Tag Archives: television

Recommended Reading for December 14, 2010

K__ at Feminists with FSD: Notes on MTV’s True Life: I Can’t Have Sex

Actual, proper terminology was used throughout the show. Chronic pelvic pain conditions were named, but some conditions that overlap were not mentioned at all (interstitial cystitis, for example, was not explored in this episode. This is a shame – interstitial cystitis is another misunderstood condition which would benefit from careful media coverage.) This episode focused on the impact of chronic pelvic pain on the women’s sex lives. And that means that while you could learn a little about life with chronic pelvic pain from this episode, for a clinical discussion and details on specific conditions and available treatments, you’ll need to look elsewhere.

Carol at Aspieadvocate: I’m an Embarrassment

Yeah, I know some parents of autistic kids worry about the kids embarrassing the rest of the family in public with their unusual behavior. But for me it’s the other way around. I never shut up about autism, mine or his, and while I have every right to out myself, I’m making decisions about him that should really be his to make. Except even if he’s made different decisions about disclosure than I have, he’s not (yet) verbal enough to tell anyone.

David Gorksi at Science-Based Medicine: Death by “alternative” medicine: Who’s to blame? [trigger warning]

Of course, the implication of “Secret” thinking is that, if you don’t get what you want, it’s your fault, an idea that also resonates with so much “alternative” medicine, where a frequent excuse for failure is that the patient either didn’t follow the regimen closely enough or didn’t want it badly enough. Basically, The Secret is what inspired Kim Tinkham to eschew all conventional therapy for her breast cancer and pursue “alternative” therapies, which is what she has done since 2007. Before I discuss her case in more detail, I’m going to cut to the chase, though.

This weekend, I learned that Kim Tinkham’s cancer has recurred and that she is dying.

Arwyn at Raising My Boychick: How far I’ve come

Eight years ago I was withdrawing from college. Again. I’d started medication, divalproex sodium, and that was going to cure me; we’d packed up our possessions, bought furniture in flat boxes, and drove it most of the way across the country to this town with one redeeming feature: the college from which I had just withdrawn because it was better than flunking out from chronic absences. I did not know who I was, what good I was, if I could not do college, be a student. I could not see a future, and mostly did not believe I had one.

Linsay at Autist’s Corner: Autism-related gene spotlight: CNTNAP2

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: CNTNAP2 is a large gene near the end of chromosome 7 that encodes a cell-adhesion protein involved in distributing ion channels along axons (the long tails of nerve cells) and in attaching the fatty cells making up the myelin sheath to the surface of the axon. DIsruptions in this gene have been associated with autism, epilepsy, Tourette syndrome and other neurodevelopmental disorders. Variations at certain points within the gene that don’t alter or disrupt its expression have also been associated with an increased likelihood of autism.

Recommended Reading for October 6, 2010

RMJ at Deeply Problematic: A feminist reading of Achewood, part one: disability and Roast Beef (trigger warning for discussion of ableist jokes)

Roast Beef’s depression is a major theme of his character and the strip. At the outset of his appearance in the Achewood universe, he expresses the wish to commit suicide repeatedly, though he has not mentioned past his first year in the strip. His actions and words (in a distinctive smaller font) are often explicitly steered by his low opinion of himself; depression is a simple fact of him. While sadness is a constant in his his characterization, the portrayal of his disability is far from static: his emotions are fluid, dependent on context, an advantage at time and a palpable pain at others.

Julia at a l’allure garconniere: cultural appropriation: still refusing to see the truth

rather, it’s that images of models, of clothing catalogues, and of white girls in headdresses at concerts that attack and offend us: those of us who feel like these conversations are important to be having, that we have to ask these questions. i am fed up with it. fed up with seeing “Othered” cultures reduced to shitty stereotypes for uncritical (mostly) white people to buy into, as a product, and then to attack me when i ask them to think about what they are wearing, when i ask them why they choose to wear what they wear. is that such an offensive question? is it really us who are so hypersensitive and who take things “too seriously,” or is it you who just wants to refuse to think for two seconds?

mycultureisnotatrend on Tumblr: I received a flood of angry notes and messages after that last post. . . (trigger warning)

We are multifarious people, and no one native cultural symbol can represent us all. It is impossible to dress like “an Indian” without reverting to stereotype. This does not mean all native related things are off limits. But be wise with your choices, stay away from things of great religious significance, and don’t play “dress up.” Moccassins = okay, Warbonnets = not. The line between the two is grey – use caution and respect if you near it.

