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SuperMouse's avatar

Does this type of depiction really advance understanding of disabled individuals?

Asked by SuperMouse (30785points) May 11th, 2010

The television show Glee features a character with a spinal cord injury. There has been discussion, here on Fluther and in other arenas about the fact that he is played by an able bodied actor. Tonight’s episode featured another disabled character – played by an actor who is quadriplegic. I tuned in, only to see this character’s one and only scene take place entirely with him in bed. Not only is the character portrayed as completely immobile, he tells a story of how when he got a power chair he could move himself, he drove it into a pool with the intent of drowning himself. I found myself incensed after watching. Any thoughts on this type of portrayal of a disability? Might this actually be worse than an able bodied actor portraying a disabled character?

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7 Answers

chyna's avatar

I have two cousins who have been disabled through accidents. One, who was at the naval academy had a skiing accident and was paralyzed from the waist down. He has gone on to “climb” Mt. Everest, participate in a triathlon, and become an attorney. My other cousin has become an advocate for all federal buildings in my state to be wheelchair accessible. Yes, this is annoying. These two cousins have more get up and go than I do, a very able bodied person.

stemnyjones's avatar

My grandfather has been disabled since he was about 30-something (motorcycle accident which bent his spine almost into an ‘S’ shape).. he’s almost 70 now, and he worked until about 5 years ago as a very successful pharmacist. He’s one of those proud people who, even though he has A LOT of trouble walking, refused to use a wheel chair or even cane until a recent surgery forced him to.

A lot of the time, disabled people are just like us. They work, they eat, they socialize, they sleep.

Granted, now that he is retired, he does seem very depressed. He plays games on the computer all day and makes rather dark and gloomy comments on his facebook. But who wouldn’t be depressed, living with my grandmother…

RedPowerLady's avatar

Without having seen the episode that does indeed sound worse. It sounds as if they are reinforcing stereotypes. And that at least the able-bodied actor is playing someone who is enjoyable and thus depicting an ‘appropriate’ image of a “disabled person”.

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

Clearly, television fails to portray the wide range of abilities possess by people of so many types.
The blame goes to lazy writers to whom blonds are all buxom and dim-witted, all young African-Americans grow up with violence and broken families and repeat the cycle unless the hero redeems them, and quadriplegics are helpless and lead narrow restricted lives.

Unless audiences or producers demand more, networks will continue to rehash the same dull plot lines with the same insipid stereotypes. Television is about delivering an audience to view the sponsor’s commercials. Rarely do they depict the complexities of real life and the diversity of people of all origins, appearances and degrees of physical ability.

The lower the cost of producing the show, the more profit there is for those who make it. That alone explains the glut or “reality shows” that have nothing to do with reality. The fewer production delays, the lower the costs. Able bodied actors require fewer accommodations that increase production costs.

Expedience and greed dictate the priorities. It’s all about the money, not the quality!

Theby's avatar

@chyna Your cousins sound like amazing people. If only some of us able-bodied people could take a leaf from their book!

Jeruba's avatar

Without being a viewer of this show or any other, I’d just offer this opinion: I think that if we persist in seeing people on TV as representative of some group, we are still not seeing the person. This quadriplegic character was more than just a character with a disability, was he not? He was evidently male, but he is not seen as a representative of his sex. He probably belonged to some race or culture, but we’re not talking about him as a representative of blacks or whites or Asians or any other ethnicity. Maybe he had a regional accent; maybe he had blue eyes; maybe he was left-handed; maybe he had some personal interest or hobby. Yet he isn’t seen as a representative of any of those categories. This says that the most important thing about him was that he was quadriplegic, and because of it he loses his status as an individual and becomes a symbol.

As long as we still see symbols instead of people, we haven’t finished the work of opening our minds.

A person who is feeling helpless and depressed ought to be able to talk about it without being tagged as a representative of anyone but himself.

Ron_C's avatar

I saw the same episode and think that you missed the whole point of it all. He was saying that even though he originally tried to kill himself, he eventually found that there were other things to live for. In other you are not your job or your most outstanding ability. He found that he was a math wiz, the girl decided that she was more than just her singing ability.

“You don’t know what you have until it’s gone” and you don’t know the depths of your worth. That’s what I got out of it.

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