Tag Archives: blind characters

The “Gifted” — Who Needs Assistance When You Just Work Hard Enough?

Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series, recommended to me by The Guy, my partner of several years now, whom I thought loved me, seemed innocuous enough. I thought it a simple fantasy series woven with a love story (“woven” here should read more like a nice cudgel to the head), which I was looking for. I thought it would be a nice epic fantasy, like Kushiel’s Dart, or something to sate my need for a good run of fantasy novels.

I however, didn’t heed Anna’s warning, when she asked me whywhyWHY would someone who loves me recommend a book series to me where a chicken is written in as EVIL personified (this is actually a simplification of the storyline, but it is true, nonetheless…), and as it turns out I think Anna may love me more. Who knows. Maybe I was hooked by the way the first two books ended with just the most convenient and precious heterocentric endings ever (there is one brief nod in the fourth book to homosexuality that seems it could be positive, but then it ends sadly, and seven books later there is no happy ending for this character).

The Sword of Truth series, however, does have many good qualities. It has several well written female characters whom I fell in love with, but, as I will write more about at my home blog, all seem to be written to be smitten with and to be in the service of the central protagonist, Richard Cypher/Rahl. They simply fall all over themselves to serve him, to love him, and to swear their lives to protect him with everything they have. Even if they were once evil or if they have tendencies to be evil (it’s just their way, you see, some women can’t help it), they somehow over come it because his presence is enough to ignite a spark to make them want to fight for their own lives him. I mean his cause.

But the Sword of Truth series isn’t just an innocent fantasy series. It isn’t even a series filled with tropes about women characters that I love that happens to beat me upside the head with forbidden romance and a love forbidden to procreate. It is a cautionary tale that warns of the evils of allowing communism to take over your life. This strange story of caring for your fellow man is bent into a monolithic monster of a machination that kills everything it touches. It simply asserts that you must live in misery for that is the only way that everyone can possibly meet the needs of every human evil, and makes the horrible and incorrect logical leap that religion is somehow tied to it, that this life is meaningless and that goodness can only be obtained in the hereafter. I can’t say I disagree with the atheistic themes, but really, a horse can only be beaten so many times before I glaze over and gloss over entire pages of exposition and soliloquy.

To be righteous in this world that Mr. Goodkind has created you must be willing and — key word alert here — able to fight for your own life and protect it with everything you have, up to and including killing those who would take it from you. With sword, with your bare hands, with magic if you are … gifted.

Yes, “gifted”. Being born with the ability to use and be touched by magic is considered a gift, which is not an uncommon theme in fantasy fiction and pop culture, but Goodkind takes it a step further, it seems to me. It is almost as though magic is another sense, an ability above and beyond that makes up for any other sense you may lack. Because if there is one thing that is all but lacking from this world that Mr. Goodkind has created, it is disability on the side of the bringers of good.

Even Adie, the “bone woman” (who oddly enough, having the speech pattern “I be” in the books*, is depicted as a non-white woman in the television series equivalent Legend of the Seeker even though that is now how she is described, but she is All Exotic! with Bones!), who had her vision stripped from her in her youth by a group of anti-magic zealots known as The Blood of the Fold by pouring bleach in her eyes, has learned to see. Her “gift” has enabled her to see. In fact, her vision, as is noted many times in the books, is often better than those who must rely on their ‘non-gifted’ vision.

I am going to drop the quotes from here on out, because it is getting tedious, and I think you get the point.

Adie never had to learn how to access the world around her. She never had to learn how to stumble around and feel with her other senses. She did, however, have to learn how to see with her magic, which made up for the vision which wasn’t there. This gave her the ability to be worthy, in the world that Goodkind created, to be able to fight for her life, and be allowed to live. People should just try harder, as Adie did. If you can’t get by in life, it is your own fault, and you are not contributing properly to the artwork that is the nobility of man!

You can understand why I was having a problem here.

