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excuse me as i'm serious for a moment

hold your breath and don't look down
As many, wiser people than me have pointed out, this has been a week of profound fail for fandom. Not new fail, it's true, but still pretty profound. We’ve had racism and anti-Semitism, and it's been good, as it always is, to see that there are people in fandom ready to speak up about these issues when they arise and to discuss and to try to make it so that we're all a little wiser and more aware of our own privileges when it's done (even sometimes when it seems like we’re just chasing our tail on some of these questions).

But there was one bit of fail that slipped through largely unnoted this week, which I'd like to highlight now and wish I’d been able to highlight earlier. comment_fic had "disability" as a prompt on Wednesday, which as lilpocketninja noted is just excruciatingly tasteless and yet more proof that fandom, like society as a whole, remains exceedingly ablist and, even more troubling, doesn't even seem to notice when it's being ablist.

I get that it's hard to poke your head out of the cloud of your own privilege sometimes because when you've lived with it long enough, it becomes hard to see that there is a cloud around you, that the way you perceive things isn't the way things actually are. There are some issues (race, class) on which I have difficulty myself as much as I try to overcome and keep myself aware of my own privilege at all times. I understand, but I'm obviously not very sympathetic because letting yourself stay in that comfortable cloud is in itself an exercise of privilege and an exacerbation of disadvantage of the unprivileged.

Overall, I suppose I've been spoiled by fandom which I realize is filled with individuals with varying levels of racism, sexism, heterosexism, etc. but is also a community in which people are far more willing to confront their own privileges than society on a whole is. So maybe that's why the almost unbroken silence that greets disability issues always disappoints me so much and why thinking about all of this actually kept me up last night. I had to confront this disappointment a lot this season, reading episode reactions to Glee and hearing smart, sensitive people – people who I know have and will speak out on issues of racism and sexism and so on – describe things like the Safety Dance sequence or most of Artie's plotline in general as well-done or touching when it is in fact a giant, stereotypical mess of a story, a story that (like so many fictional narratives about people with disabilities) is really an abled person’s perspective on what they think it must be like living with a disability.

I don't want to go on forever about this, though I know I could as disability rights has become sort of my specialization over the years. I also don't hold out my own views and my own perception of ablism as the only ones. The disability rights community has diverse opinions on many issues, and anything I say reflects my own personal experience and academic/advocacy study only. That being said, here are some brief, non-exhaustive, things that I think fandom generally tends to be unaware of when discussing narratives about persons with disabilities:

1) Disability is societally-created. If you are going to learn one thing, try to learn this because many of the other problems that arise spring from here. The issues people with disabilities encounter do not arise from their particular restrictions/impairments/conditions but from the fact that society has been created around an able-bodied and able-minded standard which does not take into account other experiences. Being in a wheelchair, to use the example that is usually the easiest for people to understand, doesn't become a "problem" until society starts building corridors that are too narrow and stairs and curbs without thinking about the impact this has on people other than those who aren't in wheelchairs. And being placed in a position where you have to ask others to modify the world for you, because they didn't take into account your needs to begin with, is an inherently disempowering, marginalizing and demeaning situation. When Bobby in Supernatural encounters an elevator that's out and a set of stairs that he, now paralyzed from the waist down, can’t climb, this is played as a joke. But it's not funny because it's life for a lot of people.

(EDIT 21/06 12:47PM: An important point was raised in the comments that not all of disability is encompassed in the social model of disability. The physical and mental impairment/restrictions exist regardless of the reaction of society. I stress the social aspect for a variety of reasons. I approach these question from a legal perspective first often. I prefer to err on the side of the social model to avoid medical model discourse. I am often uncomfortable labelling my own medical condition a disability but have no problem stating that society frequently treats me and relates to me as a person with a disability. However, that does not change the fact that disabilities are real things with real impacts on the lives of individuals, regardless of societal constructions. I apologize for masking that originally.)

2) Persons with disabilities are not less because they have disabilities. How I wish I didn’t even need to spell that out but since the writers on Glee actually stuck the words "You need someone who isn't half a partner" into Artie's mouth this season, apparently I do. Repeat after me: Different is not less. Different is not less. Individuals with disabilities may have impairments or restrictions but that does not take away from their full personhood.

