Hammerin' Hank: The Right to Be Raunchy or FM Freak Show?

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Those who live outside the world of disability culture may believe the words disability and humor do not belong in the same sentence. Disability is usually associated with tragedy and sadness, or maybe inspiration, as in coping with disability. However, not all humor can be seen in a positive light. In this essay, I discuss a controversy regarding humor directed at Hammerin' Hank. Hank is ostensibly a person with an intellectual disability who cavorts with shock jocks, as the object of humiliation, on a San Francisco radio morning show that trades in gross humor, sophomoric pranks, homophobia, misogyny and ableism.

The audio portrayal raises questions about the line between self-mockery and mockery and between free speech and hate speech. When does insider humor turn into gawking and minstrelsy? When is free choice an informed choice? The complexity arises because as offensive and degrading as much of the banter directed at Hank is, he is still an independent adult who is allowed to make his own decisions. Even those who support choice and independence for people with disabilities, however, wonder if Hank understands the level of his exploitation by his fellow disc jockeys. In this saga, the forces of protection are pitted against the forces of advocacy.


Published in the online journal Disability Studies Quarterly, Vol. 23, No. 3/4, 2003.