Category Archives: media and pop culture

Disabled Characters on Television: Auggie on Covert Affairs

A number of people have drawn my attention to the USA show Covert Affairs that recently started airing in the United States, and a few days ago I sat down with the pilot and gave it a whirl. The show centres around Annie Walker (Piper Perabo), a woman who has just joined the Central Intelligence Agency, and almost immediately we are introduced to Auggie Anderson (Christopher Gorham), the tech expert, who also happens to be blind.

Like a lot of shows focusing on work for intelligence agencies, Covert Affairs wants to impress us with neat technological tricks, so they provide a shot of Auggie and Annie walking down a corridor with Auggie using what I guess I would describe as a ‘laser cane.’ It’s a handheld device that projects a grid which I think feeds back either to his hand or to the earpiece we rarely see Auggie without. Auggie makes some self deprecating jokes about being blind, flirts with Annie, and establishes that he has a very sensitive sense of smell. The ‘blind character with heightened senses’ smells of disability superpower (warning, link goes to TV Tropes) to me, but, ok. It was a reasonably strong scene; Auggie wasn’t desexualised and he also wasn’t depicted as helpless.

There were a lot of things I liked about Auggie’s characterisation in the pilot. He’s a professional, with skills that are respected. Other characters don’t make a huge production out of his blindness when they interact with him. I particularly liked the scene where the characters are out at a restaurant and he started flirting with some women at the next table and instead of a ‘he’s blind! HORRORS!’ scene, it was treated like any other television interaction between young, attractive people flirting with each other.

There were also some things I did not like. I am inherently grumpy with the disabled character as sidekick trope; it looks like Gorham and Perabo are getting equal billing, though, so I’m hoping that he is going to break out of the sidekick position and have an opportunity to be his own character, rather than just support/backup/comic relief for Perabo.

And then we got to the scene where Annie and Auggie are breaking into a morgue. Annie creatively comes up with a way to spoof the biometric scanner at the door, the door opens, she whisks in, and Auggie…is left standing outside, looking confused and disoriented. Apparently we are to believe that the character with heightened sensitivity didn’t hear Annie accessing the biometric lock and opening the door, and despite his keen sense of smell, he couldn’t follow Annie’s perfume as she moved away1.

So, here’s Auggie, looking forlorn, and then he shouts ‘Annie!’ and she looks guilty, darts back, grabs his arm, and pulls him along inside with her. Keep in mind, again, that we have seen Auggie, in numerous scenes, navigating a wide variety of environments without having to be guided anywhere.

Now, this show is using consultants, and Gorham specifically worked with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind to get advice from actual blind people when he was preparing to do this role. This puts Covert Affairs a rung above a lot of other shows that depict disability and apparently think they can do so without doing any research because, you know, how hard can be it be, right? So, what did Gorham learn about the experience of being blind?

“I can’t just pick up my cup of coffee, have a drink, grab my pen and get up and walk across the room. I mean there’s literally nothing that I can physically do that doesn’t require me thinking it through, asking, ‘How am I going to do that’?”

“We had our first ‘walk and talk’ through the hallways. Well, the hallways turn. Which is fine if you’re sighted and you’re walking with three people and then all three of you can turn down the same hallway in the middle of the conversation and talk. But if you’re walking with a blind guy and if he’s not physically touching you, and you two turn, he’s not going to know that you’ve turned,” recounted the actor. “We did it for four takes, and I kept thinking, ‘something’s wrong.’ And then it suddenly occurred to me: ‘We have to start over.’ I have to be holding on to her the entire time otherwise it doesn’t make any sense. So things like that happen occasionally. But again, it’s kind of fun, because it’s really new.”

Ah. So this is where talking to consultants gets you.

Now, this was only the pilot, and as a general rule, I do not judge shows on their pilots alone. I’m going to watch a few episodes to see how the characters develop before I weigh in on any final way on how I feel about Covert Affairs. The show is still shooting, so I will be curious to see if Auggie’s characterisation shifts in later episodes in response to viewer discussions of the show.

Did you watch the Covert Affairs pilot? What did you think of it? I focused on Auggie’s characterisation in this piece, but there were a lot of other things going on in the pilot that are also worthy of some discussion!

  1. I really wish I was kidding about the perfume/sense of smell thing, but it came up multiple times during the episode, like in the scene where he follows her into the bathroom by tracking her perfume.

Publicity and the Taser: When Stories Get Told (and When They Don’t)

Last night, a young Black man with epilepsy was admitted to a hospital in Louisiana after a suicide attempt. He declined to don a hospital gown and ‘attempted to leave his examination,’ at which point security stepped in. According to witnesses, security officers punched the young man in the lip and pulled out several of his dreadlocks before pulling out their Tasers and shocking him, causing him to have a seizure.

His family members state that although doctors present were aware of his seizure disorder, they indicated that it was ok for security to Tase him.

