Category Archives: media and pop culture

Assistive Tech & Pop Culture: “Miss Smith, without your glasses you’re beautiful!”

If you ever want to confuse people, tell them glasses are assistive devices that assist people with lower-level vision impairments, and then compare these assistive devices to such things as arm crutches or wheelchairs. In my experience, they’ll often insist that people who wear glasses are normal. (Not like people who use wheelchairs or arm crutches or any other type of assistive tech, no no, those people are disabled. And everyone knows you can tell who has a disability and who doesn’t just by looking at them, right?)

I’ll often introduce people to the idea that our image of what “disabled” looks like is constructed by talking about glasses as assistive tech, just assistive tech that is generally accepted by society. For a lot of people I interact with every day, getting glasses is routine, and you’ll see glasses everywhere on the street – advertisements for fancy glasses frames! and for new types of lenses! Glasses for everyone! (For certain definitions of “everyone”.)

At the same time, media & pop culture still use glasses as “code” – either for This Is Serious Work, or This Person Is A Nerd/Geek (and a particular type at that) or a scientist/doctor, or a Serious Scholar. This is true whether the person uses glasses all the time, or if they just use them for certain things. On Leverage, for example, when “the bruiser” character Eliot puts on his glasses he suddenly becomes totally sexy and I’d totally hit that because I’m shallow it’s usually an indication that his persona for the episode is Egghead/Nerd or Expert on something. Neal, who is a “recovering” con artist, does something similar in White Collar when he’s doing close-up nerdy-type work on his forgeries, or when his persona is “doctor”. I also clearly remember Elle Woods putting on her Serious Glasses and getting into her Serious Clothes for when she wants to be taken seriously as a lawyer in Legally Blonde. Glasses = Smart!

What brings this back to Glasses As Assistive Tech is that glasses are very normalized to people watching the shows, and yet glasses aren’t all the common as just a Thing The Character Wears in the show. I know why this is – glasses cause light-reflections, glasses make it harder to read someone’s expression on the screen, glasses can be dangerous in fight scenes, if they have lenses they can get scratched up and cause more problems, and if you’re not someone who wears glasses all the time I’m betting they’re distracting.

But, of course, movies and television aren’t the only media we consume. Comics, novels, and video games don’t have these problem. You can give every character in a novel glasses if you want, and it doesn’t really matter. And yet, when I was reading romance novels & chick lit all the time, I can only remember one heroine who wore them, and she went through the whole “Oh, but no one will find me pretty! Men don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses!” (And, despite her glasses being a huge thing in this novel, the cover art didn’t show her with them. Not that this is surprising, but still.)

So what does this have to do with anything? Well, glasses are assistive tech that is very normalized, and yet doesn’t appear very often in our media. When it does appear in our media, it’s often a code for something. This person is Smart. This person is Studious. This person in Playing A Role. This person is Eliot and his glasses make him really really hot omg why are there not more episodes of him wearing glasses and being friendly? And if we can’t see this incredibly common type of assistive tech in our media being used as just a Thing That People Wear, it’s no wonder we so rarely see people using assistive tech in our media just because Some People Are Blind or Some People Uses Arm Crutches or whatever.

Commenting Note: Sadly, I am still on Thesis Time, and likely will be until the end of the calendar year. Comment-approval/responding to will be slower-than-usual on account of this.

Portrayals we love: Melody in Girls With Slingshots

Back in November I did a Guest Post for Bitch about Ways of doing characters with disabilities ‘right’. I think it’s been since November since I’ve had time to consume any media with characters with disabilities (I’m permanently on thesis time now), but I want to go back and talk about the comic I mentioned then, Girls With Slingshots.

As I said then:

I’m not actually a fan of Girls with Slingshots and thus haven’t read the whole run, but I did read the recent wedding-related storyline because it featured two new ‘bit’ characters: Soo Lin, who is blind, and Melody, who is deaf. (Sadly, the strips don’t seem to have a transcript that I can find. I’ve written up a transcript for the relevant strips.) [Soo Lin’s first appearance] [Melody’s first appearance]

What I like about the jokes in this strip are that they’re all over the place. Some are about how clueless people can be about blindness. Some are disability-related humour as told by people with disabilities. I think my favourite is this joke about getting a bad ‘terp. There are others, of course.

