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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Glee Makes me Glum

I have refrained from commenting on the television program Glee. Much has been written about the fact the actor that plays Arnie, a paraplegic, is not paralyzed. Like many others, I find this troublesome. Surely there must be a paralyzed actor in America that is qualified for the part. I have not commented on Glee for two reasons: first, I do not like the show in spite of its apparent popularity with young people. Second, the episodes I have seen that deal with disability are a bizarre mix of astute observations and dreadful stereotypes. However the most recent episode contained no insights and just demeaning images and messages. I was stunned by what I saw. It was as if the directors took a step back in time, well before the ADA was passed to an era in which disability was akin to a social death.

At WHEELIE cATHOLIC it was observed:

"The problem with all this is that children and teens, who still buy into the fantasy of the entertainment world, are watching Glee in large numbers. Meanwhile, kids I love are being excluded in real life from class trips and social and educational opportunities, mainly because of how society thinks about disability. Just think about the messages sent in last night's episode:

You can't walk, so you can't dance.
You can't walk, so you can sit over there and wait while I get you a pretzel upstairs.
You can't walk, so sit in one spot and hold this for me.

And then:

I can't walk, so get another partner.
I can't walk, so I can't dance, I'll just sing.
I can't walk, so I can't realize my dream.

Message after message of what Arnie, the kid in a wheelchair, can't do. No wonder kids with disabilities are still excluded from opportunities. It's not because of their wheelchairs or because they can't walk far enough- it's because of how we think about disability. How teachers, educators and peers think about it. How they themselves are taught to think about it."

I have been paralyzed for over 30 years and I find it impossible to understand the constant never ending focus on what cannot be done. I cannot walk. That is a fact. So what. Walking as I have noted many times is over rated. Bipedal people really need to get over themselves. Just because a person can walk does not make them superior to those that cannot. But this is deeply embedded cultural belief. Disability is bad, walking is good. It is a mantra we are all unknowingly taught. The ramifications as WHEELIE cATHOLIC eloquently puts it are profound. Here is what I think when I come across other paralyzed people: What are they good at? How have they adapted and overcome social bigotry? Do they rail against social oblivion? The key difference is that I only see possibility and ability. I do not think or much less consider what cannot be done. This is the exact opposite from the message sent by the latest episode of Glee. For goodness sake I have never met a person that is paralyzed and dreams of walking or dancing. If a person that uses a wheelchair wants to dance, well, they dance. I do not know one person that researches for cure nor anyone dumb enough to try and get out of their wheelchair as Arnie did. This is stupid and melodramatic. Sadly, the producers must think this makes good drama and television.

Sadly, I see no hope for the future. Television caters to cultural cliches and dominate ideals held dear by society. If Glee wants to provide a gritty dream by a real life crippled guy here is one I would love to see. A hard ass crippled dude that refuses to take any crap. A person that asserts their rights and when they are violated lets others know it. How about a buff high-school paraplegic that blocks a school bus from leaving school because there is no wheelchair lift. Rather than support, our bad ass crippled dude is jeered by his peers. This sort of visual image and message sent would not sit well with the general public. However, it would be educational to a young audience. I would even like to believe such a message would be well received by young people.


FridaWrites said...

One would almost think at this point that the Glee producers are trying to irritate the crap out of disabled people.

william Peace said...

Frida, If that is the aim of the producers at Glee they are doing a great job. I am puzzled by the show, its popularity, and the hit and miss approach to disability. I suspect the producers simply do not understand disability nor the fact it is foremost a social malady.

Becs said...

Too much 'Glee'. I watched a couple of episodes and liked it, but noticed that Arnie was being marginalized all the time. The episode where they were all in wheelchairs for a number was interesting, but in the next episode, Arnie was back on the sidelines. Even his romance wasn't allowed to move forward.

Bill, I would love to see your buff, bad para kid kick ass.

Assiya said...