This is not an unusual story. In fact, Tasers and seizures have a long and sordid history:

“While we’re not able to comment on the details of this case, we are certainly concerned to hear that a person in apparent medical and emotional distress was subjected to the taser.” (Manchester, England, 2010)

The most recent report involves a Michigan man with epilepsy, who, when experiencing a seizure, apparently was unjustifiably tasered, clubbed, arrested, jailed and committed to a psychiatric facility for violent offenders — all based on non-threatening behaviors caused by a seizure. (Michigan, US, 2006, content note, describes police brutality)

A local family is questioning why a woman having a diabetic seizure would have to be tackled and shocked by police. (Portland, Oregon, US, 2007)

When the EMTs asked the cops to help them move Lassi from where he was lying on the floor, Lassi says, one of his “arms flailed during his diabetes-induced seizure, striking one of the LaGrange and Brookfield defendants. At no time did Mr. Lassi intentionally strike or offensively touch any of the LaGrange or Brookfield defendants.”

Lassi says LaGrange Park Officer Darren Pedota responded by Tasering him 11 times, for nearly a minute, as he lay helpless. (Chicago, Illinois, US, 2009)

A Texas man who called 911 to request medical assistance for a diabetic seizure earned a tasering from local cops for his trouble, the Waxahachie Daily Light reports. (Texas, US, 2007)

“Freddie was a law abiding resident of the United States of America. During his lifetime, he was never involved in any criminal activity. The records are there for everyone to see…He was the quintessential model son, grandson, nephew, grandnephew and cousin.” (Georgia, US, 2004, content note, describes police brutality)

The Taser is a ‘nonlethal’ electroshock weapon which has become highly controversial, for a lot of reasons, including the fact that people of colour are far more likely to be Tasered than white folks. The Taser is being adopted by more and more police departments, and perhaps unsurprisingly, Taser-related deaths are going up. The people most likely to be killed with a Taser in the United States are young Black men, and Tasers are especially heavily weaponised against people with disabilities, most particularly people with mental illness, seizure disorders, intellectual disabilities, and autism.

Fortunately for the patient in Louisiana, Taser use didn’t kill him. His family is, according to news reports, in the process of transferring him to another facility, where I sincerely hope that patients are not Tased.

What is remarkable about this case is not that it happened, but that I read about it. The only reason the media picked up the story of a young Black man being Tasered into an epileptic seizure is because of who he was: Derek Thomas is the nephew of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and according to the media, Justice Thomas is not happy with his nephew’s treatment.

I am very happy that Derek Thomas is being transferred to another facility, where he will hopefully get more appropriate care. I’m also pleased that he has supportive family members who are also influential and willing to fight for him.

Reading his story, though, makes me think of the scores of similar cases that I am not reading about. Justice and humane treatment should be available to all people, regardless of who they are, who their families are, and the colour of their skin. Tasing patients should never be deemed an appropriate treatment. This case angers me, and I am equally angered by the scores of similar cases taking place in hospitals across the United States right now that I will never know about because the media isn’t interested enough.

I would really like to see the mainstream media in the United States use this story as a starting point to explore the use of Tasers in hospitals, mental health facilities, and institutions, and to examine particularly closely the racial disparities in how, when, and where Tasers are used. This is an opportunity for some really terrific investigative journalism. Will anyone follow up on it?

Film Review: HBO’s “Kevorkian” (2010)

Director Matthew Galkin’s documentary Kevorkian (aired on HBO on June 28th; also available on YouTube; ETA: as codeman38 points out below, the YouTube version is, unfortunately, not closed-captioned) is one of those documentaries that I felt nervous about watching, mostly because I was extremely skeptical that it would be anything other than a massive apologia for the man colloquially known as “Dr. Death” in the U.S. news media and among much of the North American public. I was also concerned that my own complicated views on physician-assisted suicide would impact my feelings on whether this documentary was worth the time and emotional energy spent watching it. Like many documentaries, it is a difficult film to watch. It is not uplifting by any means. Parts of it are brutal. Parts of it are frightening. That said, however, I am ultimately glad that I watched this film — not because it “humanizes” Jack Kevorkian or acts as an apologia, but because it deftly explores issues of ethics, law, the power of the media, and legacy.

The entire film is framed by Kevorkian’s ill-fated 2008 bid for a congressional seat representing the state of Michigan —  his platform, as the film shows it, leans heavily on the Ninth Amendment — but his congressional hopes are not the most interesting or thought-provoking part of the film. Almost paradoxically, the most interesting part of this documentary is the fact that Kevorkian does a pretty excellent job of not coming across as particularly sympathetic, something that a viewer might not glean from the film’s trailer.

