I dreamed a dream….that you’d stop making disability depressing

Every once in a while someone will ask the question that no one wants to hear but everyone expects to hear a tear-jerking answer to. An able-bodied person steps up, taps a poor cripple on the shoulder and says “wouldn’t you want a cure…if it were available?” The cripple drops his shoulders, a tear slips from the corner of his eye and he stumbles a bit as he says “yes, yes more than anything.” A touching Seal number is heard overhead as everyone hugs and the world is reminded how terrible it is to be disabled. Life truly does end when ability does.

OH NO WAIT. That’s on tv. In real life the cripple turns around and bites the head off the sap who tried to turn him into a pity party. OH NO WAIT that’s in my head.

In real life people with disabilities have really complex and complicated relationships to the ‘desire for a cure.’ That question is generally incredibly invasive to begin with, so whether or not someone wants to answer it is purely up to them; whether they want to answer it honestly is even more private. Bear your soul to someone just curious about your life without any stake or interest in the rest of your life? Yeah….not so much. And the answer to that question is as varied as the disabilities it can represent. It’s not an easy question, there’s no easy answer. It has to do with choice and self-determination and maybe a little ignorance on how accommodations can make life w/a disability awesome.

Artie from Glee tipping his chair backArtie on the Fox tv show Glee can tell us a thing or two about cures. Last night’s episode “Dream On” included a bit where he admitted he wanted a cure. Whereas earlier in the series he wheelchair danced like a pro, now he says he can never dance because his legs will never work. In fact his flash-mob dance scene is only possible because he’s daydreaming. Ms. Pillsbury helps him understand life because ‘surely there will be a cure’ someday. Thanks, Ms.P! Instead of steering him in the direction of a life worth living, she’s given him false hope that his miserable excuse for a life may someday be corrected.

I combed through the early morning blogosphere looking for some commentary that would back me up. I was hoping some mainstream media noticed that the whole Artie disability line is full of fail.  All I found was praise for how Tina supported him and how Neil Patrick Harris was amazing. I’ll admit a love for NPH, but this disability fail is simply not okay. Tina should have kicked him in the head and told him to stop being an ass; bringing crutches he’s never used to try standing which he hasn’t done since his accident? Fail move. Him falling and blaming her for it? Jerk fail move. Disability does not give you a right to be an abusive asshole. I don’t care how embarrassed you are. And Ms. Pillsbury offering support via miracle-cure rumination is just…..disgusting and regressive.

Cool. Now I gotta go stab myself in the eye with some sharp pointy knives…..if I can find my eye. It’s real hard to do anything in life when you’re blind. I will probably miss and stab the wall.  It’s ok, someday there will be a cure and my prosthesis will live!!!! Then Artie can dance and I can stab myself more effectively. It’s a win-win, brought to you by well meaning able-bodied people, everywhere.

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22 responses to “I dreamed a dream….that you’d stop making disability depressing

  1. He supposedly borrowed those crutches from a kid that has CP… that had to be somebody else, because I didn’t let him borrow shit.

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  2. Psssht. They could take a lesson from this guy:
    http://www.webtvhub.com/amazing-dance-video-one-legged-salsa-star/
    or even from my grandfather (bilateral BKA) who would take off his prosthetic legs to get underneath his car to change his own oil.

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  3. I love how hilarious you are while so sharply taking down what needs to be taken down.

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  4. I agree that Tina was being stupid by parading all this “false hope” in front of Artie, but I don’t think it was a fail on the part of Glee. I feel that they were accurately representing how a real, live, teenager might react in such a situation. The character was trying to do what she thought was right, even though in reality it was an epic fail.

    Likewise, Artie being pissed at Tina after falling was an example of what an emotionally upset teenager would do. Find someone to blame so the hurt stops, especially when you’re incredibly embarrassed.

    I would say, in story terms, that’s excellent characterization and enhances the quality of the show for me.

    As for Emma’s advice, I thought she was trying to soften the blow of “you’re not gonna walk, Artie,” but I can see your point of view there.

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    • Here’s the thing though. Artie blaming Tina wasn’t done in a way that would signify teenage angst, nor was his storyline developed enough to be an accurate portrayal of anything. It was a few seconds in which miracle cures are accepted a spun advise, something most teen would scoff at for fear of looking uncool or insecure. Also remember Artie of fall season? He was empowered to wheelchair dance – now he’s sniveling? Also he called Tina to task for faking disability – cause he thought they had a bound – now he runs after her miracle cure?

      Also, anyone with a visible disability could attest to the miracle cures able-bodied people throw around unsolicitedly. Odds are Artie of fall season wouldn’t have ascribed to them so easily.

