disability in the Six Of Crows Duology; an analysis of Kaz Brekker, Wylan Van Eck, and the fandom’s treatment of them.
****Note: I originally wrote this for a tiktok series, which im still going to do, but i wanted to post here as well bc tumblr is major contributor to what im going to talk about
CW: ableism, filicide, abuse
In the Six of Crows duology, Leigh Bardugo delicately subverts and melds harmful disability tropes into her narrative, unpacking them in a way that I, as a disabled person, found immensely refreshing and…. just brilliant.
But what did you all do with that? Well, you fucked it up. Instead of critically looking at the characters, y’all just chose to be ableist.
For the next few videos paragraphs im going to unpack disability theory (largely the stuff surrounding media, for obvious reasons) and how it relates to Six Of Crows and the characterization of Kaz Brekker and Wylan Van Eck, then how, despite their brilliant writing, y’all completely overlooked the actual text and continuously revert them to ableist cariactures.
Disclaimer: 1. Shocker - i am disabled. I have also extensively researched disability theory and am very active in the disabled community. Basically, I know my shit. 2. im going to be mad in these videos this analysis. Because the way y’all have been acting has been going on for a long ass time and im fuckin sick of it. I don’t give a shit about non-disabled feelings, die mad
Firstly, I’m going to discuss Kaz, his play on the stereotypical “mean cripple” trope and how Bardugo subverts it, his cane, and disabled rage. Then, I am going to discuss Wylan, the “inspiration porn” stereotype, caregivers / parents, and the social model of disability. Finally, I will then explain the problems in the fandom from my perspective as a disabled person, largely when it comes to wylan, bc yall cant leave that boy tf alone.
Think of a character who uses a cane (obviously not Kaz). Now, are they evil, dubiously moral, or just an asshole in general? Because nearly example I can think of is: whether it be Lots’O from Toy Story, Lucius Malfoy, or even Scrooge and Mr.Gold from Once Upon A Time all have canes (the last two even having their canes appear less and less as they become better people)
The mean/evil cripple trope is far more common than you would think. Villains with different bodies are confined to the role of “evil”. To quote TV Tropes, who I think did a brilliant job on explaining it “The first is rooted in eugenics-based ideas linking disability or other physical deformities with a "natural" predisposition towards madness, criminality, vice, etc. The Rule of Symbolism is often at work here, since a "crippled" body can be used to represent a "crippled" soul — and indeed, a disabled villain is usually put in contrast to a morally upright and physically "perfect" hero. Whether consciously on the part of the writer or not, this can reinforce cultural ideas of disability making a person inherently inferior or negative, much in the same way the Sissy Villain or Depraved Homosexual trope associate sexual and gender nonconformity with evil. ”
Our introduction to Kaz affirms this notion of him being bad or morally bankrupt, with “Kaz Brekker didn’t need a reason”, etc. This mythologized version of himself, the “bastard of the barrel” actively fed into this misconception. But, as we the audience are privy to his inner thoughts, know that he is just a teenager like every other Crow. He is complex, his disability isn’t this tragic backstory, he just fell off a roof. It’s not his main motivation, nor does he curse revenge for making him a cripple - it is just another part of who he is.
His cane (though the shows version fills me with rage but-) is an extension of Kaz - he fights with it, but it has a purpose. Another common thing in media is for canes to be simply accessories, but while Kaz’ cane is fashionable, it has purpose.
The quote “There was no part of him that was not broken, that had not healed wrong and there was no part of him that was not stronger for having been broken.” is so fucking powerful. Kaz does not want nor need a cure - its said in Crooked Kingdom that his leg could most likely be healed, but he chooses not to. Abled-bodied people tend to dismiss this thought as Kaz being stubborn but it shows a reality of acceptance of his disability that is just, so refreshing.
In chapter 22 of SOC, we see disabled rage done right - when he is called a cripple by the Fjerdan inmate, Kaz is pissed - the important detail being that he is pissed at the Fjerdan, at society for ableism, not blaming it on being disabled or wishing he could be normal. He takes action, dislocating the asshole’s shoulder and proving to him, and to a lesser extent, himself, that he is just as capable as anyone else, not in spite of, but because he is disabled. And that is the point of Kaz, harking back to the line that “there was no part of him that was not stronger for having been broken”.
I cried on numerous occasions while reading the SOC duology, but the parts I highlighted in this section especially so. I, as many other disabled people do, have had a long and tumultuous relationship with our disability/es, and for many still struggle. But Kaz Brekker gave me an empowered disabled character who accepts themselves, and that means the world to me.
Keeping that in mind, I hope you can understand why it hurts so much to disabled people when you either erase Kaz’s disability (whether through cosplay or fanfiction), or portray him as a “broken boy uwu”, especially implying that he would want a cure. That flies in the face of canon and is inherently fucking ableist. (if u think im mad wait until the next section)
Next, we have Wylan.
Oh fucking boy.
I love Wylan so fucking much, and y’all just do not seem to understand his character? Like at all? Since this is disability-centric, I’m not going to discuss how the intersection of his queerness also contributes to these issues, but trust me when I say it’s a contributing factor to what i'm going to say.
Wylan, motherfucking Van Eck. If you ableist pricks don’t take ur fucking hands off him right now im going to fight you. I see Wylan as a subversion another, and in my opinion more insidious stereotype pf disabled people - inspiration porn.