3) Persons with disabilities are not tragic, heroic martyrs. They’re people. Unfortunately, in fiction, that's rarely what they're portrayed as. Disability is often used as a narrative tool that's one step away from fridging, meant to convey a lesson, a warning, or a source of inspiration, and it's made worse because usually the message is directed at the able characters in the narrative. House’s leg injury, for example, is frequently used as shorthand for "Beware, able characters! Don’t become like me!" In one episode of Glee, there's an entire sequence where Finn takes Rachel to see his paraplegic friend to teach her that having laryngitis isn't so bad. A person's life is not a teaching moment for someone else, and pity and charity are the wrong response because, once again, different is not less.

4) The life of a person with disabilities is not tragically unfulfilled because they have a disability. This is a more contentious issue within the disability rights community, which I won't get into unless prompted because it's sort of tangential. But suffice to say that many, many, many people with disabilities do not spend their time dreaming about how grand life would be if they were just "fixed." And yet isn't that the story of just about every single character with a disability on TV at the moment? Isn't that what Glee's Safety Dance sequence was all about? Different is not less. Disability is not a problem until society makes it one. Learn these lessons, fandom and TV and society. The story of a character with a disability is not how much it sucks to have a disability and how great life is for able people. That's only what able people think it is.

5) For the love of god, just stop removing the agency of people with disabilities, okay? It's not cute or dramatic or touching when the choices of people with disabilities are removed, especially when they are removed by able people who are acting in "their best interest." To draw on a Glee example again (and I should point out that the only reason Glee examples are so prevalent is because Glee, unlike many shows, actually has characters with disabilities even if it then proceeds to execute their plotlines terribly), Mr. Schuester dictating to Ms. Pillsbury exactly what she's going to do to overcome her OCD and then booking her a counselling appointment without consulting her is not romantic. It's belittling and dehumanizing and implies that Ms. Pillsbury, a grown woman, should not be allowed to make choices having to do with her own mental health.

6) And with all that said, disabilities are also not things to be picked up and then put down again when it stops being narratively convenient. I am looking at you, CSI, Supernatural, House and basically every other narrative that has a character with a disability and has gone on long enough.

Having finished that list now, I can't help but look back over each one and nod my head and think "Well, yes, obviously." So much of it seems self-evident to me, but I think the fact that I can point to multiple examples for each point in current television, that I see these issues pop up in fanfiction constantly, and that the comment_fic prompt led to a catalogue of exactly this kind of essentializing and stereotyping means that it is probably worth saying all of that again, even if I'm certainly not the first or best person to say it.

So. Now I feel a bit better. On the off chance that this attracts comments, please be polite and courteous, etc. Just writing this has somewhat exhausted my goodwill regarding teaching people about able privilege, so I may or may not want to engage in serious discussion in the comments, which is my prerogative and doesn't mean that the above didn't need to be said by someone.

Comments

( 47 comments — Leave a comment )
musesfool
Jun. 18th, 2010 05:30 pm (UTC)
Thanks for this post.
usomitai
Jun. 18th, 2010 05:39 pm (UTC)
♥ Thank you.

Have you seen the meta that came out of the upset hc_bingo caused, as well as the posts refuting Robin Hobb's statements that people with ADD/ADHD should accept their "genetic heritage"? You've probably read them, but if you haven't... they're well worth reading!

And what anti-Semitism was there this week? *blinks*

Edited at 2010-06-18 05:40 pm (UTC)
riko
Jun. 18th, 2010 07:37 pm (UTC)
Re: Anti-semitism. I'm trying to find the link to a specific post about it but in summary someone raised an issue about the portrayal of a Jewish character in a fic and the writer's response was essentially that the person only had a problem because they were probably Jewish themselves and therefore shouldn't be allowed to judge because of bias, etc. That old chestnut.