      This is not an accurate portrayal of disables teenagers – it’s a portrayal by able-bodied culture of how a teen w/a disability would act in conjunction w/general adolescent angst.

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      • I agree with nearly everything you said–Artie was a much stronger person in the first half of the season versus the rewrite here. The sudden character shifts have been part of what bothers me about the second season, but I still enjoy the witticisms and the spectacular music enough that I don’t stop watching.

        (Other examples: Rachel suddenly wants to find her mom? Finn has a convenient disabled friend to visit? Sue is obsessed with Madonna? These were all clear plot devices, not pre-planned. Poor writing, but not everything’s perfect.)

        My only issue was this part:

        “Artie blaming Tina wasn’t done in a way that would signify teenage angst”

        …I’m sorry, smashing into the floor as further proof that you can’t walk, in front of the girl you’re dating, and who you want to do, well, I’m gonna say that’s pretty damn angsty.

        Unless you’re talking about some other part where he blamed Tina??? That I’m missing for some reason??? (Seriously, am I misunderstanding you?)

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  5. maybe I’m conflating poor acting with the sociological construction of teen angst, but the way in which boys tend to lash out at injustice/embarrassment is physical in nature (see: “Odd Girl Out” & “Real Boys”) rather than in a more female-attributed drama-flail.

    I’ll admit that my overall critique of the character is heavily informed by the way in which the character has changed between the two halves of the seasons but the character now known as Artie speaks heavily to cultural assumptions of how people with disabilities are, rather than with reality.

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    • Just because I’m enjoying this argument about character construction…

      In the article above you say, “[Artie] falling and blaming [Tina] for it? Jerk fail move. Disability does not give you a right to be an abusive asshole. I don’t care how embarrassed you are.”

      Here you’re claiming that he’s being verbally abusive from his embarrassment, yet above you claim that either 1) he wasn’t lashing out from angst (and rather some other mysterious happenstance); or 2) Kevin McHale wasn’t accurately portraying a teenage boy in that point.

      I have a problem with both of those points.

      First, I maintain that the situation would have been incredibly embarrassing. No one likes falling on their face. People especially hate falling on their face in front of someone they like/love/want to sex. This makes them appear uncool and therefore embarrassed.

      (–additionally, as you noted, the Glee writers want us to believe that he’s also upset because his idea of using his arms to walk failed. Even if you see this as inadequate motivation IRL, for the purpose of the script, this would aggravation his embarrassment and angst.)

      Second, I think you’re right that the majority of boys lash out physically when upset or embarrassed. But that does *not* mean Artie would. As a solid geek myself, most geek boys act in a more “feminine” manner (in the traditional use of the term) in several aspects of their personality–including, but not limited to, greater verbal rather than physical reactions to extreme emotions.

      I think we can agree that Artie has been consistently geeky in both halves of the series. Yes?

      (I’m officially writing my own essay here. 0_0)

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  6. Okay, I understand what you are saying. When my daughter was paraylzed in a car accident at the age of ten, it raised the question of-do we spend years in rehab. hoping she’ll walk again or let her be a kid. I feared that if we spent too much time in rehab the underlying message would be, you’re not whole unless you can walk. It’s what’s on the inside that counts, wheelchair or no wheelchair. Having said that-my daughter likes when people tell her she’s an inspiration to them and many people have been touched by her life. I see nothing wrong with that. People look at her successes as they would Oprah’s or Sue Monk Kidds. Inspiration. It wasn’t that long ago that FDR had to hide his wheelchair from the public. At least now people are realizing, sitting, standing- people in wheelchairs are people. Communication is a good thing, but I don’t believe anything positive will come out of making able-bodied people feel bad about something they know little about. We love Glee and while I do wish they had someone who was really a paraplegic playing the role of Artie, I am thankful they at least wrote in a character who is paralyzed. It’s a wheel in the right direction.

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    • There’s a difference between recognizing efforts and success and *only* recognizing those efforts beast of disability.

      If people with disabilities are to be treated fair ad given equal access to employment, education, housing, recreation, socialization, romance, sex, etc. Then we can no longer be viewed as inspirational. We must be viewed as people – like anyone else.

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    • It’s cool that your daughter enjoys being called and inspiration — that’s great for her.

      It seems the opposite end of the spectrum from the viewpoint that disabilities are hideous and shameful, right? It’s better to be an inspiration than a hideous shame.

      But in the long run, being an “inspiration” becomes limiting, portraying us as separate from able-bodied people. It makes us too precious, and it creates pressure for how we live our lives. Personally I feel best when I am considered a Regular Person — with flaws, weaknesses, strengths, and struggles like everyone else.

