A Few Relevant Posts on “Glee”

ETA: I’ll be adding links from the comments to the bottom of this page, so check back for more when you get a chance!

I know people are searching for our responses to the Very Special Disability Episode of Glee. I’ve got something going up Monday, but I wanted to highlight a few very good responses from other people to the episode, specifically people who are actually knowledgeable about the disabilities presented on the show. So, obviously no one actually associated with the show itself, because they seem pretty clueless.

From Wheelchair Dancer, who is an actual dancer in a wheelchair, Glee

And then there’s the sad fact of the “dancing;” the choreography sucks. The one potentially interesting move that McHale supposedly “does” is a cut — he wheelies on one rear wheel. The rest is notable only for the way that it shows that able-bodied, non-wheelchair-using folk really do think of chairs as bicycles you move with your arms. There’s absolutely no body-chair integration at all. They think of sitting in a chair as being only about not being able to move their legs (and in Artie’s case as being about having his hips and legs twisted to one side). That mistaken understanding leads to some very weird looking people in chairs. On chairs would be a better phrase for it. The fake paralysis of their legs somehow wends its way up their bodies so that they are really only able to push with their elbows (no wonder they have sore arms!).

It’s so interesting watching them try to dance. Push. Make a dance gesture. Push. And they are only able to muster up those little beginner pushes. You know the ones I mean? The frantic shoves at the wheel? They push, the wheel doesn’t respond; they don’t know how to ride a stroke and feel the momentum. This means that they basically either push the chairs around in formations (because they can’t dance and push) or keep the chair still and hurl their upper bodies and arms around. Hilarious. Explains the weak choreography, too. Understand how a disabled dancer moves with the chair, Mr. Woodlee, and you will be able to create something a little better than bad dance.

And Kaz (who you may recall wrote a fabulous guest post on asexuality), who has that stutter that Tina’s been faking to get out of basically everything, wrote Because incurable speech disorders just up and vanish all the time, don’t you know:

THIS IS THE PROBLEM. They “figured it would go away”. Because nearly every single fucking time a stutterer appears on TV (or in movies, or in books, or or or…), it just. Magically. Vanishes. They learn to accept themselves! Overcome their fear of XYZ! Face their deepseated trauma! BYO offensive stereotype! And poof, the stutter is gone!

I think the only good thing I can say about the development in Glee is that at least they spared me that. At least she was just *faking* it, at least it didn’t just do the impossible and spontaneously vanish.

Kaz also left a comment on my post about the idea you could get out of things with a stutter:

Sure, other schools may be different, but I really doubt that many of them will just say “okay, you don’t have to do this” to a stuttering student (particularly if they start stuttering just before the presentation, and I’d think that teachers would know developmental stuttering almost always develops between the ages of two and five or so, but – oh, right, I’m bringing *facts* into this. Mea culpa.

And, a few reaction posts from us, off this blog:

In case you missed it, here’s melouhkia’s review over at Bitch, Glee-ful Appropriation:

There were so many problems with the way this episode handled disability that it’s almost impossible to know where to start (truly, earlier drafts of this ballooned into thousands and thousands of words). It hit a number of major tropes for pretty much a hat trick of disability fail. We got “disability is inspiring,” “disability is a burden,” “appropriation of disability for a Very Special Learning Experience,” “faking disability,” and “see my sister has a disability so I’m not a bigot.”

Here’s the thing about tokenization, which is what this episode specialized in: It does nothing to advance the cause of people who live in marginalized bodies. Hiring an actress with Down’s Syndrome for a single throwaway guest role is not including actors with disabilities. Centering a disability plot around able bodied characters is not including people with disabilities. Continuing to use crip drag (and having the actor unabashedly say “this isn’t something I can fake”) is not including people with disabilities. Painting accessibility as a hardship, a burden, and “special treatment” is also not including people with disabilities.

And, this was my review, just a couple of hours after I saw it, Why Can’t I Make You Understand / You’re Having Delusions of Grandeur:

Three people faked having disabilities in this episode. (Well, I guess four if you count Kevin McHale, but let’s put that argument aside for a moment.)

Tina’s been faking her stutter all along, in order to get out of having to give a speech in the sixth grade.

People with stutters are routinely mocked and yelled at, told to get over it, and basically the subject of ridicule. And yes – people do think stutters are faking it for attention. But Glee, that “diversity” show, has presented stuttering as something that will get you left alone, and something easy to fake. For years.

This is the show that’s supposed to make people with disabilities feel empowered.

I have no doubt there are lots of reviews of this episode by people with disabilities. Please leave links in the comments! I haven’t had time to go looking for them, so I really want to read them.

ETA: From Matthew Smith: Wheelie Catholic wrote Glee Wheelchair Episode Not Gleeful

All I can say is that Glee is in a fine mess now. The real problem with this show, as with the rest of Hollywood, is that it keeps insisting on portraying an able bodied version of characters with disabilities. Writing an episode on sensitivity toward a character who doesn’t really have a disability to convince those of us who really have disabilities that the show is enlightened just isn’t going to work. Nor did the subplot of a girl with a stutter confessing she really doesn’t have a stutter help. It’s all very confusing and gave me a headache.