The jokes are all based around disability, sure. But the jokes aren’t “ha ha ha, look at the crippled person having difficulties getting around!” And at no point is the humour about a very special lesson for anyone else. Soo Lin and Melody are part of the joke, they aren’t the butt of it.

One thing has changed: Since then I’ve definitely become a fan of Girls With Slingshots, and actually look forward to Mondays because I know I’ll get a new strip. (The weekends are so long.)

Since November, Melody has also become a recurring character, and I totally love how Danielle Corsetto uses her in the strip. Basically, Melody still isn’t a very special lesson in Deafness, she’s a fun and funny character who’s developing a romance with another recurring character, and is gradually being accepted by the others as just another member of the group.

One of the things I am enjoying about the plot line is the growing romance between Melody and Chris. Chris has had a crush on Melody since the wedding arc, and has decided to learn Sign language. While other writers might go with “And then Chris instantly learned Sign so there could be no communication problems, the end”, Corsetto has shown Chris’ learning curve, in all its glory.

Transcript:
Darren and Chris are talking at the local bar. Both are clean-shaven white dudes, probably in their mid-20s.

Panel 1:
Darren: So is that why you’re here? Hoping to catch a glimpse of your beloved?

Chris: I guess. I’ve never seen her here except for that one time, so I don’t know why I’m trying.

Panel 2:
Darren: Aw, that’s romantic. And even if she did show up you could only stare at her creepily because you don’t know Sign Language.

Chris: I’ve been learning!

Panel 3:
Darren: Really? Let’s see this magic.

Chris: [Signing awkwardly] umm… Hello how much does this cost?

Panel 4:
Darren: That will get you slapped.

Chris: I’m only on book one!

Other than Darren pointing out that Chris is still learning (slowly!) Sign, none of the characters in GWS question the possibility of the relationship. The constant match-maker, Jamie, merely encourages him to not keep his feelings a secret [transcript], and Melody’s sister, Maureen, is nothing but thrilled.

As I mentioned before, the humour in people’s interactions with Melody is still focused around the foibles of hearing people who are still getting used to having a Deaf friend, and the assumptions they make about it. In one scene, Chris is horrified to be told that Melody can read lips (I’m not sure if this is true) after he said something embarrassing, and in another a rather drunk Maureen starts shouting for Melody, having forgotten this might not be the best way to get her sister’s attention.

The only flaw – if one can call it that – is that this plot arc is very much about Chris and about his growing as a person in finding a woman he wants to be with. On the other hand, the whole strip is about people growing up and learning about themselves, often through finding romantic relationships, whether or short- or long-term. Characters have tended to be introduced this way (Chris was once a potential romantic partner for Hazel) and then become more fully-fleshed member of the cast.

In short: I really love Melody, and I’m so glad that Corsetto has kept her in the strip. While not everything about GWS is perfect, I’m just happy to see a popular comic strip with a recurring character with a disability. I can’t wait to see where Melody’s story goes.

Commenting note: I am, as I said, on Thesis Time right now, which basically means I’m hardly at all around. If you decide to comment, please keep commenting policies in mind, and I’ll do my best to keep up with them.

Book Review: Wicked by Gregory Maguire

[Cross-posted at Zero at the Bone.]

This post is about the book version of Wicked, not the musical (they’re quite dissimilar). There’s one minor spoiler for the musical, and I’ve tried to minimise the spoilers about the book, though this is a book review so watch out!

Wicked is concerned with the story of the Wicked Witch of the West from Baum’s The Wizard of Oz, which is a fabulous premise, I’m sure you’ll agree. Well, having seen the musical previously, I was a little apprehensive about social justice concerns in the book. And we get off to a flying start with this section of the first scene:

‘[…]What a Witch. Psychologically warped; possessed by demons. Insane. Not a pretty picture.’

‘She was castrated at birth,’ replied the Tin Woodman calmly. She was born hermaphroditic, or maybe entirely male.’