Here, Kevorkian comes off as one majorly self-aggrandizing guy, and it seems like the director does not have to work very hard to make viewers see that Kevorkian can be difficult to deal with. He often seems so enamored of his own ideas, and his own legacy, that he focuses on these things to the detriment of his friends and allies — and, ultimately, his cause. This becomes most clear in one sequence late in the film, where a longtime supporter of Kevorkian’s publicly disagrees with him at a small town hall-style meeting; Kevorkian responds not by answering the man’s questions regarding the Ninth Amendment, civilly discussing his differences of opinion or why he feels the way that he does, but by yelling at him and then forcefully spitting, “I wish you weren’t here [at this meeting]!” Kevorkian’s behavior during the Thomas Youk case is also ethically questionable, as he videotaped Youk’s death in part with the aim of bringing more publicity and media attention to himself and his cause, even though the videotape would most likely put him (Kevorkian) in prison for murder; as one journalist phrases it, Kevorkian wanted to start a “national debate on [physician-assisted suicide]” by appearing on 60 Minutes with the full tape of Youk’s death. The 60 Minutes footage, both of the Youk tape and Kevorkian’s interview with correspondent Mike Wallace, shown in the film is nothing short of chilling; when Kevorkian intones, “Either they go, or I do,” one may pause to consider that a potential “win” of this particular fight would be built on the bodies of those he has “assisted.”

Unfortunately, no one who opposes Kevorkian’s views on assisted suicide — or his political platform, for that matter (with the exception of the former supporter mentioned above) — gets any screen time whatsoever, and this ends up making the film as a whole seem extremely one-sided. As a viewer, I would have been interested in seeing people who oppose Kevorkian’s method and message, particularly since Kevorkian’s former lawyer simplifies the opposition to him, and physician-assisted suicide in general, by casting any opposition as right-wing religious reactionism versus “enlightenment,” thereby erasing the many disability activists who have criticized Kevorkian and his methods. And while Kevorkian certainly does an admirable job of not coming across as anything other than a guy who overestimates his own importance, or gives any consideration to the reasons why some might oppose his methods or message, the film’s lack of any substantial exploration of opposing view(s) was disappointing.

Despite its flaws, Kevorkian is an interesting, thought-provoking and disturbing documentary. As someone who has complex personal feelings about physician-assisted suicide and its ethics, I am of the opinion that this documentary provides a riveting look at the life of a man whose actions have, for better or worse, managed to galvanize the discussion of physician-assisted suicide, and related issues surrounding medical ethics, the media’s role in medical issues, life, death, and quality of life in the United States.

Commenting Note: This is NOT a thread in which to debate the “rightness” or “wrongness” of physician-assisted suicide in general. Please keep your comments to either the issues discussed here, those brought up by the Kevorkian case/media coverage/related topics, or those illuminated in the film. The entire film is available in 9 parts on YouTube [trigger warning for in-depth discussion of PAS, and accessibility warning for lack of closed-captioning].

Recommended Reading for July 6, 2010

jadelennox (DW): How to fight ableism: some easy steps

So I thought it might be valuable to gather together some ways in which able-bodied people can do something about ableism in the world. Then, next time a person is feeling frustrated about ableism, and is thinking about doing some signal boosting of, say, some crappy thing the writers did on the latest episode of Glee, maybe that individual would have the option of committing to spending the same amount of time doing some more concrete fighting of ableism. Not that I’m critiquing the kind of signal boosting that a lot of us do on the blogosphere! But I’m assuming some people would find utility in hearing about other things they could do that might be useful.

Venus Speaks: Between the Lines

Today I realized something: How my disabilities shape the words I do, and more often don’t, say.

For instance: Whenever anyone uses the word “crippled”, I spot it from a mile away. Context doesn’t matter – it could be in anything – a novel, a newspaper article, a headline. “Recession cripples the American economy”, or “The onslaught cripples the meager defenses” or simply “crippling blow”.

Lauren McGuire at Sociological Images: On Disability and the Public Service Announcement [accessibility warning: embedded content lacks transcripts]

Disability-related PSAs cover a wide range of topics, but generally there are three main categories that the message falls into: how people with disabilities are viewed/treated by society, their value in the job market and society, and what their lives are like. Although these are pretty straightforward messages, there is a great deal of variety in the ways in which these basic messages are presented.

Michael Le at Racialicious: An Open Letter to Racebending.com Detractors

It’s easy to draw comparisons between the Airbender casting and an English actor playing an Irish one, or a Spanish actor playing an Italian actor. But it’s not really the same, and the reason is that Hollywood and media don’t consider whether an actor is Irish or Spanish or English. They think of that actor as “white.” The same is not true of actors who are Asian or Latino, who have to fight over the few roles specifically written for those ethnicities. And a lot of times, even when a role is steeped in Asian culture, even when a role is based on real-life individuals of Asian descent, those roles still go to white actors.