Cara Liebowitz in a 2015 article on the blog The Body Is Not An Apology explains in greater detail how inspiration porn is impactful in real life, but media is a major contributing factor to this reality. The technical definition is “the portrayal of people with disabilities as inspirational solely or in part on the basis of their disability” - but that does not cover it fully.
Inspiration porn does lasting damage on the disabled community as it implies that disability is a negative that you need to “overcome” or “triumph” instead of something one can feel proud of. It exploits disabled people for the development of non-disabled people, and in media often the white male protagonist. Framing disability as inherently negative perpetuates ideals of eugenics and cures - see Autism $peaks’ “I Am Autism” ad. Inspiration porn is also incredibly patronizing as it implies that we cannot take care of ourselves, or do things like non-disabled people do. Because i stg some of you tend to think that we just sit around all day wishing we weren’t disabled.
Another important theory ideal that is necessary when thinking about Wylan is the experience of feeling like a burden simply for needing help or accommodations. This is especially true when it comes to familial relationships, and internalized ableism.
The rhetoric that Wylan’s father drilled into his head, that he is “defective”, “a mistake”, and “needs to be corrected”, that he (Jan) was “cursed with a moron for a child” is a long held belief that disabled people hear relentlessly. And while many see Van Eck’s attempted murder of Wylan as “preposturous” and overall something that you would never think happens today - filicide (a parent murdering their child) is more common than you would like to believe. Without even mentioning the countless and often unreported deaths of disabled people due to lack of / insufficient / neglectful medical care, in a study on children who died from the result of household abuse, 40 of 42 of them (95%) were diagnosed with disabilities. Van Eck is not some caricature of ableist ideals - he is a real reflection on how many people and family members view disability.
Circling back to how Wylan unpacks the inspiration porn trope - he is 3 dimensional, he is not only used to develop the other characters, he is just *chefs kiss* Leigh, imo, put so much love and care into the creation of Wylan and his story and character growth that is representative of a larger feeling in the disabled community.
That being said, what you non-disabled motherfuckers have done to him.
The “haha Wylan can’t read” jokes aren’t and were not funny. Y’all literally boiled down everything Wylan is to him being dyslexic. And it’s like,,,, the only thing you can say about him. You ignore every other part of him other than his disability, and then mock him for it. There’s so much you can say about Wylan - simping for Jesper, being band kid and playing the fuckin flute, literally anything else. But no, you just chose to mock his disability, excellent fucking job!
Next up on “ableds stfu” - infantilization! y’all are so fucking condescending to Wylan, and treat him like a fucking toddler. And while partly it is due to his sexuality i think a larger portion is him being disabled. Its in the same vein of people who think that Wylan and Jesper are romantically one sided, and that Jesper only kind of liked Wylan, despite the canon evidence of him loving Wylan just as much. You all view him as a “smol bean”, who needs protecting, and care, when Wylan is the opposite of that. He is a fucking demolitions expert who suggested waking up sleeping men to kill them - what about that says “uwu”. You are treating Wylan as a burden to Jesper and the other Crows when he is an immensely valuable, fully autonomous disabled person - you all just view him as damaged.
And before I get a comment saying that “uhhh Wylan isn’t real why do you care” while Wylan may not be real, how you all view him and treat him has real fucking impacts and informs how you treat people like me. If someone called me an “uwu baby boy” they’d get a fist square in the fucking jaw. Fiction informs how we perceive the world and y’all are making it super fucking clear how you see disabled people.
Finally, I wanted to talk about how the social model of disability is portrayed through Wylan. For those who are unaware, the social model of disability contrasts the medical model, that views the disability itself as the problem, that needs to be cured, whereas the social model essentially boils down to creating an accommodating society, where disability acceptance and pride is the goal. And we see this with Wylan - he is able to manage his father’s estate, with Jesper’s assistance to help him read documents. And this is not out of pity or charity, but an act of love. It is not portrayed as this almighty act for Jesper to play saviour, just a given, which is incredibly important to show, especially for someone who has been abused by family for his disability like Wylan, that he is accepted.
Yet, I still see people hold up Jesper on a pedestal for “putting up with” Wylan, as if loving a disabled person deserves a fucking pat on the back. It’s genuinely exhausting trying to engage with a work I love so much with a fandom that thinks so little of me and my community. It fucking shows.
Overall, Leigh Bardugo as a disabled person wrote two incredibly meticulous and empowered disabled characters, and due to either lack of reading comprehension, ableism, or a quirky mix of both, the fandom has ignored canon and the experiences of disabled people for…. shits and giggles i guess. And yes, there are issues with the Grishaverse and disability representation - while I haven’t finished them yet so I do not have an opinion on it, people have been discussing issues in the KOS duology with ableist ideals. This mini series was no way indicative of the entire disabled experience, nor does it represent my entire view on the representation as a whole. These things need to be met critically in our community, and talked about with disabled voices at the forefront. For example, the limited perspective we get of Wylan and Kaz being both white men, does not account for a large portion of the disabled community and the intersection of multiple identities.
All-in-all, Critique media, but do not forget to also critique fandom spaces. Alternatively, just shut the fuck up :)
happy fucking disability pride month, ig
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