Roya Nikkah for the Telegraph (UK): Channel 4 criticized for new reality “freak show”

A recent advertisement in Fame Magazine, a celebrity magazine, seeking recruits for the six-part series said that the show “will place two people who are defined by the way they look … in close proximity to each other”.

It added: “Our participants will get to live together in a specially constructed space. Over a number of days, they will explore each other’s lives in the real world.

“They will be challenged to look beyond the mirror and step into the shoes of someone for whom looks have a completely different meaning.”

Gary Marx and David Jackson for the Los Angeles Times: Pact to decrease number of mentally ill in nursing homes

A Chicago federal judge has approved a landmark agreement that will enable thousands of people with mental illness currently living in nursing homes to move into community settings that experts say are more appropriate and less expensive.

If you’re on Delicious, feel free to tag entries ‘disfem’ or ‘disfeminists,’ or ‘for:feminists’ to bring them to our attention! Link recommendations can also be emailed to recreading at disabledfeminists dot com. Please note if you would like to be credited, and under what name/site.

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.

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.

Pop Culture: The Good Wife & Disability

About two or three weeks ago, I finally got around to noting the existence of the show The Good Wife. And then I watched every episode I could, as quickly as I could, because wow is this show good.

It’s one part legal drama, one part family drama, and one part mysterious conspiracy theory drama. The Wikipedia summary is pretty good: “The storyline focuses on Julianna Margulies as Alicia Florrick, the wife of Peter Florrick (Chris Noth). Her husband has been jailed following a very public sex and corruption scandal. She returns to her old job as a litigator to rebuild her reputation and provide for her two children.”

Except the whole article somehow manages to skip over how feminist the show is. In the early episodes, Alicia has a male coworker who is pretty damn sexist to her, including talking down to her, ignoring what she says entirely, and acting like her being both older and a parent makes her not very smart. Later episodes have her pointing out how she keeps getting shunted aside to “hand hold” clients, which she admits is important but is curtailing her career. And these things are shown as being bad, not as being acceptable because, you know, woman.

The show is filled with interesting relationships between women as well. We’ve got Alicia’s relationship with both her investigator, Kalinda, and one of the managing partners, Diane. Both relationships are complicated by professional needs and the fact that they’re still working in a sexist office environment. Diane is involved in EMILY’s List, and there’s an implication that her “pet project” is looked down on by her male colleagues.

At home, Alicia’s mother-in-law has come in to help care for the kids while she’s working and Peter’s in jail, and their relationship is also complicated, with concerns about parenting and their different views of Peter’s prison sentence.

I just love this show. Love it.

But I’m not just talking about it here because it’s awesome. It also managed to (mostly) side-step some disability fail that I was expecting.

The rest of this is full of spoilers for Season 1, Episode 4, “Fixed”.
Continue reading Pop Culture: The Good Wife & Disability

Glee: The Halfway Point: Wrap Up

This is part four and final of a multipart post on Glee. Previous posts included the introduction to the series, “Women and Race on Glee,” and “Disability and Sexuality on Glee.”

What we’re told about Glee, over and over, is that the show is critiquing these tropes by depicting them. That the show is confronting viewers with uncomfortable issues and raising important questions. The show even won a diversity award. Sue Sylvester, with her over-the-top prejudice, is touted as a character who is supposed to be read as bigoted and horrific; that’s what makes her funny! Because no one really thinks that way, right?

Critical response to Glee, especially after “Wheels,” the very special disability episode, tended towards the “inspiring” and “touching” line of thought. This despite the fact that many people of disabilities specifically spoke out to say that they were not impressed, were in fact deeply troubled, and had been since the show started airing. Critics say that the show is filled with lessons and very special experiences for viewers, but is it?