I didn't read Hobb's post specifically but I read a lot of the people who responded to it. That's partially what I was alluding to when I mentioned that the whole question of people with disabilities aspiring to not have disabilities is a contentious issue with people in disability rights. There are people that sit on both sides of the fence and, I feel, fairly strong arguments by each. EDIT TO ADD: Though the idea of genetic "heritage" and "destiny" is really creepy, vaguely reminiscent of eugenics terminology and part of the reason that I decided Hobb's post itself would probably make me rage too much to read.

There was actually a (terrible) court case in Canada a few years ago about the right to have early intensive behavioural therapies to treat autism covered by Canadian medicare, and disability groups split pretty evenly into the camps that say, "The only discriminatory thing here is trying to change the way autistic people think so they think like 'normal' people" and the group that said, "These children will be doomed to a life of exclusion and isolation without this treatment." I think it's ultimately a personal choice, where people who choose to manage their disability through medication or other means (which I do) can't force other people to as well and people who choose not to (and can actually function without it) can't force others not to. I don't think either side is necessarily right!

Edited at 2010-06-18 07:52 pm (UTC)
arachnidism
Jun. 18th, 2010 08:23 pm (UTC)
I am here doing the work so Riko doesn't have to:

Anti-semitism ftl.

Edited at 2010-06-18 08:23 pm (UTC)
riko
Jun. 18th, 2010 08:28 pm (UTC)
Ah, you are a superstar, Mici! Thank you! I didn't realize it was bandom. I think that makes me :| even more.
arachnidism
Jun. 18th, 2010 08:30 pm (UTC)
You're welcome! I totally don't read any RPF but I was looking through some of the links about the fail and saw it!
arachnidism
Jun. 18th, 2010 06:24 pm (UTC)
I'm going to start this with saying: I don't disagree with you. But as someone who has worked in entertainment, and someone who continues to work in not only entertainment but in a field where storytelling is a crucial part of livelihood, I do want to say a few things.

Entertainment media in general, is not supposed to be a teaching tool. Yes, there is a certain degree of privilege that goes along with having entertainment. It is, by necessity of continuation, designed for a majority middle-class audience, whatever that majority is. That's why popular American media is heavily reliant on white middle class characters and white middle class issues. Glee, for instance: most of the kids are either comfortable middle class or above (Rachel, Kurt) or scraping by middle class (Finn, Puck). With that in mind, the reason that the isms in general persist in media is because that tends to be the white, middle-class view.

I'm pretty sure you're aware of all this but I'm starting to feel a little self-conscious about how -isms in general are starting to saturate fandom. It would be nice if storylines like Artie's could be done without resorting to stereotypes or 'teaching tools' but the fact is that it's easy storytelling that's guaranteed to get an audience. If they didn't address Artie's 'issues' with his mobility (and I'm using your example just for consistency) I think that the writers feel that people will say they're ignoring his disability and that's unfair to the character.

I don't think it makes it good storytelling. Disability, even more so than homosexuality, I think, is this generation's real barrier to cross because it's so pervasively innocuous, possibly because unlike race, for instance, the numbers of disabled individuals is significantly less.

So the question is: is there a balance? Can a disabled character exist in a hypersaturated media without having stereotypical attention drawn to his disability? Is it dishonest if no attention is drawn because the writers don't want to deal with the backlash? Then that encourages writers to not bring in disabled characters at all. Is it more honest if they bring in a disabled writer to talk about it? What are the parameters for entertainment?
riko
Jun. 18th, 2010 07:47 pm (UTC)
I definitely agree with your point! Something I've been tossing back in my head all season, to stick to the Glee example, is how much a show should be given credit just for going there. Like I said briefly above, part of the reason there is such a wealth of Glee examples is because they are brave enough to raise these issues where a lot of media just construct worlds in which the problems don't exist at all (because there are no characters with disabilities). And I feel like, even if you do it wrong, that means something, especially when one of the biggest issues in disability rights has been the tendency to try to edit people with disabilities out of history and culture, institutionalizing and then forgetting about them.

