I Am Sam and Construction of Normalization and Identity Politics



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I am Sam and Construction of Normalization and identity politics

The media is a very important part of everyday life. The industry hasbeen strongly criticized in the dissemination of information to thepublic. It is not far from the truth to say that the influence of themedia in the public is absolute however, some critical aspects ofthe society have been portrayed in a way that critics say is extremeor unnecessary. Some argue that the portrayal of disability in themedia is the reason why there is ever growing discrimination ofdisabled people (Andersen &amp Gray, 2007 Boyd, Odom, Humphreys, &ampSam, 2010). For a while now, the media has depicted disabilitythrough the use of impairment of certain characters, and in someextremes, the disabled characters are somehow objectified anddistanced from the target audience. While at it, the media focuses onportraying impairment through the influence of the medical model ofdisability. For instance, the characters fail to lead a normal lifeas a direct impact of their major weakness, disability. In fact,media has deconstructed a discourse aimed at depicting disability inthe mainstream societies. As such, films have developed asapparatuses where directors offer a platform on the limits ofindividuality. In this regards, the assessment of I am Sam, anAmerican drama film that depicts developmental impairment of SamDawson, will show the normalization or identity politics, socialaspects, or cultural identities that the society cultivates edged ondisability.

“Iam Sam” analysis

“I am Sam” is a 2001 American drama film whose main character,Sam Dawson, has a mental capacity of a 7 year old. Sam is in astruggle to have the authorities give him back the custody of hisdaughter. The movie’s theme is about how mental disability is asocial issue and tries to present awareness to the society regardingthis disability (Varma, 2011). As the movie progresses, therepresentation of Sam as a disabled person expresses the manner inwhich even the disabled people can fit in the society. The film istherefore a classical of the manner in which the media is importantin showing the cultural perceptions of the disabled people. As atwist of plot, the film shows how the society hates the disabledpeople, but along the story-line, Sam overcomes the biggest challengein his life and turns out to be a hero. The main cultural perceptionsthat are brought out in the plot of the film are the society’sloath of disabled people and their triumph. In fact, Boyd et al(2010) and Santos, Ruppar, &amp Jeans (2011) assert that the societyhas constructed a misplaced identity or principle on the capacitiesof disabled child a fact, that the film depicts by demonstrating thecultured misplacement of disability. In the normal societal setting,people view people with disability as “unwanted” entities and areoften treated as outcasts because of their impairment. This filmportrays Sam in two ways, as a mentally challenged person who is abother to the society and as a hero who overcomes his challenges.

Societyand disability

In most countries, people with mental disability are quite few.Therefore, by focusing the theme of a film on this disability, theaim is to bring out the perception of the mentally healthy peopleabout the issue. Psychologists have established that the presence ofdisabilities within a given society creates some disturbance(Titchkosky, 2003 Santos et al, 2011). However, different peopledefine the disturbance in different manners, and their reactions arenot the same. The medical model of defining this disability assertsthat the disturbance that is created in the society arises from twomajor things, the physiological causes of the disability and thepsychological effects that it creates. This is the reason why mostpeople in the society believe that disability is a disease that needsto be healed medically. What many people do not realize is that theimpairment is what creates any disability, and the attitude of theone suffering the disability is what determines if the situation willbe better or worse (Olkoin, 2012). In medicine, the only way to doaway with any disability is treating its symptoms, andpsychologically, the attitude of the individual is what determines ifthe situation will be totally contained or not. The theme of themovie directly relates the medical model and the negative portrayalof people who are mentally challenged.

The fact that Sam cannot cure or control his mental disability is thereason why the society sees him as a bother and problematic. Filmsusually work by portraying the disabled people as unwanted and areoften distanced from the norm of the society (Bell, 2011 Varma,2011)). One of the main reasons why Sam is not allowed custody of hisdaughter is that he is taken to be abnormal. On the other hand, hestruggles to fight his disability, and at the same time, the society.What can be concluded from this is that if the disabled people cannotcontrol their disability, they are regarded as misfits and outcasts.In Sam’s case, the society viewed him as a reject, and developed anegative attitude towards him. However, given his positive attitude,he was able to come out triumphant, and was regarded as a hero by thesame society that loathed him.


