The world is sick. A readjustment has become necessary. Readjustment? No, that is too tame. It is the possibility of a great adventure that lies before mankind: the building of a whole new world…because there is no time to be lost.

- Le Corbusier 19671


We live within and among a series of overlapping places: nation, city, neighborhood, home, and body, whose meanings are formed and reformed at the intersection of ideology, practices, and the built environment. As an example of this complex interplay, libraries are interpreted to be quiet places, thus we build the structure with sound absorbing carpeting and acoustic emendations for sound, but we build them as quiet places as well when we "shush" a person in a neighboring carrel, we glare at those breeching the quiet contract, or finally we see that the unrepentant transgressor is ejected from the place itself, and perhaps forbidden return. Generation after generation, ideologies, practices, and the built environment construct and reconstruct libraries as quiet places.2 In like manner are bodies interpreted as "disabled." Average bodies, in need of reassurance as to their sufficiency, construct buildings to keep some people out or severely inconvenienced; we construct bodies as "disabled" when we patronize, infantilize, or sanctify people with particular bodies, perpetuating and ultimately sedimenting their "otherness" to our "sameness."

Generation after generation, the almost seamless interplay between ideology, practices, and the built environment constructs and reconstructs the identities we inhabit, from nation to body. We reinforce these dominant interpretations of places until the interpretations themselves recede to make room for "the way things are." The insight from place theorists — geographers, philosophers, postcolonial theorists, and cultural theorists, among others — that places are never "naturally" endowed with meaning parallels the insight from contemporary disability theorists that there are no "natural" bodies: "The body can be explained as the object of the actions and interests of others."3 Thus the "natural" body is a euphemism for agreed upon notions of, for example, male/female, straight/gay, young/old, white/black, healthy/ill, and 'able/unable/disabled.4 Place theorists recognize that definitions of place are dialectically related to persons in (or out of) that place. Popular visual media contributes a great deal to the illusion of "the way things are."

It is within this semiotic matrix, defined by place theorists and postmodern theories of disability, that the ABC TV "reality" program Extreme Makeover: Home Edition (EMHE) functions to interpret the image of people with disabilities. The architectural salvation epic that is EMHE exemplifies the insight that the relationships between persons and place are mutually reinforcing until a dominant interpretation is secured. For EMHE, this reflexive reinterpretation is exemplified in the heart of the show when the condition of one's home describes the condition of one's body and the quality of one's life. In what follows, I consider the ways that EMHE constructs the human body as disabled through the medium of architecture, borne along by the narrative movements most often associated with classical theories of sacrificial atonement.

Geography is identity 5

States of disrepair

At its most superficial rhetorical level, EMHE equates the condition of the family home with the condition of the bodies inside the home. Consider these examples: James is the youngest of four children of a single mother. Having spent time in a homeless shelter with his mother and siblings, James now lives with his family of five in a tenement. Unable to walk, talk, or care for himself, James is carried from place to place by his mother and siblings, including upstairs to the bathroom and in and out of the bathtub. The house is a shambles, James is growing larger and harder to carry, and his mother is getting less and less able to care for him alone.6 Shelby Pope is a 12-year-old girl who is deathly allergic to the sun, a rare condition called Polymorphous light eruption (PMLE). She cannot be near the windows in her present home; she cannot play in her yard or ride in a car during the day without stringent precautions. She does not go to school because of PLME but is home schooled. Her house, it is determined, is keeping her imprisoned. If her home is "fixed" her life will be more "normal." 7

