Wednesday, April 11, 2012

They're Not Standing. Deal With It.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I have never experienced an hour of television more full of fail, and I watch Ringer.

Glee has never done well with disability. I've posted about it here and here. I really thought they had the chance to improve now that they've put head cheerleader Quinn Fabray in a wheelchair, but in the first five minutes of today's episode, they managed to ruin all chances of redemption. The episode opened with Quinn and Artie--Glee's token character in a wheelchair--singing "I'm Still Standing." This maybe Glee wanted irony here, but their failure to deal well with disability up until this point means they haven't earned it.

They then ruined any chance of doing a newly-disabled story in a unique way by having Quinn explain right away that her spine will heal. Whether it does or not, Glee is embarking on a cliche. Quinn's attitude of "I will walk again!" is not unrealistic at all--but Glee's already dealt with this. Artie has spent three seasons longing to walk, making his lecture to Quinn about accepting her situation hypocritical at best. They had a chance to show something unusual for TV--someone accepting physical disability without associating it with their life being over--and they didn't.

Now let's talk about senior skip day, shall we? Again, there is potential here. Going to an amusement park IS difficult if you have a disability. More so if you're there with people who are able-bodied. And the scene with people using wheelchairs shredding it at the skatepark was awesome. Ostracizing Quinn and Artie from the excursion, whether by some plan of Artie's to get Quinn on her own or not? Ruins the potential. Intercutting the scenes and therefore highlighting how excluded the two using wheelchairs are? Even more not okay.

Does it happen? Yes. Does it need to be talked about? Could Glee have covered more ground doing something different? Absolutely.

They handled the storyline with Sue's baby having Down Syndrome well, if predictably. But Sue's character has been built around her acceptance of Down Syndrome. Glee didn't do anything new here, except make it a Very Special Episode by airing it in the episode with Quinn's storyline.

Also, whether Quinn and Artie date, or whether Artie is just crushing all this does is retract all the ground they made by having Artie date Brittney by pairing the two students in wheelchairs for however long.


  1. I feel like while they have made great strides in some directions in the past, Glee was doomed from the beginning. It made the misfit crowd of kids at a high school all stereotypes who live their labels. It reminds me of boy bands back in the day (just go with it for a second) having the super attractive sensitive guy, the macho dude, the crazy/funny one, all chosen to fit this role they are going to be molded into. I feel like their casting list said, "Jew who aspires to be Barbara Streisand, white boy who can't dance, nerd in a wheelchair, black diva with a choir voice, skinny white cheerleader" you get the point. I can still watch it for what it is worth, which to me is like watching Saved By the Bell, but it does give me a pain in the stomach to think about the unrealistic life expectations this show gives to youngsters looking towards high school.

    They handle Sue's character so well and have given her so much depth and I really wish they would do that with more characters. I wish they didn't pick and choose when they want to be a moving, socially educational show, and when they're going to be a by-the-book, standard teen sitcom.This is why I miss "My So-Called Life" "Freaks and Geeks" and hell even Clueless was pretty groundbreaking in the sense of introducing a new level of comedic value in teen entertainment. Glee hasn't offered me much other than some catchy auto-tuned pretty faces with occasional dashes of PSA's and a few golden nuggets.

    1. Exactly. Part of it is their tendency to do better when they're not producing a string of Very Special Episodes. They deal okay with LBGT issues in ordinary episodes, but for some reason all their disability discussions turn into messes of tokenism.

      I have such problems with the stereotypes. Why Artie had to be a nerd is beyond me. I don't understand how niche media (I'm thinking specifically of The Guild, my webseries obsession) can handle disability--like by actually casting a disabled actress--and the mainstream fails SO HARD at the only attempt that's really been made.

      Even shows I adore, like MSCL, Buffy and Veronica Mars never dealt with disability, and honestly that's why it makes it even sadder that the one show to open the door fails so hard.

    2. You can definitely tell that making Artie a nerd was a 100% intentional choice because it isn't like they just cast the actor and then thought, "He looks nerdy, lets go with it." The kid who played Artie was in a boyband and looks fairly handsome (I can't say hot because at 25 I feel like a pervert) and I honestly think that would have been really cool to keep his character that way! A heart throb on wheels, constantly charming the ladies. He definitely acts suave often I don't see how it would be that big of a stretch to just not dress him like a nerd.

      I was reading a blog recently and the author was listing out shows with doctors who have disabilities. There were lots of substance abuse/addiction, obviously Burke's hand and Izzy's cancer, but very few physically disabled doctors. It makes me sad because I would love to see a story about a surgeon in a wheelchair, or hell just more little people in powerful positions having nothing to do with their height.

      Speaking of little people, their treatment in the media is an interesting topic to me as well. First you're thinking, "This isn't right that they are always seen as carnival folk, elves, etc.!" then they only use one guy (who I believe isn't a little person?) for the Oompa Loompa's in Tim Burton's "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and use CGI to clone him; the acting community of little people were furious! I then got schooled on the fact that they don't want the only jobs suited specifically for them taken away and I'm like, "Okay.. that makes sense."

      I think back to my own experiences and—this is incredibly shameful—the fact that I had a legitimate FEAR of little people growing up due to this sideshow gag I saw at age 6 at the fair. Inside was this woman with proportionate dwarfism (or whatever the actual term for that is) dressed as a little doll, sitting there perfectly still so you thought she wasn't real and then she came to life. She was in this doll house and everything and it completely scarred me and made me think of dwarfism as something to fear and I'm sure I wasn't the only kid it did that to! That stuck with me for MANY years and being that is a rare form of dwarfism I only ever saw one other person with it.

      I can't help but think of how much better I would have done if I had seen examples of dwarfism on television just on the normal programs I watched. Even today, where are the disabled kids on children's tv shows? There are some but the most popular tween shows I've watched with my niece don't have any.

      Now that I've sufficiently written you a novel, have you read "The Fault in Our Stars?" because I just finished it and am a blubbering mess.

    3. OH THAT BOOK. I love it more than words can say. I keep butting heads with my professor over John Green because of it (and because I adore him). It deals with chronic illness and disability so perfectly that for the first 2/3rds it was my life. Seriously, the stairs in the Ann Frank Hais...I experienced the same feeling as Hazel.

      I think the tendency toward exhibitionism is a thing in the disability community, particularly for Little People, because of the historical precedent, and the fact that it is a way of taking ownership of the way people are going to stare anyway. It's reactionary and in many ways not okay, but I understand why it happens.

      I read a review that referred to the casting of Kevin McHale as Artie and other actors w/o disabilities as disabled characters as "disability drag" which I like. I think it's common because it gives Hollywood a chance at showing the "miracle cure," which they can't do if there's no hope of miraculously curing the actor.