Is it really making social commentary when it seems to be tending more toward the reinforcement of commonly held stereotypes? The thing about a lot of the behaviours on Glee is that people still engage in them, and a lot of the beliefs depicted as “satire” are beliefs that people still hold. Glee isn’t that much different than anything else on television; rather than integrating characters from marginalized communities, the show is careful to keep them at arm’s length. They can’t be love interests, they can’t have plots interwoven with the show which arch over the entire season, they must have their very own special isolated and discrete episodes. They must be heavily stereotyped, defined by their otherness, and kept firmly in the background so that the nice white people can do their thing.

When you see the whole cast on screen, it’s like there’s an invisible line between the white able people, and Everyone Else. Is that really groundbreaking? Sure, the cast is more diverse than the casts of many shows. But having a diverse cast does not necessarily mean that a show is contributing to the breakdown of the kyriarchy.

What kind of messages are viewers really taking away from this show?

And where will Glee go from here? “Sectionals” neatly wrapped things up, allowing Will to defeat Sue, get the girl, and reclaim the glee club for his own. We’re presumably going to be seeing the characters preparing for regionals over the next half of the season, and we’ll see the Will-Terri-Emma triangle play out. Quinn will have her baby. See a theme here? The forward-looking all involves the white characters.

It seems highly likely that the troped depictions will continue, that the show will continue to rely on hipster -ism for humour, and that the show will continue to hide behind “satire” when in fact it’s not satire at all, or even particularly funny. Is it funny to depict an Indian-American with American flag stationary and paraphernalia, when in fact, after 11 September 2001, many Indian-Americans felt obligated to slather everything they owned with flags to prove their patriotism so that they would not be harassed by people who thought that anyone with brown skin was a terrorist? Is it funny to depict a wheelchair user being jammed into a toilet when, in fact, people with disabilities in school are routinely tormented and abused? Is it funny to depict a Jewish girl as a shrew when, in fact, the idea that Jewish women are shrewish is a commonly held stereotype?

Can Glee redeem itself? Has this whole season been a long and complicated setup? If it has, it’s actually extremely well done and very subtle. But it seems more likely that the writers actually just completely missed the implications of what they were doing.

Glee: The Halfway Point: Disability and Sexuality On Glee

This is post three of four in a multipart series on Glee. Previous posts included the introduction to the series and “Women and Race on Glee.”

Before I begin, I would like to highly recommend access_fandom’s representation linkspams on Glee, which have links to numerous writings on Glee from a variety of perspectives. I wanted to link to individual posts within my discussions, but there are so many that I could not choose. This is an ongoing conversation and there’s a lot going on.

The depiction of people with disabilities on Glee has been a central point of discussion here and elsewhere on the Internet, and there’s a lot to explore, from the controversy over whether or not disabled characters should be played by disabled actors to the handling of disability on Glee.

One of the main characters in the ensemble is Artie, a wheelchair user disabled in a car accident, played by Kevin McHale, an able actor. We’ve discussed the problematic aspects of Artie’s depiction before; the fact that he’s obviously not comfortable with a chair, the stiff choreography, that other characters push him around like a prop, that he is (of course) a Good Cripple who does things like donating money raised for accessible transport to building ramps at the school. Anna’s criticized the use of crip drag, and the fact that the Glee producers apparently didn’t look very hard for a wheelchair user who can sing and dance; the excuse for casting an able actor was that they “couldn’t find” a wheelchair user who met the specs, but I find that hard to believe.

Especially since Kevin McHale can’t dance in a wheelchair. If they wanted Kevin McHale, why not just make him an able character? If they wanted a wheelchair user specifically, why not seek out a singing and dancing wheelchair user? They do, after all, exist. It would seem more that Artie was written in as an afterthought to score some Diversity Points.

The fact that Glee went on to act like wheelchair choreography was some novel, new thing with “Wheels” was, quite frankly, offensive. They specifically hired a wheelchair using stunt double to do the tricky stunts in that episode (while implying that McHale did everything), which suggests that they were aware, on some level, of the fact that people perform in wheelchairs. But they didn’t seek out a choreographer who is accustomed to working with them, or seek out people who are comfortable with chairs.