That the condition of the exterior of the American home serves as the public image of the humans inside is a deceptively simple observation. While in the 1990s the McMansion spoke of a level of middle-class status, achieved formerly by the suburban ranch-style house, the urban loft is now the domicile of choice to express achievement. Loft living suggests that the inhabitants have escaped the conceit of prearranged rooms and desire to inhabit space differently. Now that urban areas are "revitalizing," living there appears to be an edgy move. In the 1970s and '80s, suburban living was the signal that one had left the clutter of the city behind (urban dwelling was the domain of the poor, the mentally ill, racial and ethnic minorities). Now, homeowners' associations in exurb developments prescribe the kinds of plantings, paint colors, mailboxes, grass length, and flag poles residents can use, in an attempt to restrain human eccentricity into upright conformity.8 These regulated residences suggest that the homeowners who live there are compliant, tidy, law-abiding, "normal." Statistics on domestic violence, among other markers, question this illusion of restraint, but we continue to make assumptions about the inhabitants of the homes based on the condition of the house and its location.9 EMHE functions according to this formula. The condition and size of the house is a representation of the physical and mental condition of one or more inhabitants, wherever its location. Thus does EMHE begin to construct symbiosis between place and person; to heal the person, one must heal the building — or in EMHE language: "Changing lives one house at a time"10

You get what you deserve

Thank you for your interest in applying for "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." When casting our show we look for families that are inspirational and deserving.

from the online application11

Not everyone with needs is eligible for architectural salvation; only those who are both "inspirational and deserving" are desirable. To be inspirational and deserving seems to mean that not only do the families/individuals suffer bravely, but they also minimize their own needs by caring for the "less fortunate" in the community. To be inspirational and deserving of a house in which one can move freely and accomplish the tasks of life means surrendering the normal human emotions that accompany the limits imposed by architecture and society: no anger or frustration here, no active depression, no withdrawing from the world. Rather, the "deserving family" must exhibit only "grit" and gratitude. Nancy Eiseland and many others have documented the cultural trope of the brave sufferer. The brave sufferer is the woman or man who does not complain but rather accepts her/his "fate" with gratitude and equanimity. Clearly, EMHE reinforces the illusion that the virtuous sufferer is more "inspirational and deserving" than someone madder than hell that American culture has made life so difficult. Expressions of anger are described in the past tense, during a period before grit and gratitude overcame them:12 "Martha Walswick has nine children but she lost her husband to cancer. The family has struggled to cope with their loss but are [sic] determined to face the future with a positive disposition."13

Over the seven seasons of its existence, EMHE has apparently ratcheted up the criteria for "inspirational and deserving." Whereas in the first season (2004) a single illness, disability, natural disaster, or heroic deed qualified a family for a makeover,14 now a "deserving" family needs multiple catastrophes to qualify. For instance, the Vardon family is considered deserving in the 2005 season. Here, a 15- year- old boy cares for two parents who are deaf, along with his blind/deaf, autistic little brother who frequently escapes the house.15 Also deserving is the Hassall family from the 2006 season. In this family, Brian, a police officer shot in the head while on duty, now suffers incapacitating migraine headaches when exposed to natural light. Thus, he lives in the unfinished basement of the home, protected from the sun. His wife Michelle, who has cancer, lives on the main floor with their two adopted children, one African American and one Chinese with a cleft palate.16

Without a doubt, the selected families have extraordinary needs, but what kind of message does showcasing families with Jobian level suffering send about the challenges of living in the world with "only" a single issue? Equating "deserving" only with confluences of multiple social and physical problems suggests that unless the challenges are Herculean and the emotional responses to the challenges equally heroic, one is not deserving of an accessible home and/or relief from poverty, or even homelessness. "Deserving" also means those individuals with a primary, "visible" disability and those whose family structures are heterosexual (even for single parents). Invisible disabilities and gay families make for less acceptable television because invisible disabilities can be faked and being a gay family cannot be.17

We can save you

As the plastic surgery version did before it, the architectural extreme makeover functions according to a time-honored formula embodied in most Western stories of salvation, from Sleeping Beauty to Jesus Christ. Because EMHE relies so heavily on religious language and imagery, I trace this formula through the language of Christian sacrificial atonement. The theological story of God's sacrifice for humans' redemption goes something like this: "God made a perfect world, but Adam and Eve sinned. Their crime was passed down to all of us in the form of 'original sin,' and now all human beings are sinners, and deserve God's condemnation…. We had no way to escape that punishment, or ever to make ourselves acceptable to God — until Jesus came. Jesus died for us…. If we believe that…then we are saved. By saved that means we are now acceptable to God…and will go to heaven."18 The movements in this story consist of the following sequence: (a) fall from a perfect world, resulting in (b) radical, perpetual human brokenness, and (c) the inability to save ourselves from this state, requiring (d) the sacrifice of a supernatural savior for our sakes, resulting in (e) the end of our brokenness and estrangement from the perfect world.

