Challenging Normalcy? Masculinity and Disability in Murderball
Tollestrup, Benjamin Neal
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In 2005, MTV Movies and ThinkFilm released Murderball, a groundbreaking documentary about wheelchair rugby. Due to its popularity and its subject matter, the film presents a unique opportunity to reflect on representations of disability in the contemporary North American context. The narrative of the film constructs a rivalry between Team U.S.A., captained by Mark Zupan, and Team Canada, coached by Joe Soars. Murderball works exceptionally well to disrupt notions of people with disabilities as fragile and helpless, countering ableist assumptions about what persons with quadriplegia can accomplish. However, based on a close reading of the film, I suggest that Murderball accomplishes this disruption by also celebrating ableist, sexist and heterosexist representations. I critique the film’s construction of the relationship between competitive international sport settings, disability, and masculinity by drawing on the tools of feminism and anti-normative politics. I also examine representations of hegemonic masculinity that are discursively linked to sport competition and violence in ways that work to support a U.S. nationalist and imperialist impulse. Overall, I suggest that recuperations of normative identity in Murderball rely on a jingoistic and violent air of moral authority where American men work to preserve the winning reputation of the U.S.A., while subjecting themselves to the constraints of normalcy.