Garland Grey at Tiger Beatdown: CRAWLING OUT OF BED: Internalized Ableism and Privilege

In the two years since I have learned things about my own body. I have learned that once my knees start wobbling, GAME OVER. There is no powering through. There is no mystical internal light of determination that I can draw on – if I keep going my body will fail me. This has been a humiliating lesson to learn. But I can still walk. I can still exercise within limits and these limits expand the more I push them. I have also learned how much privilege I carry. I don’t have chronic insomnia like other members of my family. I’ve never lost a job because of being hospitalized, like my friends with Fibromyalgia. If I’m spending time with someone, and I don’t want to have to go into the whole story I can take an anti-inflammatory and ignore the pain, or blame it on fatigue.

Today In Journalism: Do You Feel Special? Well? Do You?!

Content warning: This post includes a discussion of an article that frames disability in extremely patronising, offensive, and infantalising objectifying (note) terms. There will be selections from said article quoted for the  purpose of criticism and discussion.

I’ve been noticing an uptick in really, really bad articles about disability lately. I was puzzling last night over why the mainstream media has suddenly taken an interest in disability, and someone pointed out that the 20th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) is rapidly approaching, which means that we can probably expect more really bad articles about disability in the US over the next month or so.

I suppose it’s too much to ask that the media consider contracting people with disabilities to write articles about disability, or that the media consider educating its journalists so that they can cover disability more effectively and appropriately. Oh, wait. No it’s not. There are, after all, style guides published by professional organisations providing information about how to cover disability. It’s not like people with limited experience have no resources to use when preparing articles on disability. They are just choosing not to use these resources.

We read so you don’t have to.

Up today, ‘Inside the life of a person with disabilities,’ a feature that recently ran at an Ohio ABC affiliate. This article and the accompanying video read like the journalist closely read haddayr’s ‘Plucky Cripples Don’t Let Lack of Bingo Card Stop Them‘ and my guide to talking about disability in the media, took careful notes, and then deliberately tried to hit every possible offensive trope. Really, my hat is off to Susan Ross Wells, the reporter who prepared this piece. It takes remarkable talent to be able to fit all of this into one short local interest piece. This a journalist who will be Going Places, I can sense it.

Here’s the lede:

Imagine for a moment what it would be like if you couldn’t see or if you were confined to a wheelchair, unable to walk. It’s a reality for people living with disabilities, but that doesn’t mean these special people can’t lead happy, fulfilling lives.

I am rarely surprised by things in the media anymore. I pretty regularly think that I’ve seen it all. And then one of my Google Alerts has to deliver something on a whole new level, like this article. This lede manages to hit variations on ‘She didn’t let her disability stop her!’ ‘Confined to a wheelchair’ ‘Special’ and, of course, ‘…proving you can achieve anything if you really try!’ all in two sentences!

The article profiles an institutionalised woman with disabilities, making sure to tell us that her mother thinks of her as a ‘joy’ and informing us that the mother feels like ‘placing’ her daughter was, well: ‘the hardest thing that I ever had to do, but it turned out to be the best thing that I did.’ Life in institutions is grand, the article suggests. A barrel of fun times, all the time.

And, of course: ‘She has brought so much out in me as a person, as a mother. She’s brought such joy.’

Inspiring!

People ask, sometimes, why we are so angry about depictions of disability in pop culture and the media. Why we can’t just be happy that disability is being covered at all. Articles like this, depictions like this, do absolutely nothing to promote social equality for people with disabilities. They do absolutely nothing to dispel harmful myths and stereotypes. They do absolutely nothing to humanise us. As long as nondisabled people are the ones covering disability for the media, we are going to continue seeing disability framed in these terms. Is it any wonder that ableism is rife when stories like this are the models for thinking about disability, interacting with people with disabilities, and talking about disability that most people encounter?

Depictions of Disability That Make Us Happy

Movie poster from Dreamworks' How To Train Your Dragon: a night-blue sky with a full moon, and a midnight black dragon with large, pale eyes stares down at a pale, brown haired boy who reaches up to try to touch its face. The poster text reads: Dreamworks [next line] How to Train Your [next line] Dragon [next line] 3D.We took The Kid to the base theatre on Wednesday night to see Dreamwork’s How to Train Your Dragon, which is loosely adapted from a YA Book series of the same name.

[Tame OYD Review with mild SPOILERS ahead]

It is a story of a teen boy, Hiccup, who lives in the Viking village of Berk, which is on an island. His village of one of fierce dragon slayers, and Hiccup is the only son of the chief, Stoick the Vast. Except, he isn’t really very good at slaying dragons, because he is kind of clumsy (I can relate). Longing to be accepted, despite his awkwardness, among his tribe and the other viking teens, and naturally wanting to win the heart of the beautiful girl, Hiccup wants to be a great dragon slayer, too, until he actually catches one of the fiercest and little-known about breeds of dragon, the dreaded Night Fury.