"God made a perfect world…."

In the traditional Christian interpretation of the story of Adam, Eve, and the serpent, in Genesis 3, the Garden of Eden is described as the perfect world: no strife, no lust, no pain, no suffering, no evil. Through the actions of Eve, this perfection was destroyed for human beings for all time, with the result that we must live lives of pain, suffering, and labor. Historically, human beings have attempted to determine the signs of our "fall;" we have labeled aspects of human embodiment as markers of our sinful, fallen state. At one time or another, being black, being female, being gay, and/or being disabled have functioned as markers of sin. (And if one is all four…?) As DeVries points out, the theological interpretation of an originally perfect creation to which we should return is perilous for people with disabilities. Such an interpretation results in constructing people with disabilities as damaged by virtue of sin — either their own or someone else's.19 Pairing diseased bodies with a diseased spiritual state functions as a theological rationale for the random dispersal of pain and suffering. Thus the disabled, black, female person bears these "limitations" as punishment from God for her own sins or the sins of her ancestors. Diversity of embodiment becomes a function of the imperfect realm outside of Eden, whereas conformity in appearance reiterates the perfection of Eden.

In the EMHE discourse, the perfect world-theory is at work in statements like these from Carlton Marshall, a Dallas police officer paralyzed by a gunshot in the neck who subsequently suffered a stroke and was made deaf from meningitis. He grieves that he cannot do what a husband/father/breadwinner should do.20 Parents cannot tuck children in at night, children cannot play outside, heterosexual, married, parents cannot sleep in the same bed (and we assume be intimate), children must be parents and parents feel like children. Clearly these are inversions of the perfect order in which men, women and children all function according to dominant, American gender- and age-appropriate roles.21

EMHE attempts to minimize the implication of personal failure as the root cause of the pain for "deserving" families. However, two elements in the narrative arc of the show mitigate against completely dismissing the connection between fallenness and human (in)action: (1) the very construction of "deserving" simultaneously defines its opposite. Something about the actions, attitudes, scope of disability, or other aspects of their human natures, keeps most families who apply from being considered "deserving" of a home that functions for them. They have or have not done or said or embodied something that would garner the favor of the producers. (2) To underscore the heroic sacrifices borne by the team, the "brokenness" of the family has to be emphasized, complete with their admission that they cannot save themselves.

"… but Adam and Eve sinned"

The prerequisite for theological, and now architectural, supernatural assistance is human brokenness. In the classical theory of atonement, brokenness is the fault of humans, more specifically the fault of Eve, the first woman, who blew it for all humanity with the apple (Gen. 2:4b-3). Archetypal brokenness, the result of Eve's act, is named "original sin." Traditionally, original sin has been considered a constitutional state from which no one escapes and which, if left un-atoned for, dooms one to an eternal life in hell. Theologically, original sin is the human-caused condition that results in our estrangement from God. Repairing the rift requires a sacrifice greater than that which mere mortals can accomplish, thus God, in God's love, sacrifices Godself for us through the God-man Jesus. Human brokenness and estrangement, which would result in eternal damnation, are thus foundational conditions for the larger EMHE narrative of redemption.

In EMHE, human brokenness and the hell that results are laid out first in the application video, then reinforced by a tour of the dilapidated home, and finally summed up in interviews with family members. Known as the "before" setting, in makeover parlance, the images and comments from the application videos and the tour of the "before" house serve to describe just how dire the conditions are for the deserving families. Emotional breakdown is critical to the inscription of brokenness. In the section of the online application for EMHE entitled "How to Make a Family Casting Video," the family is encouraged to "Sit down and talk to camera like an interview and tell us your story. Explain your situation, why you think you deserve a makeover? During this portion you want to be emotional, open up and ask for help"22 [Italics mine]. The "before" discourse describes dreams dashed, intimate relationships fractured, parental responsibilities abdicated to children, financial resources run dry, and hope teetering on the edge of some abyss. The visual representation of these social and existential conditions is the family home — burned or flooded, mold-infested or leaking, toxic and dangerous to the family in all manner of ways: a physical hell. They have run out of their own financial and physical but never spiritual resources.