Normally with pop-culture and fiction, there aren’t really absolutes, and I admit that there are multiple ways of interpreting things, but Goodkind has done a unique thing here: he has created a world of moral absolutes. This is right and this other things is wrong. What Richard Rahl (the protagonist) believes is right, and what he is against is wrong. There is clear good and evil, and the lines are rarely blurred. This use of a gift of magic allows people who otherwise have flaws to remain on the correct side of Richards moral compass. Richard, and Goodkind himself, could be described as Objectivists, which I think would clear up my frustrations. It should have set off alarms as soon as the philosophy lessons started to seep into my fantasy novel. Except OOPS! Mr. Goodkind says he is not a fantasy writer, merely a fiction writer he says (fuck you, fans!), so I have been wrong all along…

But Adie couldn’t be useful to the story, she couldn’t be the powerful and badass sorceress that she is depicted as being if she was indeed blind, amirite? Because if she was wasting all of her time trying to adapt to a world that was refusing to make accommodations for her she wouldn’t be able to fight for her individual life, or for Richard’s noble cause of laissez faire Capitalism freedom for all mankind (and I guess some of those womenfolk too).

The only time that her magical eyesight didn’t work was when she was faced with a woman, Jennsen, who was born without even a spark of the gift, called a “pristinely ungifted” person. She can not be touched by or interact with magic. Turns out, that Jennsen is Richard’s half sister, and her being ungifted is the bi-product of Richard’s gift. There can be only one! She has to be ungifted so that he can be gifted. It is very complicated, and there is an entire race of people on whom Adie’s magical eyesight doesn’t work! And Jennsen had to help Richard rally them up, because they were blind (oh the tropes and ableist language abound!) to evil, and their pacifist asses wouldn’t raise a finger to fight for their artwork of individual self interest.

I was just frustrated beyond all belief.

So if you want a nice stew of -ism and fuckery passed off as philosophy and disguised with characters that you will certainly love, I recommend Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series. All eleven (soon to be twelve!) books of it!

EDIT: 01 Sept: I forgot a couple of links when I finished this post. Apologies!

Following Up: Auggie on Covert Affairs, Part Two

Content note: This post contains spoilers for season one, episode seven of Covert Affairs, ‘Communication Breakdown.’

I am nothing if not scrupulously fair to shows I enjoy shredding, so when numerous people informed me that I had to watch this week’s episode of Covert Affairs and write about it, I complied, although I confess I armed myself with a bowl of English peas first so I would have something to throw at the screen. (Loki stationed himself eagerly by my chair in the hopes of hoovering up any dropped peas. He is so helpful.)

As it turned out, this week’s Auggie-centric episode was less enraging, and more encouraging. This episode has been in the can for a while, I suspect, so I can’t credit the change to responding to criticism, which means the show’s developers decided all on their own selves to do more with Auggie’s character, and to take him to some interesting places along the way. I still think that I would prefer to see Auggie and Annie working together, not least because Perabo and Gorham share star billing on the show, so I’m hoping we get to that point instead of ‘five Annie-centric episodes in a row, and then an Auggie-centric one.’

This week took Auggie out into the field. Along the way, we met his Russian ex-girlfriend, and got a little bit more of Auggie’s backstory. One thing I have always liked (and clearly stated, sorry, drive-by trolls, you shall have to look elsewhere for fodder!) about Auggie’s characterisation is that he’s depicted as sexual, and not as a figure of pity or curiosity because he’s sexual. He just, you know, is, like most sexual people in the world. I like that the show isn’t dropping the ball on that, and that in fact, we got to see him being explicitly sexual on multiple occasions in this episode. Yes, folks, a disabled character got to have (implied) sex on screen! Not only that but a tattooed sexual character, which is something I always enjoy seeing, as a tattooed person. So, go Covert Affairs, go.

Auggie also got a fight scene, which I was not expecting. I’m used to seeing the show depict him as a helpless character who does hapless things like not being able to find his obviously carefully positioned cellphone, but, instead, he got a fight scene. A good fight scene. Where he kicked ass. Can I say how awesome it is to see any disabled character get a fight scene, but especially a blind character, in a scene that didn’t amount to ‘his blindness gives him special ass-kicking powers!’ but was, in fact, chaotic and turbulent and messy? Because it was awesome.

This episode did a much better job, I thought, of integrating references to his blindness without making it central to the episode, or central to his characterisation. There’s a scene at a briefing where we see him reading the briefing in braille, for example, but it’s not a ‘and NOW the camera shall ZOOM IN so we can all NOTICE, do we all SEE THE BRAILLE? Ok, good.’ sort of scene. There’s another scene where he goes to drop a can in the recycling, but someone has moved it, and the can ends up on the floor. The sighted lead scenes are starting to look more natural and less contrived, as indeed is his character in general. Little nods to the way disability can be integrated into your life are scattered in the episode, but aren’t played pointedly or for laughs.