Here’s what I suggest. Since the show decided a sing-off was fair between two characters, why not bring in a wheelchair user to sing and dance against Artie?

ETA 2: Sarah points to her post: This Week’s Glee: Good, Bad, and Horrific:

Cheerleading coach villain Sue was “humanized” this week. And how was she humanized? Because we found out she has a sister with Down Syndrome. That’s right. Suddenly we’re supposed to see that she’s actually a good person because she’s nice to her disabled sister. (And she gave an opportunity to a girl with the same disability as her sister, and she donated money for wheelchair ramps which the school was legally obligated to provide in any case.) I find this absolutely disgusting, as it seems to indicate that characters with disabilities exist only to prove “background story” and “humanity” to the “normal characters.” They are, at best, plot devices, rather than true characters. I can’t believe some people are seeing this as a good way to include people with disabilities. And please, don’t expect disability rights advocates to pat this show on the head for hiring a few actors with disabilities in minor roles. Just because the show considered Down Syndrome harder to fake for the general public than paraplegia doesn’t mean it’s doing anything to expand opportunities for actors with disabilities. These two minor roles (which probably won’t even recur again, I would guess) don’t make up for the aforementioned crip drag, let alone for the ways in which people with disabilities are being used in this episode.

Via The Goldfish, Terri’s post My Hopes for Glee

First, disability simulation exercises usually lead to more pity than understanding (you can tell by the things people say when they are over–more about relief and feeling bad for people, rather than about empathy and feeling more like people with disabilities.) Secondly, having seen professional wheelchair dancers, the performance was kind of one-dimensional…

My daughter saw the show before the rest of us and her concern about wheelchair issues took a definite back seat to her anxiety about what was going to happen between the cheerleading coach and the young teen with Down syndrome.

[Terri also talks about her conversation with her son, who is an actor, about the crip-drag elements.]

Access Fandom is also doing a link-roundup, because Access Fandom is made of awesome. If you’re looking for fandom-related discussions about disability, I really recommend following Access Fandom. [This is totally influenced by the fact that Sasha Feather, Kaz, and Were Duck are amongst my very favourite people.]

27 Comments

  1. One here from Wheelie Catholic (a quad, not a dancer but formerly a tennis player).

  2. I wrote about it here:

    http://autisticcats.blogspot.com/2009/11/this-weeks-glee-good-bad-and-horrific.html

    Thanks for all of the links. It’s great to see disability rights-minded commentary after reading clueless fan commentary at sites like Television Without Pity. (Ugh.)

  3. thanks for all this, i saw the episode last night, and my jaw dropped.

  4. Thank you for the linkage!

    Also! Linkspam. We go looking for links so you don’t have to! 😉

  5. I have so much admiration for the access_fandom linkspammers. Y’all really do rock. (Especially since I know you actually read the links and some of them are pretty awful.)

  6. Another great post is Terri’s at Barrier, Bridges and Books My Hopes for Glee

  7. Oh no, Sarah, what did TWoP do? Do I want to know?

    On second though, I do not want to know.

  8. What sort of burned my butt about this ep (among other things), is the use of a disability as a ‘free ticket’ to a job. I’m currently unemployed, and have an invisible disability (although I’ve been told it’s noticeable if you know what you’re looking for). A ton of things go through my head during an interview: “Should I mention it? Should I not? Will I be discriminated against if I do?”

    It horrified me that Finn (with Rachel’s help) could get a job by /faking/ a disability and waving the ADA around. That’s not how it works, people! Grrr…

    Just had to get that off my chest. 🙂

  9. Oh, it was just the general attitude of “look how inclusive this show is being now” on the forums. Because giving minor roles to two actors with disabilities completely negates the show’s ableism, and the fact that the show’s main disabled character is played by a non-disabled actor.

  10. ARG. I’m reading that in so many places, mostly by people who don’t have the first clue about disability or any relation to disability, and then berate people for expecting “realism” from the show.

    Can someone tell me what is satirical about Glee’s representation of Disability? Not about Will’s response to disability, because I do think the show is trying to point out how condescending Will is (but then goes back to him behaving exactly the same way every week, like a giant reset button), but about disability. It’s supposed to be satire, right? So where is the satire?

    I guess I’m supposed to find it satirical that the able-bodied kid needed to fake a disability to get a job. Ha ha ha! I mean, people with disabilities are disproportionately living in poverty because they can’t get jobs while businesses refer to them as “rolling lawsuits”, but look at the biting satire! It’s so satirical!

  11. taiamu, it’s not for nothing that my ability status isn’t mentioned in the bio here. Let people think I blog here because my husband has a disability, because I do not want to go through any more abuse because of my ability status.

    Arg. I should take another break from the internet, I’m getting stompy.

  12. Anna, did I just stick my foot in my mouth here? If I somehow did, I’m deeply sorry. I was expressing anger at Glee, so if I offended anyone, I apologize deeply 🙁

  13. taiamu! Oh no!

    I’m just ranty. I was agreeing with you about the whole problem, and just ranty and not nice about it. I’m sorry – I didn’t intent to attack you.