"We had no way to escape that punishment, or ever to make ourselves acceptable to God."

The EMHE narrative formula must include the confession that the family can no longer help themselves, (though they have tried repeatedly). By abandoning agency, the EMHE family is rewarded with a week's vacation and a new house. The family's abjection is the necessary relief against which the supernatural efforts of the EMHE crew will be cast.23 The EMHE families must fit themselves into what Garland Thomson, citing Susan Bordo, calls "a life-enhancing fiction" to deserve a made-over life.24 By positioning themselves within the dominant discursive construction of disability, the EMHE families become eligible for the benefits of the show and more widely become acceptable to a larger audience, who insists on reliable tropes of disability over/against which to assess their own adequacy. But what are the liabilities of adopting this or any essentialism? Moreover, what are effects on persons called "disabled" when agency is in question in this way?25

To the extent that we "perform" gender, sexual orientation, race and/or disability as a strategy, that is, to the extent that we are conscious of the gains and losses of playing these roles, adopting "life- enhancing fictions" become subversive acts. However, the incessant cultural expectations that we will conform to the dynamics of the roles causes many of us to internalize these fictions, to varying degrees, as "the way I am" or "the way I should be." Like the naturalized definitions of libraries and neighborhoods, naturalized definitions of bodies come to be treated as immutable. Essentialisms, if not always understood as strategic, cease to be tools and become instead self-enforced restraints. Further, in repeating the refrain of "brokenness" season after season, EMHE reinforces attitudes of pity and charity rather than justice for people with disabilities.26

The functioning definitions of places (neighborhoods, buildings, and/or bodies) are made manifest when the boundaries of that place are challenged. Transgressing the boundaries of place brings into relief the limiting and limited definitions of that place. But the scripted/edited world of EMHE never allows for transgression, thus people like Bob Flanagan would never be considered 'deserving' since his life exploded the naturalized assumptions about people with disabilities.27

"…until Jesus came."

The interpretation of the adjective "extreme" in ABC's makeover genre applies to three elements of Home Edition. First, the transformation of the house is so extensive (and expensive) that it qualifies as "extreme." Second, the condition of the family is so dire, due to the interplay of illness, impairment, and natural and societal disaster, that the family is narratively marked as an "extreme" example of human suffering. Finally, "extreme" applies to the sacrifices of the cast and crew in accomplishing the transformation of the home/family in seven days.

In the penultimate movement in the Christian, theological, salvation narrative, a supernatural savior, who is yet human, is sacrificed to restore broken (sinful) humanity to a wholeness we cannot accomplish for ourselves. This extreme gesture of God, sacrificing Godself to death on our behalf, is the mark of God's extreme love for humankind. God loves us so much (even in our brokenness) that God is willing to die for us. Further, the extra-ordinary nature of this sacrifice is marked by its obliteration of the limits of space/time. After three days in the tomb, Jesus' body is gone — resurrected — defying the bounds of physical death. We remember, as well, that the God of self-sacrifice and the empty tomb is also the God of cosmic creation. In the first Genesis story, Gen.1-2:4, God forms the entirety of the earth in six days, with the seventh off for rest. In humble contrast, Ty and crew require the entire seven days of work to (re)create human lives.

The manipulation of time is a central hook of EMHE and, in fact, all "extreme" reality shows: "It's a race against time on a project that would normally span several months, involving a team of designers, contractors and hundreds of workers who all have just seven days to totally rebuild an entire house!"28 Sacrificing sleep, defying the elements, keeping up construction through illness, accidents, and irritations, Ty Pennington seems to have given himself completely for the benefit of the "deserving" family.29 Recipient families describe the crew as angels, sing hallelujah, and fall to their knees to thank God that their prayers have been answered when the crew pulls up into their yard — many "deserving" families believe that Ty has been sent by God to help relieve them of the pain they could not ease themselves.

"…then we are saved…and will go to heaven."