“Wheels” also, of course, featured the disability simulation as very special learning experience plot (warning for comments), in which all of the able characters learned how hard it is to be disabled by using some very nice wheelchairs for a few hours a day. For a week. Disability-as-tragedy, something to be overcome, etc.  This was the thing that so  many viewers and reviewers found “inspiring” and “empowering” even as some people with disabilities were quietly throwing their Cheerios against the wall while watching this episode.

Tina is one of the most problematic characters on the show. Initially introduced as “the Asian girl with a stutter,” she was pretty much kept in the background until we got to “Wheels” and the big reveal: Tina’s been faking her stutter. The reason? It made things “easier” for her. Which pretty much goes against the experience of actual stutterers. Her stutter, of course, was not very believable, although the actress claimed to  have done “research” into stuttering because she “didn’t want to ever make it like I was making fun of the stutter.”

Artie, who thought that he had common ground with Tina, rejects her once he finds out that she’s been faking. Keven McHale expressed confusion in his interview about Artie’s motivations for this. I think this goes to illustrate the profound disconnect between the writers and cast of Glee and actual people with disabilities. Had they perhaps consulted someone they might have been able to depict disability much more honestly, even if the disabled characters weren’t played by disabled actors. Instead, the writers and cast went with their perceptions of disability and how disability works. This type of thing tends to lead to fail.

Glee did use one person with disabilities to play a disabled character. Becky, a character with Down Syndrome, was played by Lauren Potter. She showed up in one episode, “Wheels.” She tries out for the Cheerios and gets a spot on the squad, something which Will suspects is a secret plot on Sue’s part, but of course this episode also features the revelation of Sue’s sister, so the implication seems to be that Sue gives Becky a chance because she wants to treat her like anyone else, and give her the experience of being a cheerleader. Which might actually be kind of neat.

Except that the two scenes in which we really see Becky involve her wanting a cupcake and being unable to afford one, with an able character loaning her money for it (why not have Becky loaning someone money for a cupcake? Why does she need to be dependent here?), and Becky grinning and saying “thanks coach!” after a grueling session with Sue. One could read that line two ways. Either Becky is saying “thanks for treating me like you would any cheerleader, instead of coddling me because of my disability,” or the writers are saying “look at the developmentally disabled character who is too dumb to realize that she’s being mistreated.” I leave it up to the reader to determine which interpretation was intended.

The Deaf choir, introduced at first as a running joke, burst into full flower with “Hairography,” in which we were finally invited to see the Deaf choir when they visited the glee club members and performed. Except that the masterful performance? That “inspiring” and “emotional moment”? It consisted of wooden choreography (apparently you can’t Sign and move at the same time) and the glee kids interrupting to make it all better with “real” singing. Some people read this as a “coming together and bridging divides” moment, I read it as “the Deaf kids are doing it wrong let’s rescue them.” And, as a reader on this ain’t livin’ pointed out, this episode wasn’t even captioned in all of Fox’s markets.

Yum, irony.

The Deaf choir’s head, of course, is a hearing impaired man who doesn’t know he’s hearing impaired, and isn’t it just hilarious that he can’t hear people, doesn’t hear his phone ringing, doesn’t understand conversations, etc? We got to see him for a moment in “Sectionals” when they broadcast the audience reaction to the Deaf choir…without showing the Deaf choir.

Did I mention that the main singer in the Deaf choir is not, in fact, Deaf?

My thoughts on sexuality on Glee are actually pretty brief, although I definitely think there’s more avenue for exploration here. I’m sorry to keep it so short; it’s not because I think it’s unimportant, but because otherwise this would turn into a five part series. But by all means expand upon it in the comments!

Sexuality on this show is primarily centered around the white and able characters, especially what with Quinn’s pregnancy and all, but it is worth noting that the show references disabled sexuality, without allowing it to happen. There’s Artie’s “I still have full use of my penis” line in “Wheels” and an awkward scene in which Artie and Tina, both in wheelchairs, kiss. One has to credit the show for illustrating that people with disabilities can and do have sex, if they want to (and are also raped at rates which some sources estimate are as much of twice that of the able community, which I suspect is something that the show will not be bringing up). It would be nice to see Glee taking that further and allowing Artie (or Becky, assuming she returns) to be a love interest. As several critics have pointed out, though, how many fans are shipping Artie/anyone? Are viewers ready for disabled sexuality?