So, yes, I definitely agree that being willing to go there, writing an imperfect story about a character with a disability, is better than nothing at all. I think it doesn't excuse a show/book/movie/etc. from criticism, but I can recognize that credit is due for that. I mean, ultimately, I think it's a project we're all working toward collectively, and I don't expect anyone in entertainment to get there immediately or on the first try. It would be nice. It would mean that I don't have to approach every piece of fiction with a sense of dread and apprehension or feel like I've been kicked in the stomach after watching an hour of a show I want to like, but I think ultimately we produce cultural works, we criticize and discuss, more cultural works get produced after that, and we hopefully keep creeping forward toward a place where the equal humanity of all people can be reflected in the fiction we produce.
arachnidism
Jun. 18th, 2010 07:58 pm (UTC)
I think sometimes I worry that fandom forgets that a majority of viewers are not involved in much more than watching television and turning it off at the end of the night. Obviously fanfiction is a different kind of forum, because it's a community where judgments can be laid directly on an individual writer.

I think what I worry about the most is something that you're not doing but something that -ism arguments in general bring up in me, and that's the feeling that someone is getting judged for liking something that has an unpopular 'fan' reaction. Since we're working with Glee: I know a lot of people think that Glee is a terrible show because of some of the situations we've brought up, and people are getting judged for simply liking it.

I'd like to see Artie's character get a plotline that doesn't revolve around the fact that he's in a wheelchair. One that involves something more like say, Finn or Rachel or Quinn get, although Glee does have a tendency to boil characters down into their 'role' in the show.

sob tldr I can't usually talk about this stuff because I always feel like my opinion is so vastly unpopular because I don't criticize the media for filling our entertainment with stereotypes. I just feel like fandom is a very small corner of the demographic that watches any given work, and they want so desperately to be right without looking at the bigger picture of who media is actually catering to.
riko
Jun. 18th, 2010 08:12 pm (UTC)
Mmm, I definitely understand what you mean! There are certainly times and certain shows where I want to turn off the critical switch in my brain and just enjoy it for what it is. Note that there are problems maybe, yes, but say "Okay, I accept and recognize this, but I really love this anyway" and not have people judge me for that. And I feel like as long as you are aware of the ways in which what you're watching is problematic then there's I can largely respect a choice to love something like that anyway. I mean, I (think I) love Glee! I love Supernatural! These are both shows with some intense problems, but I still tune in every week and find them fun and entertaining and will (on many points) defend them from their detractors because what they do well they do well.

And honestly? Talking about this stuff is messy, emotional, scary business, and I can also respect people who don't want to put their heart on the line for that in a public forum like the internet. Again, as long as you're not shutting out the issue in what you watch in your own brain, I don't think it's fair to judge people for not wanting to participate in fandom as a critical forum. I don't usually either for a variety of reasons. It's just with disability issues, as much as I might want to turn off the critical part of my brain, I can't. It hurts too much and makes me too uncomfortable every time I turn on the TV and have to sit through these things, and not talking about it doesn't make the feeling go away or solve the problem, but talking about it does help a little, even if it's just to make me feel better and less powerless, you know?

EDIT: SHORT VERSION: /cuddles your tl;dr

Edited at 2010-06-18 08:13 pm (UTC)
arachnidism
Jun. 18th, 2010 08:19 pm (UTC)
I absolutely agree with you! I completely understand that me not really wanting to discuss the -ist!fail in any given show doesn't bar anyone else from not wanting to discuss it.

/CUDDLED SO SHE WINS
riko
Jun. 18th, 2010 08:26 pm (UTC)
And I fully believe that it's important to talk about this stuff when it occurs but that fandom is ultimately meant to be a happy place, and I would never want it to be overall not fun.

CUDDLES MEAN EVERYONE WINS.
tacky_tramp
Jun. 24th, 2010 01:08 am (UTC)
Whether or not entertainment is "supposed to be a teaching tool," it IS one. We DO learn from entertainment. We absorb lessons, ideas, and values from it. We as artists ought to be mindful of the impact our work can and does have in the real world.

I'm starting to feel a little self-conscious about how -isms in general are starting to saturate fandom.

Welcome to the party. Some of us have been worried about -isms in fandom for years, because those -isms hurt us in a place that is supposed to be fun.
swordygardener
Jun. 24th, 2010 09:56 am (UTC)
I'm starting to feel a little self-conscious about how -isms in general are starting to saturate fandom.

