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Monday, December 12, 2011

I Hate the New York Times

I was having a good day until i read the New York Times. Yet again the NYT has published a story, in this case a review of a TV show, that left me deeply annoyed. Here I refer to a December 11 review, " Disabled Host, With the Emphasis on Able" by Jon Caramanica. A few will know Zach Anner, a man with cerebral palsy, who won a reality competition (Your Own Show: Oprah's Search for the Next TV Star) to host a program on the Oprah Winfrey Network. His show, Rollin with Zach, will air tonight. I doubt I will watch the show. But it is the review rather than his show that has me deeply annoyed. The NYT characterized Anner as "witty and charming and mildly zany. And also disabled". Why is that phrase, "and also disabled", included? In my opinion it is based on the assumption that people with a disability cannot be witty, charming and zany. Surely we people with a disability are miserable and morose. Another unfortunate passage sates that: "The inspiration in Mr. Anner’s story is implicit. Unlike most travel shows, on which the hosts feign omnipotence and fearlessness, “Rollin’ With Zach” often reveals Mr. Anner adjusting for his disability. Concern for his well-being is embedded into the show, as is the sense that things will not always go smoothly."

When I read these lines I wanted to scream. Why don't things go smoothly when Anner travels? The answer is simple: in spite of the law mass transportation remains either inaccessible or problematic for people with a disability. The reason for this is not because Anner cannot adjust for his disability but rather society fails to be inclusive to people with a disability. Problems abound because people with a disability are not valued. Equal access does not exist within the travel industry. Perhaps this is the reason Anner is not "fearless". Like many people with a disability he knows all too well that when traveling barriers to inclusion are common place. As for "concern embedded" into the show, I find this demeaning. Why should this concern exist? We people with a disability are perceived to be incompetent. Thus the all powerful bipedal people will out of the goodness of their heart protect the well being of people with a disability. This logic is not just wrong but provided the theoretical justification for excluding people with a disability for decades. Paralyzed people cannot fly in a plane, they are a safety hazard. People with a disability cannot attend public school, they are a fire hazard. Exclusion was not seen as a form of discrimination but rather done for the "well being" of people with a disability. Such a sentiment still exists today in spite of the fact the ADA was passed 20 years ago.

One last example should suffice: "Both initial episodes conclude with Mr. Anner attempting a water activity, surfing and then water-skiing, which he succeeds at, with some hitches. On a chair-swing ride at Navy Pier in Chicago the look of ecstasy on his face at the freedom of movement is genuine." A few things are assumed. Water sports and sports in general are beyond the ability of most people with a disability. Sports are for fit people, those without a disability. Implied is the refusal to perceive adaptive sports, in this case a water activity, as equally enjoyable. Why is "ecstasy" on Anner's face? Simple, disability is inherently bad and restricting. Disability is always compared to normal, meaning bipedal movement. Surely Anner must wish he was normal, not disabled. This is evident by the "freedom of movement". Of course the reverse is a lack of freedom and movement people with a disability experience. Easily ignored is that it is not the lack of movement that prevents freedom but socially constructed barriers. For instance I can ski but I cannot ski at all resorts because basic wheelchair access is absent.

The review incorrectly concludes that Anner is a "role model". Who exactly is he a role model for? People with a disability. I can assure you Anner is not my idea of a role model. My role models were people like Ed Roberts and Paul Longmore. These men questioned authority, bucked the system and won. They did not win for themselves but for all people with a disability. Roberts and Longmore made this country a better place for people with a disability. This I admire far more than any television program, especially one on the Oprah Winfrey Network known for fluffy self help pablum.


Anonymous said...

Bill- yet another example of what a disgrace the NY Times has become. I'm no longer surprised when I see an egregious error on the front page above the fold. I don't know what started their precipitous decline, but in the past 5 years, they've just crashed & burned with all the subtlety of an airplane slamming into a mountainside in a huge fireball. I suggest using it to line the cat box, putting it under the parrot cage, or using it to housetrain puppies. I don't suggest reading it- it's a disgrace in every imaginable sense of the word. Shame on them!

Unknown said...

I saw the preview for the show and Anner is really funny. I hope that he'll be able to push past people's inspiration crap and be taken seriously for himself and who he is.

william Peace said...

Ruth, He is funny, I will acknowledge that. If he is on the Oprah network I would not hold out hope for anything that is not feel good crap.
Cait, The NYT is mentally ill! They produce crap more often than not but have devoted months to exposing flaws in group home and how they are funded. This reminds me how great journalism can be.

The Untoward Lady said...

What exactly are you trying to imply when you say the NYT is mentally ill?

william Peace said...

Untoward lady, No idea why I wrote line. Autocorrect on this device must have changed my words. Sloppy error on my part.

Liz said...

I also hate things like this!

I don't have an super thoughtful response at the moment, but I wanted to let you know that when I'm having a hard day, reading your blog is incredibly helpful. It's a relief and makes me feel less alienated (or, not alone in my alienation). I love how you build up a huge head of steam and lay down all these pieces and then WHAM. Wind it up and punch. You're one of my very favorite bloggers!

william Peace said...

Liz, You made my day. I am humbled by your kind words.