Just when Hiccup has the chance to Slay the Dragon, he realizes that he doesn’t have the heart to kill the creature that looks up at him and surrenders its will in such a helpless manner. He lets the dragon go, and in turn, the dragon doesn’t kill him, which goes against everything he has ever been taught. Slowly over time he earns the dragon’s trust, and learns that that the reason the dragon hasn’t left is because part of his tail has been lost when Hiccup captured him.

Using his knowledge of the forge, Hiccup fashions a sort of prosthetic half-tail for the dragon, and together he and the dragon learn how to fly together, because the dragon now needs assistance using the new tail piece.

There are many themes in the movie that I am not going to excuse. If you think by now that you are going to see a Dreamworks movie that has a fair representation of girl characters, you are wrong, as they even manage to throw in some boob jokes, and once again, the main character has lost his mother in another ridiculous excuse to not have to write one in or to draw out some sympathy for him. Mothers in pop-culture and YA literature/movies are never to be known and always to be mourned. If you think there is anyone who is non-white in this movie, think again. And if anyone tries to excuse it by telling me that “This is a Viking village!”, I can tell you that there were probably more non-white people around Villages than actual dragons, so they could have maybe thrown a bone in there, especially since they had America Ferrara voicing the female lead, because I think that might have been a nice nod to her character. (But at least she wasn’t a wilting lily of a wee girl.)

But I can tell you that I don’t have to love every aspect of things that affect my marginalization to be impressed when something actually goes right once in a while.

At the end of the Epic Battle (no I won’t spoil that), Hiccup loses his foot, and is fitted with a prosthetic one made in the forge, and other than two brief mentions of it, and a heart warming moment when his dragon helps him start to adapt to learning to use it, that was pretty much all the attention given to it. Hiccup, being a mechanical tinkerer, says he might play around with it and improve upon it, but, no one makes a Big Deal. While this might not be realistic and probably dismisses the reality of dealing with that type of loss (and in the mythical world they created this is a common thing they deal with), I liked that this loss of Hiccup’s foot was not treated as The Worst! Thing! Evah! Hiccup actually just goes out, and climbs aboard his dragon. Life as usual. In fact, his fancy new foot fits better into his riding harness, the one he made for the prosthetic tail for his dragon.

I like it when we can see people with disabilities in a positive light. Moreover, I like it more when the characters in pop-culture around this character aren’t reacting in a way that makes it seem as if this is the worst tragedy to ever hit their lives. They are Vikings, and in the long view of things, they have managed to avert a major crisis and now have dragons for pets, which is pretty cool. Stoick is thrilled to have his son, the person, with him, and the depiction of the girl is still…well, painfully stereotypical.

But this depiction of disability, it made me very happy.

When She Was Bad

Moderatrix Note: This is a post from my “Summer of Buffy” series (or “Season of Buffy” for my Southern Hemisphere friends, who want to be MONSTERS and have different seasons and ruin my pun, but you are my favourite people EVAH and I love you!), which I thought was appropriate for cross posting, due to the subject matter. I hope you enjoy it, or find it worthy of discussion if nothing else. You may read more of that at random babble… where I frequently blog about and critique pop-culture.

When Buffy Season 1 ended with “Prophecy Girl” we saw a lot of things happen.

The Hellmouth actually opened, for the first of what will be many times (I really hope that isn’t too much of a spoiler for many of you), Cordelia drove her car through the school, and Buffy faced The Master and died. For a minute or two (Hey! It’s TV!).

Also through the miracle of TV, Xander (who can never do what he is told, ever, and it always works out to a convenient plot device) and Angel showed up just in time to revive her and send her on her way to be the prettiest Not Zombie ever (that was The Guy’s thing, OK).

So when Season 2 picks up and Buffy is returning from a summer with her dad we have a whole new Slayer who comes back as a whole new, shall we say, snarkier Buffy with a better haircut.

So here’s the part where Joss is gonna get some shit from me: Buffy is so incredibly obviously dealing with Some Issues. She is having flashbacks while training. She is having some really shit-tastic nighmares where Giles tries to choke her to death while her best friends watch, Giles actually being The Master in a Giles mask. To me the most disturbing part of the dream is that Buffy dreams that her friends are asking how she is doing… something that isn’t happening in real life, and that in a way she dreams that Giles allowed her to die, which I think she might actually believe…

So she is lashing out at her friends. Full scale snark at Xander and Willow and Giles. She mocks Willow —  something she dropped Cordelia faster than Kid drops food under the table on a clean floor for doing. She pulls Xander out onto the dance floor at The Bronze and proceeds to do what was henceforth known as her “sexydance” that made both Angel and Willow jealous. In fact, if you mention Season 2 Ep. 1 “When She Was Bad” to some vaguely familiar with Buffy, the first thing they remember is “sexydance”. She romps about with a new personae that manages to get Cordelia to pull her aside and ask if she was running for “Bitch of the Year”.

If Cordelia is up in your shit about your “Joan Collins ‘tude”, then it is time for a deep inward assessment.

But what no one did was try to actually talk to Buffy, which is what bothered me about the writing of this episode.

