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It seems at multiple points in the series itself, and in the opening credits for that matter, it was strongly emphasized that Steve was rebuilt "better than before". Now, certainly, it makes for stronger plot points in the show if he's more like a superhero than a man who has gone through rehabilitation from a nearly fatal injury, but it seems as if the creators of the show are going out of their way to point this fact out.

Did this choice of words reflect on social norms about those with physical disabilities at the time? In other words, was there more of a social emphasis on "we must make people whole again" at that time, rather than seeing the person with a disability more for who they are as a person as we do now, which influenced the word choices by the producers and writers?

It's possible that the producers were emphasizing the triumph of the technology more so than the humanitarian aspect, but many other facets of the show deal with how people "in the know" treat Steve Austin differently because of his experience, so I'm assuming they were cognizant of the above points as well.

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Did this choice of words reflect on social norms about those with physical disabilities at the time?

"Before" he didn't have disabilities or injuries. "Before" he was an astronaut - in perfect health.

"Better than he was before" is followed by "Better. Stronger. Faster" [Queue theme music]

All it had to do with was the fact that he's got superhuman power due to the bionics, and now they have a man worthy of a superhero TV show. The only thing it had to do with is why he stands out - where he got his abilities. It lays out the premise for the entire series. there wouldn't be much of a series if there weren't a bionic man to do all the cool stuff he gets to do.

(Although how he used the bionic arm without tearing it off his body is still beyond me.)

This was the era if Dirty Harry, of Captain Kirk getting into fistfights, Bruce Lee, and Chuck Norris. The Lone Ranger was still cool, as were Superman and even Spider-Man, who got a cheesy series in that era.

We valued gritty tough heroes (as opposed to the tough anti-heroes we often see today, or the cartoonishly tough guys played by Stallone and Ahnold in the mid-late eighties).

Steve Austin was the type of man that we looked up to in that day. The ideals absolutely played a part. But not from a "disabilities are weak" standpoint. The bionics gave a good guy strength and made him interesting.

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I completely agree with your sentiments, but did the ideals and mores at the time have anything to do with that choice? –  jonsca Jan 7 '13 at 3:01
    
edited answer to include a direct answer to the comment. –  David Stratton Jan 7 '13 at 3:16
    
Good, I was going to ask you to! Thanks. –  jonsca Jan 7 '13 at 3:21
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