I’d say that, if this episode is a sign of things to come, Auggie’s characterisation is improving. He’s filling out more, he’s far less stereotyped, and I didn’t squirm viscerally watching this episode (well, ok, I did, but I’m pretty sure that was something I ate). I’m not sure if that’s a reflection of Gorham, the producers, and the writers getting more comfortable with the character, or all of Gorham’s research paying off, or what, but things are starting to seem like they might have a chance on Covert Affairs.

This fall, we’ll be seeing a number of disabled characters returning to television, including Artie on Glee, Dr. Fife on Private Practice, and Dr. Hunt1 on Grey’s Anatomy. I’m curious to see where all these characters go, and I’d note that two of them have depictions I feel pretty darn good about, which I feel like is a good sign for television; we’re still underrepresented, but at least every disabled character on television doesn’t make me want to scream.

  1. He’s not explicitly identified as a person with disabilities, but he does have PTSD, so I’m naturally interested in his characterisation.

Following Up: Auggie on Covert Affairs

Content note: Post includes discussion of Covert Affairs through season one, episode four, ‘No Quarter.’

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the pilot for Covert Affairs, and discussed the handling of Auggie Anderson, the blind CIA agent playing opposite Annie Walker, the show’s lead. Despite not being very excited by this show, I’ve slogged through a few more episodes to see where the show went with Auggie so that I could follow up. The things I do for you, gentle readers.

As I said in July:

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.

Well, as it turns out, that was wishful thinking. The thing I noticed most about where the show took the character from the pilot was that it didn’t take him anywhere. Annie’s been sent to South America and Europe in recent episodes, while Auggie covers the desks, providing phone support. He has hardly any screen time and in most scenes, we see him from the neck up, on a phone, talking to Annie while she’s out in the field. Auggie’s sole reason for existence is to be a voice on the other end of the phone for Annie, and to occasionally do things with computers that look neat because he uses a Braille display.

Now, office support is definitely an important aspect of intelligence work. Paper pushers are a critical component of field missions and it’s kind of nice to see that depicted on television, instead of only showing us field action. But usually, in a show where two actors enjoy top billing, they are partnered together. Partnered. As in, they are a team that does things together, with, yes, complementary skills, but it’s not a one sided relationship where one is the sole support for the other. Booth and Bones, for example; we see them working together in the field and in the lab. It’s weird to see them apart, although it does sometimes happen. Both characters bring things to the partnership. They are an interdependent team. We would be pissy if it was always Booth out in the field and Bones in the office, right?

So, basically, the way that Covert Affairs handles the integration of a disabled character is by not integrating him and making a point of reminding us that he’s disabled. The most recent episode featured Auggie in a polygraph test, being asked a series of probing questions about whether he resents being tasked to desk duty. Whether he’s angry because of his disability.

Yeah.

I want to like a show that has a female lead like Annie Walker. I do. I like that Walker is an independent thinker, she doesn’t rely heavily on other characters to handle things for her, she is creative, she thinks on her feet. Of course, in the pilot episode, the show had to use the ‘dress up as a call girl to solve the crime’ plot, which means I can’t really point to Covert Affairs as a terrific model for handling female characters.

The way this show views disability has been pretty transparent, from the episodes alone. Add that to the show’s recent partnership with the American Association of People With Disabilities to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. A PSA centered around Auggie was filmed to tell viewers ‘…we also know that barriers for people with disabilities remain and we are proud to partner with the AAPD in our Characters Unite campaign to raise awareness and encourage viewers to join the fight against persisting discrimination.’

Yes. Barriers like being unable to find acting work when you are a disabled actor, and barriers like television shows casting nondisabled actors to play disabled roles.

‘…we at AAPD are delighted to partner with the USA Network’s Characters Unite campaign and the ‘Covert Affairs’ team to promote authentic depictions of disabled characters on television,’ says Andrew J. Imparato, president and CEO of AAPD. He goes on to add: ‘This exciting new program will help change attitudes, and the PSA being launched this week will accelerate and amplify the show’s inclusive message.’

Are we watching the same show, Mr. Imparato? Because I don’t think we are.

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.