At the end of seven days' building, tense to the very end, the deserving family returns from their vacation to their new life in a new world, the ideal, American, architectural world: "You'll see dingy kitchens get completely tricked out, spa-inspired bathrooms built where icky ones once were, and olympic-sized [sic] swimming pools installed in what were once shabby overgrown yards…. And Ty and his crew do it from the ground up, adding five-star luxuries and the occasional theme park attraction…a house pimped out to the extreme"30 Not only does this new house meet the physical needs of the family, it also meets the criteria for "pimped out." The new life can begin.

The interpersonal results of the external glory are articulated as the ability of parents and children to fulfill their proper roles in the family and in society. Accessible bathrooms and hallways let disabled adults function independently, no longer requiring child-like care. Fathers can return to "bread-winning" when car repair shops, woodworking sheds, and the like are built on their new properties.31 The myth of American individualism, with its tyrannical insistence on radical independence, heteronormativity, and capitalist "productivity," has its flag planted on the front lawns of these McMansions.32

Enfreakment as Enlightenment as Enfreakment

In a memo purportedly from the casting director of EMHE during its fourth season, "The Smoking Gun" reports that instead of selecting families for EMHE from application videos sent in voluntarily, EMHE may solicit specific "disabilities" for its show. The producer seeks children with "[c]ongenital insensitivity to pain with anhidrosis, referred to as CIPA by the few people who know about it. (There are 17 known cases in the US — let me know if one is in your town!) This is where kids cannot feel any physical pain." Also desirable is a "family who has multiple children w/Down Syndrome (either adopted or biological)," and a family that suffered a home invasion — one that has had a lasting, damaging effect: "kids fear safety in their home now."33 If there weren't enough markers prior to this solicitation, we can now ask about the ambiguous relationship between enlightenment and enfreakment in EMHE. Does this architectural spiritual epic, which appears to educate its viewership about "orphan" illnesses, function by "enfreaking" individuals, and if so, what are the possible long term social consequences of this for persons with disabilities?

As used by David Hevey in The Creatures That Time Forgot: Photography and disability Imagery, enfreakment reinforces limiting stereotypes under the rubric of compassion and enlightenment.34 Garland Thomson suggests that "freaks are created when certain bodies serve as the raw material for the ideological and practical ends of both the mediators and the audiences…the sideshow freak was made to exceed wildly the common, familiar expectations set by the spectator's own ordinary body."35 Consider the O'Connoll family. They received a home makeover because five of their six children have some form of autism spectrum disorder ranging from moderate to severe. In addition, the home is hours away from being foreclosed on. This family is identified as the family with the greatest number of biological children with ASD in the United States. The EMHE rhetoric showcases the family to increase compassion for ASD and to inspire courage in its viewership. But it does so by inscribing the normalcy of the viewer, because at base, enfreakment is really about reassurance that, for now, we are not them. We are reassured of our sufficiency corporally, architecturally, and theologically (i.e. Our normalcy is a blessing from God).36

In the most optimistic interpretation of EMHE, we might apply this insight from Tanya Titchkosky: "The hope of such encounter is that, upon interrogation, it can lead to understanding, where understanding means neither acquiescing nor accepting, but rather discerning how our culture already lives through us and how we might better live through it. I am suggesting that various and even conflicting textual renderings of disability as hope, burden, charity, promise, etc. are occasions to question how we make bodies mean and to evaluate the sorts of relations people can and do establish with the meaning of disability."37 Cynically, we can argue that the show enshrines the "normal" by enfreaking families and individuals as a means of educating the masses. Moreover, EMHE re-inscribes the Christian salvation narrative, in which confessing debasement is the precondition for new, restored life, a life made possible by the "extreme" sacrifices of the god-man who, not accidentally, is a carpenter who embodies the "American ideal self": young, male, white, educated, wealthy, heterosexual and able-bodied.