See, Buffy died, and I am pretty sure that upset her a bit. I know it might peeve me a bit, if I was 16 and had to deal with that. That might have been something she had to work through a bit, the way she felt about dying. So, instead of anyone talking to her about how that felt, Joss wrote everyone doing the logical thing and talking about her. Instead, it kind of felt like her friends just … got annoyed with her and didn’t try to understand what she was dealing with. Sure, Buffy was behaving in all the wrong ways, but her friends weren’t exactly the pillars of strength she needed to get through her situation, either. But, of course we will see that this becomes a theme.

The only person who tries to reach out to her is Angel, the one person most closely associated with the thing that has caused all of this pain, and the one person most likely to elicit the most harsh reaction from Buffy. She brushes him off, is harsh with him, even though we see peeks of her emotionally reaching out to him at the same time (cue heart wrenching music to imply the Cosmically Forbidden Relationship)… Angel is the personification of all that went wrong with her life. The Slaying, the Vampires, and ultimately death. He couldn’t even save her life before or after her death…

The harsh reality of the weight of her responsibility, the painful truth that even her life is fragile hangs on her weary shoulders even as life doesn’t stop to allow her to mourn her own death. Buffy is obviously angry, hurting, and possibly confused about her future. We see this theme again throughout the series, as she has to decide if she should bother planning a future in her life: career, love, even just graduating or getting through tomorrow. The fragility of her role in the world crashed into her path of vision, and she had to face that in the 60 seconds of clinical death (and later with the appearance of another Chosen One).

This stings close to home for people who deal with real life depression, over loss in their lives, or any of the other reasons that mental illness comes crashing down or tries to suffocate us. Often, the people around us give up trying to support us, and withdraw, leaving us to lash out or sometimes give up.

Perhaps Joss didn’t fail as much as I first said.

Perhaps, in Buffy, he has attempted to personify the utter helplessness and angst that people in a deep depression sometimes feel. Perhaps, he has done a perfect job of showing what it feels like to not be able to yell out exactly what is going on inside, how it feels to have suffered what you have suffered because no one really can truly empathize, no one can truly feel your pain

Perhaps.

If only defeating your demons was as simple as smashing a set of bones with a giant mallet.

(My) Crush of the Week: Zach Anner

I’m a bit late out of the gate on this one because I actually read about Zach last week, but didn’t have time to write about him until this week. For those who don’t breathlessly follow US pop culture, Zach Anner is a man with cerebral palsy who is participating in a competition sponsored by Oprah to find ‘the next TV star.’ Controversy was sparked when accusations about rigging the vote started flying and he started getting a lot of attention online as a result.

I admit that I tuned out of a lot of the controversy about the vote, mainly because as soon as I read the words ‘wheelchair bound‘ in a headline, my eyes start glazing over and I long to take the reporter, sit ou down in a chair, and ask that ou take the time to read a primer on disability terminology before writing about disability. By the time I have shaken off my irritation, I have completely forgotten whatever it was I was reading.

Zach’s concept for a show is pretty awesome. He wants to start a travel show for people with disabilities. There are a lot of websites for exchanging information about travel, but I really love the idea of having a TV show, for several reasons. One, of course, is that I would love to see a disabled television personality. Nondisabled people would undoubtedly watch the show and would have some of their myths and preconceptions about disability busted, while also learning some things along the way, like, say, that wheelchair users are not actually completely helpless and in need of constant pity. And, of course, a travel show specifically targeting the disability demographic would, I would hope, be packed with fascinating and relevant and helpful information and travel tips.

Here’s what I love about Zach: He has a great sense of humour and a splendid presence. He’s wry about disability while also making pointed comments, like saying that a site is ‘fully accessible if you don’t mind being carried up it.’ He absolutely refuses to allow himself to be boxed into the disability-as-tragedy narrative. He’s busting myths and challenging narratives about disability and what people can and can’t do. He’s body positive.

He can be a bit of a dudebro sometimes, which is not really my thing, but in a way, that’s what is so deliciously subversive about him. He’s young, white, and male, the target demographic for dudebrodom, but he’s also disabled. Wheelchair users are expected to be either passive or angry, but they certainly aren’t expected to be sexual, and Zach turns that particular narrative on its head. That’s right, folks! Wheelchair users too can aspire to dudebrodom! This is a man who talks about wanting to hang glide naked in Paris. I’ve got to respect that.

Zach is up against a lot of misconceptions and social attitudes, a lot of which manifest in comment threads and articles across the Internet. He’s referred to as ‘cerebral palsy guy’ as though he doesn’t have, you know, a name,  and people seem bound and determined to reduce him to his disability, and to make a point of stressing how ‘inspiring’ and ‘special’ he is, with more conversation about Zach’s body than about his show concept: ‘How do you masturbate,’ a Reddit user asks him. ‘That is an excellent question, and I think that you could probably Wikipedia that, I’m not really the expert.’ Touche, Zach. Touche.