But fandom is already saturated with various -isms. The difference is just that slowly, priviledged people made to notice how they are making the rest of us feel.

the fact is that it's easy storytelling

It isn't a fact, though. It's an opinion, and it mostly exists because people don't even try to do it differently.


And yeah, Entertainment media is education, and is a teaching tool. It's just a subtle one that many people don't notice. But it is affecting them.

We breathe stories, and incorporate them in our world view, regardless how intelligent we are. This is the actual fact in this: The issue is that, subconsciously, these stereotypes are STILL shaping images, are STILL teaching people things.
Currently, they are mostly teaching that disabled people are worth less.
lilpocketninja
Jun. 18th, 2010 08:15 pm (UTC)
Well-said, thank you.
riko
Jun. 18th, 2010 08:22 pm (UTC)
Thank you for bringing the comment_fic thing to my attention!
lilpocketninja
Jun. 18th, 2010 08:23 pm (UTC)
I was a bit worried about making a mountain of a mole-hill, so it's nice to see someone feels the same way.
riko
Jun. 18th, 2010 08:27 pm (UTC)
I literally smacked my forehead when I clicked on the link in your post, so you're definitely not the only one.
dunmurderin
Jun. 22nd, 2010 08:51 am (UTC)
Here from metafandom
You're most definitely not the only one. OMG...
riko
Jun. 22nd, 2010 04:03 pm (UTC)
You kind of end up sitting and looking at it and hoping that somewhere along the way someone involved will realize what a bad idea it is. And then... no one does.
dunmurderin
Jun. 22nd, 2010 09:23 pm (UTC)
Yeahhh; or at least that somebody will write a fic that isn't full of glurge and OMG!drama
skalja
Aug. 2nd, 2010 02:43 am (UTC)
Hey, I know this is more than a month later, but sincerely, thanks to both of you for bringing this up. That prompt REALLY bothered me, but I just didn't have the spoons to try tackling the issue at the time and I really appreciate that other fen were around to do so.
sasha_feather
Jun. 21st, 2010 04:01 pm (UTC)
This entry has been linked on [community profile] access_fandom. Thank you!
jadelennox
Jun. 21st, 2010 04:29 pm (UTC)
Thanks for this post (linked in from geek feminism and from access fandom). The points about not being tragic heroes and not being tragically unfulfilled are ones I really wish creators of pro-fiction would understand.

There's one modification I'd like to suggest: the social model of disability is an important one, but it is not a be-all and end-all definition for disability. Not all problems that stem from disability are society's fault: chronic pain is chronic pain with or without societal shifts that lead to adaptations and high-quality pain medication; CFIDS still places massive limits on many individuals' abilities to live lives as they desire with or without societal shifts; deafness may have the benefit of giving somebody an introduction into Deaf culture but still takes away certain other abilities.

I think the social model of disability is incredibly important, and for some people it is a be-all and end-all definition of how they relate to their disability. You can often find the distinction between people who say they wouldn't take the magic cure pill, and people who say they would. Me, personally, I would. Of course I would like to change the world to have all of the adaptations and social and cultural changes so that my disability would no longer prevent me from participating as fully in the wider culture as it does. But even if all that happened, I would still take the magic pill to make the chronic pain and weakness go away.
riko
Jun. 21st, 2010 04:42 pm (UTC)
I do tend to approach a lot of my thinking about disability from the perspective of legal advocacy, since that's what I do with my life, and I think the result is that I do tend to stress issues of dominance and power imbalance and privilege as a result because that's where the law comes into play. (And it is a large part of how I relate to my own medical condition.)

However, you're absolutely right that there is more to the experience of being a person with a disability than just that and that even if the dominance/privilege part of disability could be removed entirely, there would still be the realities of the restrictions/impairments/conditions/your term of choice to deal with. Thank you very much for bringing it up. When I get a chance later today, I'll amend my post to highlight that.
rhipowered
Jun. 21st, 2010 11:15 pm (UTC)
Thanks for this post. Just one quick question and if you've not got the time, I understand:
Mr. Schuester dictating to Ms. Pillsbury exactly what she's going to do to overcome her OCD and then booking her a counselling appointment without consulting her is not romantic.

