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Friday, October 31, 2008

ER Super Crip Almost Gets the Hot Chick

Long ago ER "jumped the shark". Once an engaging drama/soap opera, ER is no longer a popular show. NBC really needs to put this show out of its misery. I do not get to see ER often but when I do it is usually dreadful. I was up later than usual last night grading papers and reading a new book. I had ER on as background noise which was a big mistake. I had read that a former character was returning, Dr. Barnett, a double amputee, for a cameo appearance. I was curious as to how ER would portray his return as a disabled character.

Dr. Barnett returned to ER and was in great shape. He is no longer an ER doctor. Instead he is now specializing in rehabilitation medicine, a logical switch given his disability. Dr. Barnett has radically transformed himself. When he was last seen he was a pissed off angry amputee and transformed into a super cripple. I am not sure which gross mischaracterization is worse, obviously subtle nuance is not possible for Dr. Barnett or disabled people. We have just character types: angry or perfect. What is clear is that Dr. Barnett has experienced a radical transformation and possesses advanced super human social skills. No mere mortal, he is a super cripple able to dispense advice to one and all. He is an "amazing man", mature, good looking, and he can not only walk but run. But he does not just run well, he has a high tech pair of prostheses like Oscar Pistorius. So when he goes for a run with the Nila, who is forever unlucky in her love life, along the Chicago Lake shore he not only runs faster than her he leaves her in the dust. The viewer is left to think: wow, those disabled people sure are great. They can run! They can walk! They can work! Gasp, they can fall in love! Holy cow, I sure hope to meet one of those people some day.

The scene that annoyed me the most was not of Dr. Barnett running like Oscar Pistorius. In a heartfelt scene with Nila his former lover before he was an amputee Dr. Barnett comes across as Ghandi-like in terms of sensitivity. He tells Nila he went home to Baton Rouge to mend a broken heart and body. Thanks to high end prostheses he does not appear to be disabled in any way. He tells Nila he has been through a hellish time and during rehab even tried "hurt himself". What is not spoken is that attempting suicide is a "normal" reaction to the prospect of living a life with a profound disability. But Dr. Barnett possess super human ability and if not for an importune knock at her door may have swept Nila off her feet and into her bedroom. This may make good drama but is so devoid of reality even I am virtually speechless. At no point does one get a sense of how hard rehab is, the obstacles amputees face when health insurance often dictate the type of prosthesis they will pay for, nor does one get an idea how expensive (over priced) artificial limbs are. I realize this is TV but even I can think of a few ridiculous ways the real obstacles amputees encounter could be hyped. In failing to portray Dr. Barnett as a normal man with a disability the producers of ER have lots of company. This also makes me wonder when or if it is possible to have a disabled character on TV show whose disability is used illustrate the social impediments to inclusion. This would be great drama and good TV.

6 comments:

Penny L. Richards said...

Don't forget driving--they made a point of showing him getting into the driver's seat of his car--ooh, he can drive too?

william Peace said...

Penny, Yes, a double amputee can drive. Wow, those disabled people sure are amazing! Of course there were no pedal extensions or hand controls visible.

Greg said...

most tv misses the point and most people have no clue about disability until it touches them or their family.

william Peace said...

Greg, I could not agree with you more. This is a big problem in terms of disability rights. If we depend on the media to portray disability we are in deep trouble. I find the mainstream media frustrating in the extreme. Their perception of disability is devoid of reality as I know it.

Derek Handley said...

The mainstream media certainly seems to know very little about disability. Either that, or what they know just isn't considered good enough television.

Even in its early days, ER was making these kinds of mistakes. The one that always struck me the most strongly was how Carrie Weaver used her crutch incorrectly, because she was on the show every week. For a show that supposedly did its research, it had a lot of holes!

william Peace said...

I tend to think those in the media know very little about disability from a disability rights perspective. Disability rights as Civil Rights is simply not a connect the media makes. The reasons for this are complex and warrant a book length analysis.