Speaking of sex, Glee also has a small gay and lesbian contingent. There’s Kurt, who is striking as a gay male primarily because the show seems to be pushing the gay=secret girl trope by having Kurt behave exactly like the girls on the show. He is, of course, not allowed to have an actual boyfriend, because gay sexuality is something that mainstream television is not ready to allow to happen. The most interesting thing about him is probably his relationship with his father, an auto mechanic who seems largely accepting of Kurt’s sexuality, even when he’s getting nasty crank calls from members of the community about it.

Brittany and Santana are the show’s Obligatory Titillating Lesbians. Some sort of relationship between the two was obliquely referenced throughout the first half of the season, and in “Sectionals,” the cat is let out of the bag. Who wants to bet that we will see them kissing before Kurt gets a boyfriend? And who else was unnerved by the way the revelation went, which seemed to suggest that lesbians can’t be in “real” relationships because they’re all gay and stuff?

Coming up next: The wrap-up.

Glee: The Halfway Point: Women and Race on Glee

This is post two of four in a multipart series on Glee. The previous post was the introduction.

Glee‘s core message about women seems to be that they are all manipulative, evil, lying sneaks. The show includes not one but two deceptive pregnancy plots, interspersed with numerous depictions of women as nags, from Quinn pressuring Finn to get a job to pay for the baby to Terri trying to force Will into buying a house they cannot afford. The women of Glee are so troped that they almost seem like caricatures of themselves.

Among the teens in the show, we have Rachel, who takes care to mention her “two gay dads” and her Jewishness as often as possible, and who wants to be the star of everything. She gets her way most of the time, and when she doesn’t, she manipulates and maneuvers until she does. Rachel, of course, is in love with Finn; an ongoing theme in the show is that all of the men are awesome, with multiple male characters having multiple female characters pursuing them, despite the fact that they really aren’t very great catches.

We also have Quinn, one of the central characters of the piece. A young white Christian and member of the Cheerios cheerleading squad, Quinn is pregnant. For the first half of the season, we watch her lie and tell Finn he’s the father, because she’s decided that he would be a better parent, while indulging in a flirtation with Puck, the real father, who is depicted as boorish and irresponsible. The show even brings up a common sex and pregnancy myth about ejaculating in hot tubs, meant to be a dig at Finn for being too stupid to realize that Quinn is conning him. In the midseason finale, the truth is revealed, courtesy of Rachel, who tells Finn because she’s hoping to win his affections by unmasking his pregnant girlfriend.

Quinn had the potential to be a sympathetic character. We saw her standing up for herself and insisting that she be let back on the cheerleading squad after being booted for her pregnancy. We saw her being kicked out of her home by her conservative parents. We saw her struggling with the pregnancy and the decisions she had to make. But, in the end, Quinn feels like all the other female characters. She’s shown as manipulative, one dimensional, man-hungry, and catty, even if she has a softer side which comes out now and then.

Two of the teens are women of colour; Tina, who is Asian, and Mercedes, who is Black. Tina, whom we will discuss in detail a bit further on, is rarely seen, let alone allowed to speak. Mercedes is the caricature of the fat, sassy Black woman. Although she’s a very talented singer, we rarely get to see it. Both Tina and Mercedes turn solos over to Rachel on multiple occasions, underscoring the idea that women of colour should step aside for their white sisters. Both got a few Special Moments, but they haven’t been given nearly as much attention as the white women on the show. They are, in many ways, props, a theme which comes up with people in marginalized bodies on Glee over and over again.

The other people of colour we see on the show are Mike Chang, who is literally called the “Other Asian,” Ken Tanaka, Principal Figgins, and Matt Rutherford. These characters are kept primarily in the background, almost like set dressing; it’s interesting to note that we probably know more about the minor white characters, such as Brittany and Santana, than we do about the minor characters of colour. In all of the depictions of people of colour we see on Glee, there isn’t much that is new and original, that takes stereotypes on their head and turns them upside down, that really says much of anything at all. They are kept firmly in the background and to the side, with the show’s focus remaining fixed on the white characters.