According to Landesman &amp Butterfield (n.d) and Ripat &ampWoodgate (2011), normalization is an ideology of human services thatis based on the proposition that the quality of life of an individualis improved as their access to culturally typical activities andsocietal settings is increased. When the same is applied to peoplewho are mentally challenged in the society, deinstitutionalization isfostered, and development is recorded. There is a close relationshipbetween normalization and the popular concept of least restrictiveenvironment (Landesman &amp Butterfield, n.d). When the person isnot restricted to working, playing and leading a normal life, theirsituation improves. Perhaps normalization and the concept of leastrestrictive environment are the two factors that helped Sam toimprove his situation and emerge as a hero who triumphed over histribulations.

In the field of mental retardation, normalization anddeinstitutionalization are very controversial and often arouseemotions (Landesman &amp Butterfield, n.d Ripat &amp Woodgate,2011)). At the bottom of the debate of the society and normalizationof the mentally challenged people, there are the basic differences inbeliefs and values to the extent to which the environment determineshow the mentally challenged fare on. Those who support normalizationsay that the community in which the mentally challenged person dwellsinvolves risks and questions how to best enhance real socialintegration. On the other hand, those who do not supportnormalization and deinstitutionalization assert that the main needsof the mentally challenged evolve around protection, training andspecial mental support. This is the reason why there has been adebate about social reform in mental retardation, up to the pointthat the matters take a legal turn, such as the case of Sam. In fact,the film reveals some forms of redundancy that the society constructsin regards to disability or forms of impairment. The film revealsthat disability can become a normal aspect in the society without theundue severance that people attempts to correlate with forms ofdevelopmental gaps.

Visualmaterial relations


The film uses cool and warm lighting to portray the position of Samin the society and how the people regard him. Warm lighting in filmsis used to portray a positive mood (McCartney, 2012). In this film,warm lighting shows that the society is changing its attitude towardsSam, and he has been allowed to establish relationships with thosearound him, including his daughter. Whenever there is this kind ofrelationship, such as joking with friends and playing with hisdaughter, there is a warm lighting. The same is intensified when hedevelops a deeper relationship with Lucy, his daughter.


In film, color is an essential tool in creating harmony (McCartney,2012). Ripat &amp Woodgate (2011) and Varma (2011) assert that mostfilms utilize aspects such as color or texture to depict the notionsthat people disassociate from disability. The support that Sam getsfrom his friends is symbolized by red color. As the plot develops,red is used to show harmony and support from the society, despite thefact that some still feel that he is unwanted. At some point, Lucybegins wearing red clothes, taking after Randy a man who takes herin after the opposing council convinces Sam that he cannot take careof his daughter. Red color is therefore used to bring out thepolitics of conflict, that is, the contrasting opinion between somemembers of the society regarding the abilities of the mentallychallenged. At last, Randy allows Sam to take back his daughter, andarrange that they will support her together.


The film “I Am Sam” is a perfect example of how the mediaportrays disability, and how the society treats the disabled people.There are different characters who have been used to represent thepart of the society that believes that people with disability areproblematic, and others who believe that these people need support.Towards the end of the movie, the audiences’ approval of Sam as aperson who is capable of being an authorizing figure in Lucy’s lifeproves that the society can change their attitude towards thedisabled people. However, another important factor is that thepersonal attitude of the disabled people is instrumental in changingtheir situation. Normalization in the society has become the perfectarchetype that people use to construct mainstream thinking. On theother hand, film reveals the identity politics that people has sooften pushed as the ideal model of cultivating reasoning. From theforegone reasoning and analysis offered, one understands that thesociety has bastardized, distorted, grossly misrepresented, andbotched the ideals that they should develop in understandingdevelopmental gaps or incapacities.


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