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.
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.]