I’d like to see him win the Oprah contest because I think his concept is fantastically awesome and vitally needed, because he’s pretty damn funny, and because he’s actively deconstructing social attitudes about disability and what it’s like to be a wheelchair user, to have cerebral palsy, to identify as disabled.

So, Zach, I’m a fan. But I also have a request for you: Could you caption your YouTube videos?

Wii Fit Making Exercise More Accessible?

A black box containing a Wii Fit Plus sits on top of a white box with grey and bright green letters containing a Wii Fit Balance Board.I read recently in an issue of Family Circle Magazine (DON’T JUDGE ME!) (There was a fried chicken recipe I wanted to try out!) that “Japanese research” (could they be any more vague and list any fewer resources?) indicates that using a Wii Fit burns just as many calories as doing moderate exercise. There was no resource listed, nothing. Just a blurb stating that there was some research going on in Japan telling us that the Wii Fit was good for us. I have read on random gaming and parenting boards that there is hubbub about the Wii Fit that it is exercise vs. still being “just a video game”…

Now, I don’t really care about calories as much (or at all) as I do having access to some kind of exercise or movement that I can do without having to leave my house and trek all the way up to the base, or pay for a pricey gym membership, or exhaust my silverware drawer trying to get there, or trying to get through a class of exercise that is of a safe level for my body. Sometimes I need to move. I’ve found our Wii Fit to be small chunks of movement that I can handle when I am ready for some, and unlike a yoga class, something I can stop quickly when I am out of resources. I could go on…but you get the idea. I still prefer a good swim when I have a good day, but we all know that our bodies do not always give us what we want…

Having a Wii Fit in my house has been something useful for me, and I acknowledge that there is quite a bit of privilege there as well. There are disabilities that don’t make the amount of movement required for the Wii Fit accessible at all. It isn’t affordable for everyone (and we had the console already when the balance board was released, but the board is not required for all the games), and the games aren’t released in all countries. Even on a good day I can not always use the board safely, and sometimes my old issues with eating disorders can’t handle some of the game details that include measuring your weight and abilities to balance…

But the Wii Fit has made exercise, and moderate amounts of movement, available to some people for whom it wouldn’t otherwise have been available and accessible.

What are your thoughts, gentle readers? Have any of you used the Wii Fit and been pleased with it, as I have? What are your major complaints with the idea that it is an accessible form of exercise/movement? Love it? Hate it?

Photo Credit: Keith Williamson

The Second Summer of the Sisterhood: Choosing How to Fight Your Own Demons

The cover from the book <em>The Second Summer of the Sisterhood</em> by Ann Brashares. It is lavender with darker printed names of various cities printed faintly in the background, with the title and author name in a green swirly font on the top and bottom respectively. A pair of blue jeans , rear view, takes of most of the rest of the cover, and they have random writing all over them, and an embroidered yellow and orange swirly sunshine on the left-hand pocket.Oh, Young Adult Lit you are my Bravo Foxtrot Foxtrot.

A while back I read and reviewed Ann Brashares’ The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants here. I loved it, and proceeded to immediately read the sequel, The Second Summer of the Sisterhood, but neglected to write anything about it. I have come to you, dearest readers, hoping for your forgiveness, and to make up for such forgetfulness. I have recently checked the third book out of the local base library and can’t possibly read it or the other books in my “To Review for FWD” stack (YES! I really have one of those!) until I rectify this situation.

If you aren’t familiar with the series and are disinclined to read my previous post, which is just fine by me (for reals) here is a quick recap (you may skip ahead here): The Traveling Pants series is about four young women, Bridget (Bee), Carmen, Tibby, and Lena, who are best friends, and who describe themselves as so close that they forget where each of themselves ends and the other begins. They grew up together having been born all within the same seventeen days, each coming from different ethnic and economic backgrounds with different household situations (although they are all fairly securely middle-class, with at least two of the families being arguably very upper-middle, and the series is squarely hetero-normative), starting with their mothers all being best friends themselves. Their mothers drifted apart after the suicide of Bee’s mother following her long depression. The girls, however, remain close right up until their first summer apart when we first meet them, and Carmen comes into possession of the eponymous Pants at a second-hand store. The Pants help them through their first summer apart, when they learn how to be together even when apart, and that the word “friends” is stronger than many people give it credit for. They learn how to be strong for each other through the life shattering events that are part of the growing, aching, and changing from childhood into young adulthood, especially as young women.

It is amazingly poignant, as it gives us stories of four young women told from four young women’s perspectives, and that is what drew me to it initially. I have many criticisms to make of the book, and I am willing to make them and discuss them openly in comments. This book is from a cis, straight, perspective. Much of it passes the Bechdel test, as in, huge chunks of it go by passing with flying colors because it is about the parts of girls’ lives that involve shit that matters to girls/young women and women as they relate to the other women in their lives, and a lot of that, funnily enough, just doesn’t always revolve around men.