Works Cited

  • Cresswell, Tim. In Place/Out of Place: Geography, ideology and Transgression. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996.
  • Cullinan, Colleen Carpenter. Redeeming the Story: Women, Suffering and Redemption. New York: Continuum, 2004.
  • DeVries, Dawn. "Creation, Handicappism and the Community of Difference." In Christian Theology: An Introduction to its Traditions and Tasks. Eds. Peter Hodgson and Robert King. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985.
  • Douglas, Mary. Natural Symbols: Explorations in Cosmology. London: Routledge, 1996.
  • Eiseland, Nancy. The Disabled God: Toward a Liberatory Theology of Disability. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994.
  • Dick, Kirby, Director. Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist (DVD). (1997)
  • Garland-Thomson, Rosemary. Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997.
  • Hevey, David. The Creatures Time Forgot: Photography and Disability Imagery, 1840-1940. London: Routledge, 1992.
  • Imrie, Rob. Disability and the City: International Perspectives. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1996.
  • Jones, Serene. Feminist Theory and Christian Theology: Cartographies of Grace. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2000.
  • Koosed, Jennifer and Darla Schumm, "Out of the Darkness: Examining the Rhetoric of Blindness in the Gospel of John." Disability Studies Quarterly Vol. 25, No.1.
  • Titschkosky, Tanya. "Acting Blind: A Revelation of Culture's Eye." In Bodies in Commotion: Disability and Performance. Eds. Philip Auslander and Carrie Sandhal. Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press, 2005.
  • Titchkosky, Tanya. Disability, Self, and Society. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003.
  • Tischkosky, Tanya. Reading and Writing Disability Differently: The Textured Life of Embodiment. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007.
  • Weber, Brenda, "Beauty, Desire and Anxiety: The Economy of Sameness in ABC's Extreme Makeover" Genders, Issue 41, Spring 2005.

Electronic Resources


  1. Rob Imrie, Disability and the City: International Perspectives (St. Martin's Press: New York, 1996) 35.

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  2. Tim Cresswell, In Place/Out of Place: Geography, Ideology, and Transgression (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996) 16.

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  3. Tanya Titchkovsky. "Acting Blind: A Revelation of Culture's Eye" In Bodies in Commotion: Disability and Performance, Ed. Philip Auslander and Carrie Sandhal (Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press, 2005) 204,

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  4. Mary Douglas, Natural Symbols: Explorations in Cosmology, (London: Routledge, 1996), Introduction xxxvi.

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  5. Cresswell, In Place/Out of Place, 8-9

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  6. The Latif Family, Season 5, Episode 22. Accessed Jan. 2010.

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  7. The Pope Family, Season 2, Episode 3. "A young girl with a sun poisoning condition gets a new lease on life." (2004-10-10)

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  8. In an episode entitled "The Falls at Arcadia," first aired in 1999, the creators of now-cancelled television program The X-Files parodied life in a gated neighborhood. In "Arcadia," "non-conformists," those who use unapproved paint colors, display yard art, or even have basketball hoops, are brutally attacked and killed by a monster whose sole purpose is to "assure compliance" with the community's rules. Accessed Nov. 2009

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  9. We remember a prime example of this from the 1990s, when the character of the "Unabomber," Theodore Kaczynski, was said to be articulated by the condition of his cabin. Pulled unceremoniously through the main street of Lincoln, Montana, the cabin, without electricity or running water, was described as a sign of both his strangeness and his capture. Accessed Jan. 2010.

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  10. "The Cowan home is an old converted barn. Mold issues have forced the family to live only in the upper portion of the house. The scariest part for Andy and Heather Cowan is that the mold has been causing polyps to form in Kori's nasal passage. With medical bills and creditors looking for payments, the Cowans are against the wall and are pleading for help…. Well, help has arrived.… Heather describes the makeover best by comparing the old house to a cancer that was eating away at the entire family." Cowan Family, Season 7, Episode 14. Accessed Jan. 2010.

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  11., accessed July 27, 2009

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  12. Titsckovsky, 2005, 211 citing Robillard (1999): "the most powerful and common ideology that surrounds disability is 'strength of the human spirit.'" If one should suffer virtuously in order to gain spiritual merit, virtuous suffering in the EMHE narrative gains one physical merit. On virtuous suffering see Nancy Eiseland, The Disabled God: Toward a Theology of Disability (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994), 70-75.

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  13. Accessed Jan 2010.