Our Stories” is an excellent post by thedeadparrot which discusses the role of race on Glee from the perspective of a woman of colour; I would highly recommend reading it.

The adult women on Glee whom we see most often are Terri, Will’s wife; Emma, the school counselor; Sue Sylvester, Will’s archenemy; and Terri’s sister, Kendra. Kendra is seen primarily in the form of Terri’s accomplice, helping Terri fake a pregnancy, giving her tips on how to keep her man, and struggling with her obstreperous children.

Terri, Will’s wife, is introduced to us as manipulative, controlling, and schemey. We see scenes, for example, in which she buys a car to keep Will “occupied” so he won’t stray, nags at Will to get an extra job because she doesn’t want to pick up more hours at work, and gets a job at the school in order to keep an eye on Will.

Until shortly before the midseason finale, I thought the most egregious thing about Terri was that she was depicted as a stereotypical controlling harridan, and that she was faking a pregnancy. (I totally called “false pregnancy” from the pilot, incidentally.) But then, in “Mattress,” we saw a very disturbing scene in which Will finally learned that Terri was faking, and we had an abusive and frightening scene in the kitchen. I read it as domestic violence (trigger warning, link goes to a post discussing, graphically, the domestic violence scene in “Mattress”), as did a lot of social justice folks, and it explained a lot about her character.

Terri was the way she was because she was in an abusive relationship; I recognized a lot of her actions from previous episodes as outgrowths of coping mechanisms once I realized what was going on. If I had more faith in the Glee writers, I’d be going “her characterization is amazing and deep and complex,” but I don’t think that . I don’t think they meant for that scene to be read as abusive, and in fact I suspect that they want us to think of Terri as abusive. I believe that they want us to read her and her sister as conniving women who will stop at nothing to control Will. The nuance and ambiguity feel accidental to me.

Terri’s also fairly clearly mentally ill, although she has the TV sort of mental illness which is vague and unclear. Most heartbreaking moment in “Sectionals”? When Terri said she was getting counseling and trying to do some important work, and Will just shut her down and said “I hope that works out for you” while he walked out the door to capture the woman of his dreams. Ouch.

Emma’s another character with TV disability; she appears to have some sort of mental illness which involves “bizarre” habits. We as viewers are, I believe, supposed to think this is funny and possibly endearing. Anna noted that as the relationship between Will and Emma has deepened, her disordered behaviour has lessened, almost as though she’s being “cured” by the greatness of Will. And Emma troubles me, a lot, as a feminist. She has an unrequited love for Will which she subverts into a decision to marry Ken, but it’s clear that the marriage would be doomed if it happened, and she’s depicted as a vacillating, uncertain woman who only really blooms around the object of her affections.

In the midseason finale, we had Ken leaving her at the altar, and for a moment, Emma almost had her shining moment of glory. Will arrived after walking out on his wife, and basically said “ok, I’m ready, let’s do this,” and she struck out on her own and said “nope.” Choirs sang (not really). But then, scenes later, we have her and Will making out in the hallway. So…I guess that was shortlived resistance.

The depiction of mental illness on Glee with both Terri and Emma really upset me, and I know it troubled some other people as well. It played on a lot of stereotypes about mental illness and people with mental illness, and it also seemed to carry a subtle implication that most women are “crazy.”

Sue Sylvester, of course, is one of the most polarizing characters on Glee. She’s the one everyone keeps coming back to, the model bigot who is so outrageous that she’s obviously meant to be a satire and commentary on society. I mean, right? How could anyone really think that way? Well, newsflash, Glee writers, people do, and there are people who like her character because they agree with what she has to say, and what she does. There are also people who find her character comfortable because she allows them to engage in a little hipster -ism, laughing at bigotry and prejudice instead of being horrified by it.