Was this dealt with in a episode recently or earlier back in the series? I have OCD, I've recently written about OCD in the media, and I'd not heard anything about it yet. And it makes me furious.
riko
Jun. 21st, 2010 11:32 pm (UTC)
I should probably mea culpa on two points, the first being that I'm not positive Ms. Pillsbury has OCD and not just a very severe mysophobia, though there is a lot about the way she acts that reminds me of my cousin who has OCD, which is I suppose why I make the leap. I don't believe it's ever referred to as anything but her "problems" in the show.

I'm also probably not remembering the scene completely accurately, but the key elements (Schuester dictating that it's time for her to go into counselling, especially if she wants to enter a relationship with him, telling her which therapist to go to, saying he's already looked into it on her behalf) are all there and rage inducing. The scene happens in "The Power of Madonna" which was the second episode after the winter break. And, yeah, the fact that I didn't hear one peep out of anyone about it is part of why I just hit a frustration overload and had to write about it myself.
rhipowered
Jun. 22nd, 2010 06:55 pm (UTC)
Poking around, the official FOX Glee website calls it OCD, so I think your assumption was accurate. I'll have to go look into it, thanks so much for your help.

And again, thank you for the rest of the post, too.
meridian_rose
Jun. 24th, 2010 12:52 pm (UTC)
In the next episode or so along, Emma confronts Will over his letting April sleep at his house. She says she's been dealing with her OCD - and she's finding it humiliating (and maybe persevering for his benefit? I don't recall exactly). At any rate she definitely identifies herself as having OCD.
And it irritated me too, because after what I saw as his "get fixed so you can sleep with me, cause this exact approach I've chosen will totally work for you in a couple of weeks" fail, there followed the episode where he did indeed let April sleep over and then told her "quit drinking and get your ass on Broadway, cause you totally won't fail at that if you're sober". As if he has control over people's lives, or the right to tell them what behaviours they are allowed to live with.
I really liked early Will and his desire to help the Glee kids but the writers turned him into Do What I Say Man / I Know Best Man which is not an attractive quality at all.
fizzyblogic
Jun. 21st, 2010 11:15 pm (UTC)
Thank you, so much, for writing and posting this. Just. Thank you.
riko
Jun. 21st, 2010 11:33 pm (UTC)
You're more than welcome.
celrya
Jun. 22nd, 2010 12:20 pm (UTC)
"Mr. Schuester dictating to Ms. Pillsbury exactly what she's going to do to overcome her OCD and then booking her a counselling appointment without consulting her is not romantic. It's belittling and dehumanizing and implies that Ms. Pillsbury, a grown woman, should not be allowed to make choices having to do with her own mental health."

There was that scene later when she was angry with him saying that she was going into counseling because of him, and asking him if he understood how demeaning that was.

But yeah, it was initially presented as "Look, I am doing this romantic caring thing." Which is really creepy.
riko
Jun. 22nd, 2010 03:57 pm (UTC)
I had a whole handful of other issues with the scene where she calls him out, which made it hard to consider it a particularly good vindication.

But you are definitely correct in pointing out that they didn't fall down on that one quite as much as others, though I worry in cases of discussing stereotypes how much a presentation of a creepy but commonly accepted stereotype can be undone by a much delayed explanation of how it was creepy, you know?
thatwordgrrl
Jun. 23rd, 2010 11:34 pm (UTC)
For the most part, as a person with a very visible disability, I do say rock on with this post.

That being said, I should note a few things.

1. Your average hour-long TV show gets 5-7 working days production. From script to filming to editing. Meaning, there's not a lot of time to spend necessarily on character development. So it relies on images that the average viewer recognizes instantly. A guy in a tweed jacket and glasses? He's a college professor, right? So it should not be a surprise that treatment of -isms gets short shrift.

2. I will gently disagree on House (and oddly, I am at odds with almost all other people on this). House is NOT a brilliant doctor with a disability. He's a guy with a disability who just happens to be a brilliant doctor. The problem with his is not "feel sorry for me because I'm a gimp," but that he uses it to his advantage. He gets a team who takes his abuse, a doormat of a best friend and a boss who might as well give him a blow job for all she actually acts like his boss. He gets REWARDED for his failings, so he has no motivation to change. And that's a psychological failing, not a physical one, as I see it.

