Tag Archives: kevin mchale
Glee‘s been in the news a lot lately, have you heard?
Basically, after a three week hiatus, the show came back last week, and wow, was there a lot of press about it. Not because of the show’s performance, or the show’s “diversity” award, but because of the controversy that has been suddenly generated by the show.
That’s right, suddenly, with no history of protest whatsoever, people with disabilities were complaining about the show! Just days before it aired its Very Special Disability Episode, “Wheels”! Who would have imagined!
Or, more accurately, people with disabilities have been talking about issues with the show since the first trailers hit the internet, with incisive commentary after the first episode was aired, but this only became of interest just a few days before the show wanted everyone to see how “serious” they were. As I said in an angry comment elsewhere:
“Now we’re listened to, when it will get people irritated at those uppity people with disabilities who should stop complaining and just enjoy the show.
We were here before. And I don’t appreciate our concerns being used to generate hype for the show.”
[Anna, you’re so oversensitive. First you were angry because they didn’t listen to your concerns, and now you’re angry because you don’t like when they chose to listen to your concerns? There’s no pleasing you, is there?]
This is not listening to our concerns. This is giving our concerns very short attention so you can ask cast members about the “controversy”, and so nice able-bodied people can say things like this in a spoiler-filled review of the show overall:
“Wheels” Doesn’t Just Feel Good, It Does Good: Aside from what you may or may not have read from the Associated Press regarding the usage of wheelchairs and disabled actors in this week’s episode, I think you’ll discover that “Wheels” is all about empowering people with disabilities and sends out an uplifting message to the disabled community. It should also be noted that the series now has a recurring character with Down’s Syndrome (who it is will surprise you), which I don’t think has happened on network TV in a very long time.
Thanks, Nice Able-Bodied Lady! I will take your words to heart and just ignore what those silly people with disabilities are saying! It will be better that way!
[Before I go any further: I didn’t feel “empowered” by Glee, nor did most of the women with disabilities that I know. That said, my goal here isn’t to tell you or anyone you know how to feel about the show. My objection to the above is not only the condescending tone and dismissal of everything that people who actually work in the industry are saying about representations of disability and how that affects their work, but also being told how I should feel about the show.]
I pointed out my two biggest issues with this show at my Dreamwidth [in short: three different characters fake a disability in this episode, and we find out that Tina has been faking her stutter since sixth grade in order to get out of things she didn’t want to do. As kaz points out in the comments, that’s not how that actually works], and although I intend to talk about that more later, this post is going to be about the media and general response to people with disabilities discussing the show and their reactions to it.
Disabled advocates vs. ‘Glee’
The protest: Some disabled Hollywood actors protested last night’s episode of ‘Glee,’ because it focused on Artie, the wheelchair bound member of the glee club, who is played by a non-disabled actor, Kevin McHale.
Protesting the protest: That anyone would call Ryan Murphy’s series discriminatory fails the laugh-test almost immediately. Last night not only dealt with the trials that Artie must go through on a daily basis while being handicapped, but also the fallout from Kurt coming out of the closet. And did I mention that the episode featured not one, but two actresses affected with Down syndrome? We defy you to find another show airing in primetime that would deal with one of these issues, let alone all three in one episode. This is a show that prides itself on acceptance and understanding. That McHale isn’t handicapped doesn’t make it less so. What’s next: Teen actors protesting that Cory Monteith is actually 27 years old and not 17?
Unlike the earlier post, this one doesn’t even bother to link to what people with disabilities are actually saying, which makes it really easy for people to just shrug and agree with their edgy “protesting the protest”. This, of course, means they can tell you that the whole of people’s comments are that they didn’t give the role to an actor with a disability.
Most of the people I know who think the show is poorly done crip-drag talk about not only McHale’s ability-status, but also the way that his character, Artie, is treated by both the explicit text and implicit subtext of the show. To give an example, Artie’s wheelchair is basically a prop that other members of the show push around whenever they want. To give another one, he’s shown before “Wheels” as the only ‘main’ character who doesn’t even get flirted with by a character who tries to flirt all the boys into accepting her into the Glee Club. Because teen boys with disabilities are non-sexual, I guess.
But, obviously the creators of the show have taken this all into account when discussing the controversy, right, because they are very respectful of the “disabled community”.
