and U.S. Media Cultures of Rehabilitation

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They all were (and, in many cases, continue to be) extremely popular. Yet none of the texts featured in the book’s chapters has ever been analyzed in current scholarship. In many ways, these texts are not exceptional. 55 This culture continues to shape the ways we imagine and enact privatization—of politics and citizenship—in the intimate public sphere of the nation. In chapter 1, I analyze the cultural importance of the disabled 1970s cultural icon, “the bubble boy,” by surveying representations of “real” bubble boys, David Vetter III and Ted DeVita, alongside the made-for-television movie The Boy in the Plastic Bubble (1976), which was an early example of “disease-of-the-week” television programming, a core form of rehabilitative edutainment.

Likewise, David Vetter had a few highly publicized forays into the outside world, to the zoo and to his suburban home, using a $50,000 child-sized spacesuit donated by NASA in 1977. In 1978, the New York Times featured a photograph of David in his spacesuit and helmet. 26 The image is one of untroubled suburban bliss. Its caption, “Quest for Normal Life,” stands in stark contradistinction to the tiny astronaut. While the photograph visually unites the miraculous “scifi kid” with space exploration, the caption represents a mundane domestic activity as an adventurer’s “quest” for normalcy.

The inclusion of expert psychological opinions on David’s mental state subtly expressed ambivalence about the bubble—namely, that it might ensure his physical safety at the expense of his emotional and psychological growth. 18 What doctors meant by “subtle impediments” remains unclear (interactions with peers? overprotective parents? ), but nearly every story featured an expert opinion that reassured readers that David was psychologically normal in every respect. David, depicted as an acquiescent child, stood in stark contrast to Ted DeVita and the fictional Tod Lubitch, recalcitrant teenagers who questioned and resisted medical authority, national belonging, and the costs of technological progress.

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