2. I'm curious if your CSI example is Doc Robbins. Because if so, I gotta say, I find it so underplayed that it really doesn't bother me at all. Which may be because the actor himself is disabled.

riko
Jun. 23rd, 2010 11:51 pm (UTC)
I think you've got a lot of quite valid points here!

I do understand that a TV show, unless it was specifically about a particular -ism, isn't going to really delve into any of them in great detail. These are really complicated subjects which hundreds of people have written hundreds of words on and still haven't run out of things to say. I completely understand them getting short shrift. I guess my perspective is that 1) that doesn't immunize them from criticism and 2) it certainly shouldn't excuse them from being actively offensive instead of just failing to deal with the topic.

I also agree about House in many ways. That is by far my weakest example in this bit of writing. I think you're right that within the context of the story world, House is actually quite a complex character and the show has spent way more time exploring his relationship with his disability than almost any show ever. But there are still some moments that profoundly trouble me, and a lot of that has to do with the show's portrayal, I think, of the relationship between House, his disability, and his employment. There's a lot of seeming meta approval by the writer's of a failure to accommodate House's honest restrictions, which would be extremely discriminatory in reality but which often seems to be turned around and made House's irrationality/perversity/moral failing of some other kind. Which I realize isn't actually what I talked about in my essay! So while I wouldn't say that House is problem-free, I think you're largely right about House in the context I originally brought it up. (I feel like there is an actual example of what I was talking about but as I can't actually think of it right now, I am more than happy to concede the argument for now.)

As far as CSI goes, I wasn't actually talking about Doc Robbins because the truth is I love how CSI has written Doc Robbins for a variety of reasons. What I was referring to was Grissom's difficulty with hearing and gradual hearing loss during the first seasons, which they seemed to play with inconsisntently until they got bored of it and decided to essentially "cure" him.

(Edited for word choice. Apologies.)

Edited at 2010-06-24 12:43 am (UTC)
thatwordgrrl
Jun. 24th, 2010 04:02 am (UTC)
Oh it shouldn't excuse them. But, as I noted below, many fans flail about with what they feel is wrong with Show without an understanding of the mechanics of what goes into bringing Show to them.

Where I DO think the writers fail with House and his disability is precisely that it becomes nothing more than a crutch for his moral failings. "It's OK for me to be a drug addict/have sex with hookers/treat people like shit because I'm a gimp."

It's sorta a variant on the old "You wouldn't hit a guy with glasses" joke. Of COURSE you aren't gonna hit the guy with glasses because they might break. Even if the guy with glasses is desperately deserving of being punched.

And thank you for clarifying about CSI. I have other issues with that show (nothing to do with disability), but the one thing they have unfailingly gotten right is Doc Robbins.
tacky_tramp
Jun. 24th, 2010 01:14 am (UTC)
I don't think anyone is "surprised" that mass media cater to privileged perspectives. Television shows exist to make money for enormous corporations. Period. They are shaped to capture the attention of people with power -- buying power, which is strongly correlated to social power. And they are shaped BY people with power, and are created through lenses of privilege.
thatwordgrrl
Jun. 24th, 2010 03:55 am (UTC)
All true. Nevertheless, as somebody who lives in Los Angeles and has both friends and family in The Industry, I have noted an astonishing amount of naivete on the part of fans (even those local to me) as to what exactly goes into getting a show on the air, keeping it on the air and (ultimately) what gets it taken off the air.