Even the Glee writers seemed to feel like they were going too far, because they inserted the execrable “humanizing” plot with Sue and her institutionalized sister in “Wheels,” which was the Very Special Inspiration for Able People Episode. Amazingly, a lot of people lapped that entire episode up, including the scene with Sue, saying that it totally changed their perspective on her “tough, but fair” character.

Only, as I pointed out, being a bigot and having a disabled sister doesn’t excuse anything. It just means that you are a bigot with a disabled sister. I didn’t find that scene humanizing as much as I found it frustrating; we are now supposed to think better of Sue because she’s had it hard as the family member of someone with disabilities? Where have we heard that logic before?

Coming up next: “Disability and Sexuality on Glee.

Glee: The Halfway Point: The Introduction

This post contains spoilers through the Glee midseason finale, “Sectionals.” It also got really long, so I am breaking it up into multiple parts so that it will not be an impenetrable Wall of Text. This is part one of four!

Now that the midseason finale is officially over, we think it’s an appropriate time to write about where Glee is going, what it’s going to do when it gets there, and what we all think about it, since the show has attracted a great deal of attention in the disability community. Please note that the views/feelings discussed here do not necessarily reflect those of all FWD contributors, just mine (as always with posts which are not authored by “Staff”), and that comments will be tightly moderated. This is a place to talk about the problematic aspects of Glee, and we want to keep it a safe space for FWDers. There are lots of places on the Internet for Glee squee. This ain’t one of ’em.

One of the most common criticisms leveled against people who critique television is “relax, it’s just a television show.” This is frustrating and curious when it comes to Glee because many people are praising the show for “breaking boundaries” and “drawing attention to social issues.” Fans apparently want to have it both ways; they want to be able to defend the show on the grounds that it’s “just a television show” while patting themselves on the back for watching such a progressive, insightful, inspiring television series.

Critiquing television (and any media) is important. Thinking about the things that we engage with and the ways in which we internalize the values they depict is critical. We absorb messages from all the media we interact with, and we have an obligation to think about these messages. When it comes to Glee, some of the messages being depicted are extremely problematic. For all the song and dance, Glee is actually a very dark show, and it takes readers into some very dark places, even if they don’t necessarily recognize it.

Glee is a television show with a very particular type of humour, which involves referencing prejudices, stereotypes, and marginalizing tropes for humor. I refers to it as “hipster -ism,” inspired by Carmen Van Kerckhove’s discussion of hipster racism at Racialicious (more on hipster racism, hipster sexism, and hipster ableism). The idea behind it is that it’s supposed to be hip and funny because of course “no one really thinks that way.” Only, they do, that’s the thing, and that’s where hipster -ism falls short; it relies on an assumption which simply isn’t true, which is that racism, sexism, ableism, and other -isms don’t really exist any more.

What’s interesting about this kind of humour is that it tends to be leveraged in spaces which people think of as safe; with fellow white people, fellow hipsters, fellow able people, and so forth. This raises the question of whether or not it’s really all that funny. If jokes can only be told in a certain context because “some people might think they are offensive,” would that not seem to suggest that they are, in fact, offensive? Indeed, such humour seems to act in a very insular way; people are allowed to continue being racist, sexist, ableist, etc because they can hide behind the shield of “humour.”

If viewers don’t recognize that what they are seeing is troped and problematic, can they really be said to be viewing a critique or takedown of prejudice? Or is it more likely that they are nodding along with these tropes and having their values reinforced? The deleted comments on Glee posts over at this ain’t livin’, my personal website, would seem to suggest that the latter is the case.

“Get a sense of humour.” “Just settle down.” “Can’t you tell it’s supposed to be a joke?” These lines have been thrown over and over again at people who criticize Glee. Apparently, we just don’t get it, perhaps because we are all humourless feminists. It’s worth exploring why it is that shows like Glee are such a big hit, and why people are so resistant to examining their problematic aspects.

Numerous marginalized groups appear in Glee: women, people of colour, people with disabilities, and gays and lesbians. I’m going to examine the handling of each group over this series of posts and then speculate on where Glee might be taking us. There’s a lot of material for discussion here, so hopefully each post will be a jumping off point for a larger conversation.

Coming up next: “Women and Race on Glee.”

A Few Relevant Posts on “Glee”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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