  14. No problem. 🙂 We’re good. And I just want to say that I really appreciate this blog. It’s nice to have a place where I /can/ discuss these things, and get other opinions! 🙂

  15. I’ve struggled with the disability-employment thing and suffice to say I hide my disability as much as humanly possible when I’m interviewing. Because ADA or not, you can’t guarantee someone won’t have latent biases, won’t make assumptions, won’t think that you’ll be less productive, whatever, and write you off for it. Like hell it’s possible to sue for that, either.

    It’s flagrantly offensive to put up like disability is somehow a hand UP in obtaining a job. It’s just so contrary to reality, so out of bounds that even in fiction it’s so outrageous as to completely kill suspension of disbelief. Ugh.

  16. Adding to the chorus of “faking a disability to get a job is so unrealistic.” Because, well, it is. Revealing disability status is actually a great way to *not* get a job, since although employers are legally barred from discriminating on ability status, they can find other reasons you “aren’t a good fit” for the job. And of course no employer would be foolish enough to say “we didn’t hire you because of your disability/ies.”

  17. I’m blushing over here now, you know!

    And yes yes yes about faking disability to get a job. I waffled about getting diagnosed for AS for *years* before finally doing it because I was so worried about being discriminated against, and the To Disclose Or Not To Disclose question re: stuttering will probably follow me around in perpetuity. (It’s tricky because it’s very likely the stuttering will become immediately apparent in the job interview, but I don’t know if springing it on them as a surprise in the interview will lead to more or less discrimination than telling them in advance.) *Better* chances at a job because of disability? You really have to wonder if these people are inhabiting the same plane of existence as the rest of us.

    Also, I have to complain about TWoP myself. Someone quoted part of the post on my DW, and… well. They suggested that TWoP only meant to mock Tina’s /faking/ of the stutter and not the actual stutter, but writing stuff like this is simply not cool:

    “For yes, gentle reader, Artie and T-T-T-Tina are having a playful little wheelchair date through the halls of the now-empty school, but it ends badly when T-T-T-Tina screws up her courage to admit she’s simply Single-T Tina.”

    Especially, you know, given that imitating the way we speak is one of the most common ways people make fun of us.

  18. Okay, I checked.

    If they had meant to mock Tina’s faking of the stutter, Damian wouldn’t have been doing it in his previous recaps, too. He’s mocking her for having a stutter.

  19. The “being disabled makes it more likely someone will hire you!” myth reminded me very strongly of the “minorities have an unfair advantage in the job market!” myth. “Minorities” referring to people of color, though I’ve never heard someone who made this claim use the term POC.

  20. This makes me :(. (And thank you for checking so I didn’t have to!)

    But, you know, stuttering is totally fine and dandy and an excellent excuse to get out of doing things. You won’t be discriminated against, ridiculed, humiliated, etc. at *all*.

  21. There are two reviewers for Glee there. One of them did the mocking of her name (and then I stopped looking), and the other wrote out her stutter.

  22. This thread is reminding me why I don’t read TWoP recaps much anymore. The site is such a cesspool of hipster ableism/fatphobia/other isms.

  23. I’ll admit I haven’t watched this episode of “Glee” yet, but I’m anxious to so that I can critique it in my own mind, and for my own purposes as a person w/ a disability (I don’t mean write about it, though). Anyway, in regards to the multitude of supporting characters with disabilities suddenly appearing on “Glee,” I think that maybe the people behind “Glee” should focus on quality over quantity. In other words, they should choose fewer characters with disabilities so they have a chance to flesh them out into rounded, or three-dimensional, characters, instead of leaving them as sketchily-drawn caricatures of us; that’s what it sounds like they’re doing, anyhow. Also, I read that the supporting female character with Down’s won’t be a recurring role — that’s too bad; it’s another missed opportunity to flesh out a disabled character. BTW, does the actress who plays the character with Down’s have a disability?

  24. There are two characters who show up in this episode with Down’s Syndrome, and both are played by actresses with Down’s.

    One, Becky Johnson (the girl who tries out for the cheerleading squad), is played by Lauren Potter. She’s got one more scheduled appearance in Glee this season, although that may change now that Glee’s been extended for nine more episodes. She has some previous acting experience.

    The other is played by Robin Trocki, I believe. She is only credited with appearing in Glee, and is not scheduled to show up in any future episodes. I’m fairly certain she also had Down’s Syndrome.

    I did read some interesting commentary on how having the two of them in the same episode made a comment about how different the life of people with Down’s is now, compared to when Sue’s sister would have been institutionalized. (I think that was in Terri’s piece? It’s quite late here, I should get to bed.) I think that’s interesting and very subtle, if that’s what they were going for.

  25. This post has been included in a linkspam at Access_fandom. Thank you!

  26. Another thing I would love see people adding to those discussions is the fact that disability activists have been criticizing Glee since the pilot aired, as Anna has discussed in previous posts on this topic. The mainstream media is acting like we’ve gotten riled up all of a sudden, and that’s simply not the case! We’ve been riled all along, it’s just that no one listened until now.