And the ‘patronizing speculations,’ as the Wicked Witch of the West, Elphaba, thinks of these remarks (she’s spying on them in this scene) don’t end there. So, naturally, I was wary from there on out. Look, there’s lots I could talk about in this review: what I found to be a half-baked treatment of race, the truly gorgeous worldbuilding, many “what the pancake” moments, some of the most rounded characters I’ve found in fiction. But I think the treatment of Elphaba’s sister, Nessarose, in terms of her being disabled, needs a whole review to itself.

Before I get to her, though, I should point out that Nessarose is not the only disabled character in Wicked. There’s one memorable paragraph in which Elphaba remembers the last time she sees her old school friend, Tibbett. She’s nursing him and it’s the first time she sees him since he became an “invalid”.

Then, a year ago, pale invalid Tibbett was carted to the Home for the Incurables. He wasn’t too far gone to recognise her even behind her veil and silences. Weak, unable to shit or piss without help, his skin falling in rags and parchment, he was better at life than she was. He selfishly required that she be an individual, and he addressed her by her name. He joked, he remembered stories, he criticized old friends for abandoning him, he noticed the differences in how she moved from day to day, how she thought. He reminded her that she did think. Under the scrutiny of his tired frame she was re-created, against her will, as an individual. Or nearly.

So he’s portrayed as one of the “Incurables,” far gone into hopelessness, an object of pity. Yet still with his inner strength – which, while it is conveyed with tenderness and some depth, is ultimately a vehicle for a Very Special Lesson for Elphaba. And we never get to hear his voice; he’s just here, briefly, portrayed through the voice and memory of his carer. Which is something we’ve all encountered before.

So, to Nessarose, who is described by her sister as having been ‘horribly disfigured from birth’ as she doesn’t have arms. Whose movement is described by the narrator in sinuous, snake-like terms, bizarrely fascinating to look at. Who is conveyed as so pretty and charming, but so helpless and unfortunate, poor dear. Who just can’t get a man because who wants to be with someone like her?

No. No no no no. No. And I thought the sickly sweetness of the character in the musical was bad. It’s like Maguire was trying to cram as many disability tropes in as possible.

But that’s not all there is to Nessarose. She’s a major political figure, which is pretty cool. However, she’s a tyrant, which is… on the one hand, a powerful disabled woman? That’s pretty cool. On the other, another disabled villain? Are you quite serious? What really ties the characterisation of Nessarose into a complex ball of flat out ableism and confusing hints of marvellousness is how her religiousness is treated. There is likewise a little more nuance here. All the way through reading, I was constantly wondering how it was going to play out: was she going to be the unfortunate disabled person of faith who gets manipulated into being a Very Special Lesson to one and all? Was she going to turn into a dangerous figure, driven by religious extremism and her rage about her unfortunate (unfortunates in this paragraph are sarcastic, by the by!) disability? I certainly wasn’t expecting either her faith or her disability to be treated respectfully. And you know something? I was right. She ends up being a theocratic tyrant who has some pretty nasty effects on her people. A thousand points if you too were betting on an evil disabled dictator.

I want to touch on some of the discrepancies between the book and the musical. Anyone who has seen the musical will remember the scene in which Nessarose arises from her chair in one of those “It’s a happy piece of popular culture and I can walk!” moments. Which is bad enough, but, hang on, she doesn’t use a wheela chair in the book! I’m just wondering why on earth the makers of the musical decided Nessarose should be changed to a four-limbed wheelchair user. It’s as though impairments are interchangeable and a wheelchair is a universally applicable marker of disability. I think it would have been great if they’d decided to be true to the book and employ actors who don’t have arms for the musical. I guess we can dream!

In conclusion: skip the book unless you are really into quality worldbuilding and some pretty beautiful characterisations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Film Review: HBO’s “Kevorkian” (2010)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommended Reading for July 6, 2010

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

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

Venus Speaks: Between the Lines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Depictions of Disability That Make Us Happy

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

[Tame OYD Review with mild SPOILERS ahead]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When She Was Bad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perhaps.

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

Wii Fit Making Exercise More Accessible?

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Keith Williamson

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

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

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

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

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

(All Together Now!)

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

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

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

But Bridget is fighting her own depression.

[Spoilers Ahoy!]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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