I enjoy parts of Glee, but they keep messing up with Artie (and other things). It's so frustrating! But I suppose it does give me a good entryway to educate and start discussions with my friends....
I really enjoy your idea of a television show. I would definitely watch.

william Peace said...

Becs, That is a good point about any romance not being developed. God forbid a person with a disability be considered a sexual being.

Assiya, I agree as bad as the show is n terms of disability it does help generate a conversation about disability that might not otherwise arise.

Glad my idea of a big buff paraplegic that kicks ass was well received. Now that's a show worth watching. In fact I wonder if such a character has ever existed in film or TV.

emma said...

I don't know this series and just took a look on youtube - looks appalling!

Something else I haven't seen but thought might be of interest is Desperados, a cBBC childrens TV series (I don't get the BBC anymore).
About a children wheelchair basketball team. Can't find anywhere to watch it online though (typical)

emma said...

woops, forgot to add a link,
for a teen drama it at least sounds much better than Glee.

Unknown said...

This post has been included in a link roundup at access-fandom on dreamwidth.

Unknown said...

I am also in a wheelchair, I'm sixteen and have been paralyzed for 6 years. I agree with you on some points. People in wheelchairs should love themselves for who they are.
But this is incredibly rude.

"For goodness sake I have never met a person that is paralyzed and dreams of walking or dancing. If a person that uses a wheelchair wants to dance, well, they dance. I do not know one person that researches for cure nor anyone dumb enough to try and get out of their wheelchair as Arnie did. "

I definitely dream of walking and dancing ALL THE TIME. I love love love musical theater and when I watch those people dance, its beautiful and of course I wish I could do that. And why shouldn't I wish that I will someday be able to dance or walk? It's a dream me and MANY other paraplegics have, I'm not sure who you talk to. And yes, I still dance, I go to all my school's proms and homecoming, and have the time of my life. But there is always a little part of me itching to walk or dance standing up. If you think that I'm wasting my time and these dreams will never come true, well then you need to do some research. Artie was right when he had those papers full of cures. If you don't believe me, check our this website.
It's full of inspirational stories, and real scientific facts about the advancements in finding a cure to spinal cord injuries. Me and thousands of others reach to find a cure every single day, and Glee is just representing all the optimistic people like us.

Becs said...

In "Saved", the bad girl takes up with a guy (Macauley Culkin, of all people) who's a para. He's all goody-two-shoes at the beginning but she's not shy about her badness or about her laser-locked interest in him.

william Peace said...

Sashafeather, Great to have the link of other critical commentaries and blog entries on the Glee episode. Thank you.

Emma, Will check out the show Desperados

Arielle, I am delighted you took the time to post a comment. I have been paralyzed since I was 18 and had significant health problems as a teenager. I know teen years can be hard and being a paraplegic does not make it any easier. I was curious you dream of walking and dancing. I wonder if this is indicative of a generational change. I was paralyzed a long time ago and never really thought about walking ever again. I am simply too happy with the way I am. My peers, those paralyzed long ago, have a similar viewpoint.
I am well aware there are people that hope and work toward a cure to spinal cord injury. If this is your hope for the future great-- assuming you lead a full and productive life in the present and it sounds like you do. I also wish good luck to researchers. My interest however is in civil rights and old farts like me and disability rights activists fought tooth and nail for the passage of laws like the ADA. Without this effort, one that met firm social opposition, many of the ramps and access you enjoy would not exist. I note this because disability rights history is not taught in schools or widely known. As for the Reeve Foundation, I have virtually no respect for them or its founder Chris Reeve. The inspirational stories you refer to are used to inspire but more importantly raise money. As used by the Reeve Foundation the images and stories undermine a disability rights viewpoint. I hope you return to read my reply and I wish you well.

amber said...

His name is Artie.

I thought this episode was a little strange because he DOES dance in every other episode. My view on this episode was that he dreamed of alternatives. I think high school kids do that. They think about the "what ifs," and the "will I evers," in order to set realistic goals for themselves. Whether their goal is realistic for them or not, or even desirable for them or not is up to the individual.