(All Together Now!)

The Second Summer of the Sisterhood returns us to these same young women, getting ready to go, once again on their separate ways, except that wasn’t the plan all along. In the beginning only Tibby had plans of going away to a summer film camp, and the other three girls were going to stay behind, getting summer jobs. But suddenly, Bee, dragging along some demons from her past, and new ones from the summer before, made an impulsive plan to go to Alabama to see her Grandmother.

It is Bee’s story that strikes at me the most. Bee, who during the last book was impulsive and active and defiant, who couldn’t sit still and had to run. Bee, who suddenly came home, and quit soccer — an activity which had been a huge part of her life since she was very young — and became quiet. Bee, who died her golden hair as dark as she could get it, and withdrew from everyone but the three other girls in the book who tried to give her the space to figure out who she needed to be at this time. Even then, we see that the impulsive and super-active, full-throttle life was Bee’s way of coping with her mother’s suicide. Bee had always thrown herself forward into life in hopes that she will outrun the sadness of that death, or so it seems to me, and each of her friends sometimes describe themselves as standing back and holding their breaths as Bee makes up her mind to go after something she wants, ready to be there and catch her, or pieces of her, when she gets it. Even Bee sometimes describes herself as running away from something by the end of the first book.

But Bridget has decided that she is going to Alabama to meed the grandmother that her father never allowed her to know — her mother’s mother. This flip of narrative interested me, notably because it is usually the mothers we hear about, distancing and holding their children from knowing their fathers’ families. This interested me, because here is a young woman telling her father that she has a right to know these people, that she has an agency outside of what he decided for her. Her father disagreed with how her grandmother wanted to handle Bridget’s mother’s depression, and he blames her in part for her death, and Bridget wants to meet her and decide for herself.

But Bridget is fighting her own depression.

[Spoilers Ahoy!]

A sexual encounter at the end of the first book has left Bridget reeling. And without my getting into the dynamics of whether or not this could be considered statutory rape or consensual teenage sex, Bridget has realized that she has to find out more about Marly, her mother, and this grandmother she hasn’t seen since she her mother died, in order to face that depression, before she engages in anymore activity that she isn’t quite ready for*.

So she decides, since no one recognizes the young woman depression has made her right now anyway, she goes to Alabama to meet Greta, her grandmother, and puts on a remarkable ruse of pretending to be a young girl looking for summer work, lying to Greta, and doing daily chores for the old woman. Through the summer she rediscovers her love of soccer, loses some weight (because weight and depression and blah blah blah!) that allows her to be able to put the magical Pants on once again, energizing her with the love of her friends, and gives her the strength to tell Greta the truth, which gives her the tools to realize that she doesn’t have to spiral into depression like her mother did…which was her greatest fear. That she would be helpless to follow in her mother’s footsteps.

Bridget’s depression is written in a way that I find strikes me in the heart. Once again, I have to read parts of this book in a room away from others because I get all teary-eyed. The building relationship between Bridget and Greta is important, we get to see two women, separated by an entire generation, with a huge gap stolen by devastating depression, yet brought back together by the aftermath of that depression and a depression unique to each remaining woman. I love the way that Brashares takes the stories of four young women and weaves other women into them. And once in awhile she writes disability in a way that doesn’t break my heart. Or, it breaks my heart in a good way.

If you have read my previous post, and remember the story line about Tibby and Bailey, I have a quick note there.

Tibby goes to film camp, and makes a string of poor decisions in an effort to try to be clever and popular with the kids she thinks are important or cool. In the end, she winds up making a film about Bailey, which she gives to Bailey’s parents, but which also has the benefit of teaching her, again, a Very Special Lesson about people, continuing the idea that Bailey was always a plot device, and never a character all along. An event on the Pants, and not a person. Bailey becomes a personality trait about Tibby, and was never meant to become a person, so please feel free to discuss this as well.

Since I spent so much time discussing Bailey and Tibby in the last post I wanted to focus on Bridget in this post, although I feel that there will be more Bee to come.

*Bridget was very young and emotionally traumatized in the first book by the death of her mother. I read her as aggressively and almost destructively seeking the attention of Eric, the coach at her camp, and it was all very messy and complicated and I didn’t read any blame to be placed on any one person. That being said, Eric, as the older person, had the responsibility to stop the relationship if it was unwanted instead of allowing it to continue, being that Bridget was fifteen at the time of the encounter and he was eighteen. Some aspects of the relationship between Bridget and Eric make me uncomfortable, and some read to me as simply something I advocate for: Teenagers being allowed to discover sex on their own terms. Age of consent laws are awkward for teenagers, where the magic number between legal and illegal are literally overnight. I also wonder about the fallout of writing a character like Bridget seeking and having a sexual encounter and having such severe depression. It is just a thought.