But that's an entirely different rant. Don't get me started on THAT rant.

fitfool
Jun. 24th, 2010 03:45 am (UTC)
Thanks for this post.
nakeisha
Jun. 25th, 2010 08:33 am (UTC)
Actually, as a disabled person (a visible disability) I actually applaud the person for coming up with the prompt.
riko
Jun. 27th, 2010 11:47 pm (UTC)
I apologize for not responding to this sooner. As I said at the outset of my post, I recognize that people with disabilities and rights advocates are a varied group with different opinions. As a community, we are hardly a monolith in constant, complete agreement. I was deeply offended by the prompt. I recognize that other people may have different perspectives.
sunlightdances
Jun. 30th, 2010 06:20 pm (UTC)
Wonderful post, very well written.
mirabehn
Jul. 1st, 2010 08:10 am (UTC)
Linked here from sunlightdances. And thank you, this is a wonderful and important post. :-)
twin_suns_9
Nov. 21st, 2010 02:48 am (UTC)
I realize this is a bit old at this point and I apologize for dredging it up again, but I felt the need to comment. I'm not certain I understand the tastelessness of the prompt - I recognize that I am coming at this issue with a woefully incomplete knowledge of disability issues, and a very privileged position - but prompts are sort of entirely open to interpretation, correct? I'm just not understanding what about it is so tasteless - I'm not trying to say I disagree with you or that your opinion is invalid, I am merely seeking to understand.

As to the Safety Dance scene - I read that scene entirely differently. To me, it seemed much more as though the writers were attempting to show simply that Artie, like Kurt, Finn, Rachel, etc really just wants to be one of the "normal" popular kids. I expect I have a different take on it because I spent much of high school fighting with accepting my own disability and dealing with my ablist views was a large part of that. I agree with you that different is not less, but I don't think that Artie's plot was meant to say that. I will certainly not argue with you about your other examples from Glee. Will's treatment of Emma was particularly squicky to me.
riko
Nov. 21st, 2010 03:12 am (UTC)
I think my issue with the plot is that it came very close to fetishizing or at the very least commodifying disability. At about the same time, a different comm ran a different prompt which was to write stories about characters with disabilities, and I have no problem with that. I actually loved that prompt and was really happy to see it! But the prompt of disability as it was done at this comm was very much about taking a disability and gluing it on to whatever character you wanted to write about which can be problematic in practice (because it usually results in, again, fetishizing disability or at the very least turning all narratives about disability in narratives of victimization or how someone is now less than what they were before) and is problematic in concept as well because it inherently seems to ask for a focus on the condition not the social context which is where a lot of the "problems" in being a person with disability lie (from my perspective since I'm a strong believer in the social model). So that's where the issue came from for me, and it played out that way in a lot of the responses, which I'd probably be less upset by if it weren't practically the only way fandom ever touches disability topics.

Which is a lot of the reason why I disliked the Safety Dance so much! I very much get your point that the scene was meant to show Artie's desire to be normal, and I think that in many ways that's a perfectly valid thing to explore. I mean, I know there are plenty of people out there with disabilities who would give anything to not have their disability, especially people like Artie who has a disability because of an injury and not so far in the past either. There are certainly people with disabilities who would think they're, as Artie put it later in that episode, "half a partner" and thus lesser than someone who isn't disabled (because that's really the only reading possible of that comment and for me, that plotline as a result). So my problem isn't the story itself, exactly, but the fact that in the broader context this is the only story that is ever told about people with disabilities because the stories are construced by people who are able and who don't understand that there's the possibility for any other story? I think Glee in general has that problem really badly, but if it was the only one and there were mountains of other potrayals in our culture that told a different story, I think I wouldn't take it badly that in Glee they choose to tell Artie's story this way. But that's not the way things are and so the real harm of how Glee's constructed that story lies in the fact that it just builds on the single, stereotyped depiction of "the disabled" that's out there as victims in need of charity whose dearest wish in life is to be just like able people.

But like I said in my post generally, I do understand that different opinions exist on a lot of these things, in large part because disability is an area of equality and advocacy that is still in so much flux. I appreciate you sharing your opinions with me.

twin_suns_9
Nov. 21st, 2010 03:35 am (UTC)
Thank you for taking the time to explain to me - I definitely understand what you're saying in regards to both, now. You made a very good point in regards to the fact that Glee chose to go with a very stereotyped story, and honestly, one I hadn't even considered before. Thank you for being willing to share and educate me just a little bit more; would that there were more like you in the world.
riko
Nov. 21st, 2010 03:40 am (UTC)
Thank you for listening and for wanting to know in the first place. It means a lot!
( 47 comments — Leave a comment )

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