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  14. For instance, in the first season of EMHE, the Powers family has one child with leukemia, the Cox family is poor and the father was a youth pastor, the Mendoza family is comprised of a single mother with foster sons. Gradually the stakes get raised: the hugely memorable "Sweet Alice" Harris feeds the homeless, contributes to the lives of poor children in the community AND has lost everything in a flood. Season 1, Episodes 1, 3 and 5. Accessed Nov. 2009.

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  15. The Vardon Family; Season 2 Episode 7. Accessed Nov. 2009.

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  16. The Hassell Family, Season 3, Episode 28. Accessed Nov. 2009.

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  17. "Invisible" disabilities include problems like chronic pain, as with fibromyalgia, dyslexia and other learning disabilities, mental illnesses, birth defects, and other challenges that do not manifest in the need for a wheel chair or appear otherwise "visible" to the general public. According to Garland-Thomson (EB, 14), "An invisible disability, much like a homosexual identity, always presents the dilemma of whether or when to come out or pass."

    Tanya Titchkosky notes the 'problem of "invisible disabilities"—they are often seen as made up when a student needs accommodation in the classroom. Disability, Self, and Society (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003) 166.

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  18. Colleen Carpenter Cullinan, Redeeming the Story: Women, Suffering and Redemption (New York: Continuum, 2004) 10-11. This interpretation draws primarily on the work of the Anselm, Church Father, from his work Cur Deus Homo, and John Calvin in the Institutes.

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  19. Dawn DeVries, "Creation, Handicappism and the Community of Difference," in Peter Hodgson and Robert King, eds. Christian Theology: An Introduction to its Traditions and Tasks (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985)

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  20. The Marshall Family, Season 7, Episode 6. Accessed Dec. 2009.

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  21. Garland Thomson, Extraordinary Bodies, 64. Garland Thomson describes the "American ideal self" as "an autonomous producer—self-governing and self-made—a generic individual capable of creating his own perfected self." Anything less than this kind of agency is considered unfortunately limited and deserving of pity. This cultural interpretation of agency is possible only for a small minority of Americans: male, white, young, upper-middle class, educated, heterosexual and able-bodied. Yet, this ideal of agency has been inscribed in the American psyche as a transcendent good, yea a right, of everyone, though the system is set for only a few to achieve this end, and then only temporarily.

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  22. EMHE application., accessed July 27, 2009

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  23. "…. the Cowans are against the wall and are pleading for help." Cowan family, Season 7, Episode 14. Accessed Jan 2010.

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  24. Garland Thomson, Extraordinary Bodies, 23

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  25. Titchkosky Disability, Self, and Society,166. The issue is agency—disabled people are considered lacking in agency because they cannot control their bodies.

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  26. For the development of the concept of "strategic essentialisms." see Serene Jones, Feminist Theory and Christian Theology: Cartographies of Grace (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2000) 45-48.

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  27. Bob Flanagan, the masochistic performance artist with cystic fibrosis who died at the age of 43. See the documentary "Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist" (1997).

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  28. accessed 11/19/09 For an analysis of the manipulation of time in aesthetic plastic surgery "reality" television, see Brenda Weber, "Beauty, Desire and Anxiety: The Economy of Sameness in ABC's Extreme Makeover" Genders, Issue 41, Spring 2005.

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  29. In his book analyzing photographic images of people with impairments in charity advertising, David Hevey writes, "Disabled people appear in advertising to demonstrate the successes of their administrators." The Creatures Time Forgot: Photography and Disability Imagery, 1840-1940 (London: Routledge, 1992 54.

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  30. Ibid.

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  31. The Nutsch Family, Season 3, Episode 12. Accessed Jan. 2010.

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  32. Eiseland: The Disabled God.

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  33. "The Smoking Gun." Accessed Jan. 2010.

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  34. For the genesis of this fine concept see, David Hevey, The Creatures Time Forgot: Photography and Disability Imagery, 1840-1940.

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  35. Garland Thomson, Extraordinary Bodies, 60.

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  36. Never mind the implication here that others remain "unblessed" (cursed, perhaps?) by God because they do not share our "normal" lives.

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  37. Titchkosky, Reading and Writing Disability Differently, 16.

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