‘Glee’ executive producer Brad Falchuk backs him up. “We brought in anyone: white, black, Asian, in a wheelchair,” he told the AP when discussing the hubbub. “It was very hard to find people who could really sing, really act, and have that charisma you need on TV.”
He too understands the concern and frustration expressed by the disabled community, he said. But McHale excels as an actor and singer and “it’s hard to say no to someone that talented,” Falchuk said.
Again, how nice it is of people to lump all criticisms together, and then give a nice happy answer about how they “understand” what people are complaining about, without actually addressing any of it. “Oh, there just weren’t any people with disabilities who could really act and sing and be on t.v.!”
According to everyone associated with Glee, they didn’t mention that Artie was going to be a full-time wheelchair user (or, as the folks in most of the articles I’ve read put it, “wheelchair bound”) when they were casting for the show.
I wonder if any of their casting calls actually encouraged actors and singers with disabilities to apply, or if they just figured they didn’t need to do that type of recruitment to get actors with disabilities – used to being overlooked for any role that isn’t explicitly about disability – out. I guess I won’t know until they tell us, and that’s not the sort of question anyone in the press seems to want to ask.
Of course, as always, the fun is in the comment sections. On Thursday, melouhkia put a post up at Bitch magazine called Glee-ful Appropriation, about the issues she had with the episode. It was also mirrored at their Facebook Account.
Very first comment can be summed up as “Stop your whining.”
It seems to me if you’re going to have an issue with a non-disabled person playing the role of a disabled person, you cannot appreciate any level of acting because all acting is a lie. Maybe that’s why it’s called acting. Just sayin. So, you should also be up in arms about the actress who is portraying the pregnant teen because she’s not pregnant in real life, and likewise, you should also feel your feathers ruffled by the cheerleading coach because she’s not a coach in real life. See where I’m a-going with this?
Yes. Where you’re going with this is ignoring the real concerns about presentation, appropriation, and the lack of job opportunities for actors with disabilities on television so that you can tell us that our feathers are ruffled. It would probably be easier if you told melouhkia to not critique pop culture on a pop-culture criticism blog.
Oh wait, someone else did that for you.
I get that this is “responses to pop culture” and you can all have your moment of fit-throwing (I had one after seeing “Next to Normal” on Broadway). But so far your response hasn’t opened up any useful political space…it’s just tried to punish your political allies for not being as perfect as you are. So you know, go get your waders. You’ll need them when you start digging yourself out of this claptrap.
Which I read as “I’ll be your ally unless you start critiquing pop culture I actually like, and then you’ll be sorry, because I will stop supporting you.”
Other people may read it differently.
All of this, of course, is an awesome way of dismissing some very serious and real concerns about the way the show has chosen to portray disability. If you make the entire discussion about how those uppity people with disabilities should just shut up and stop complaining because their ideas are stupid and they should feel stupid, then of course it’s easy to dismiss them out of hand. And who needs to discuss nuances in the presentation of disability, anyway? Everyone knows that there’s no connection between how identifiable groups are portrayed on t.v. and how other people react to them, right?
In fact, I think the best way to sum up where my issue with McHale portraying Artie really comes into play is from this quote from McHale himself, from the NY Post’s interview with him after the episode aired:
PW: Which was more shocking Tina’s fake stutter or Artie’s reaction?
Kevin: Well, we kind of figured her stutter would go away, but we never know what to think on that show. So I’m going to say Artie’s reaction was more shocking. At first I couldn’t figure out why he was being so dramatic. But I really think Artie fell for Tina because they were set apart by their disabilities. They’re already kind of outcasts being in glee, but within that group they shared a connection. So he based their whole relationship on that and when it went away, Artie didn’t know what to do.
You know, Kevin, I can think of some very good reasons why people with disabilities might be angry at someone saying they’d been faking their disability for years. Maybe if you spent any time dealing with people assuming you were faking, accusing you of trying to “game the system”, telling you that you’re just a whiner for wanting extra time on an exam, or not been able to get into half the shops in your town because of “just one step”, you might get it a bit better.
Something that, had you even talked to someone with a disability about the issue, you might have understood.
I guess that’s why we call it acting.
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.]