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      • Well said.

        I also take issue with the idea that PWD shouldn’t make able-bodied people “feel bad.” Why do PWD have to be gentle and understanding with the feelings of able-bodied people, when ABP still routinely and casually disregard or denigrate the experiences of PWD? It’s okay to make *us* feel bad about our lives, but if we say something about it, we’re being mean?

        I believe all of us as world citizens have a responsibility to be as compassionate to each other as we can, and that mindless, disproportional anger and bullying is, well, just that. But there’s a difference between that and calling out oppression–the latter is something which DOES need to be done, by as many people and as often as possible. And being funny about it, or edgy, or political–that’s our right, and that’s how we empower ourselves, and that’s how we are able to deal with the kind of oppression day after day that ABP’s (even those who have loved ones with disabilities, though they certainly get it more than most) cannot possibly imagine.

        The OC implied that ABP shouldn’t be called out because they don’t tend to know much about the subject. No, sorry: ignorance is no excuse for oppression. Sometimes we get things wrong and that’s okay–we’re human. But the next step is to own it. Look it up. Find out where you might have gone wrong. You’re also free to disagree at the end of the day, but be informed about it.

        And ABP creating a TV character with a disability? There’s absolutely NO excuse for not having done your sociocultural homework.

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  7. I agree. People are free to find any other people inspirational. I don’t think anyone has the right to tell someone else who they can and can’t find inspirational. We are all of a similar spirit facing our own challenges.

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  8. The comment above was in response to bealjk.

    The fact is my daughter cannot walk and that’s the first thing people notice when they see her. It scares some people because they’re thinking, what would I do if that happened to me? People are uncomfortable around her until they get to know her. Arielle can choose to push other people away or embrace them and teach them that she is just like them. But it is up to her. Having expectations and wishing people would behave in a certain way is almost always going to lead to disappointment. I’ve been married for many years-this I know.

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  9. “We are all of a similar spirit facing our own challenges.”

    I’m not even sure what this means.

    “Having expectations and wishing people would behave in a certain way is almost always going to lead to disappointment.”

    What’s this statement in reference to? The concept that people with disabilities expect respect and to be treated with dignity, to not be relegated to their disability? That is a fundamental need of all humans – dignity and respect – not something we can be so casual about.

    Also you’re doing a fine job as an able-bodied person speaking for your disabled daughter. This is way too problematic to continue. I have to argue with enough well-meaning able-bodied people who see disability in one way or another, either because they have family or friends or watch PWD on tv. Here – this space simply isn’t for you to tell people with disabilities how to feel, think and expect the world to be.

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  11. Not seen that ep yet. But I watched Supernatural from a couple of weeks ago last night and they cured Bobby. I nearly wept at the eradication of a wheelie hero.

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  12. Okay, so I am a teenager in a wheelchair, with a spinal cord injury, just like Artie. I find your blog incredibly offensive. First of all, I do not understand why you are so against finding a cure. I very strongly believe that one day I will walk again, and I do dream about it quite often. But in the same sense, I love who I am right now, and if I died a paraplegic, I would still know I lead an amazing life, with no regrets. You can wish for a cure, and still be proud of everything you are, embracing your disability.
    I also think Artie’s change in character is normal. I have some really high days, when I absolutely love being in a wheelchair, and everything seems to be working for me. Opposingly I have my days when things start building and building and all I want is to walk and be like everyone. Everyone has good and bad days, its a fact of life, not a major plot fail.
    Relating back to you bashing Glee, you’re definitely not understanding some of the things the characters are saying.
    1. Miss P did not give Artie false hope at all. She basically told him nicely that she DIDN’T think there would be a cure any time soon. At first Artie was depressed upon hearing this, but by the end of the episode, he started to focus on things he CAN do, such as being a good friend to Tina, and singing.
    2. Tina did not bring him the crutches. He brought them himself. If anything she was nervous about him trying something he had never done before. It was all his idea. And when he blamed her, it was just out of embarresment, he was not purposely being a jerk and he did later apoligize for it.
    “This is not an accurate portrayal of disabled teenagers – it’s a portrayal by able-bodied culture of how a teen w/a disability would act in conjunction w/general adolescent angst.”
    Clearly, I do not think you have any right to say this. You are not a teenager. You do not have a Spinal Cord Injury. But you know what? I DO. How would you know how I would act. And I love how Glee portrays Artie, and I am very thankful they are raising awareness about disabilities in a positive light.

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  13. how do you know if people are not interested in the rest of your life if you never give them a chance to be a part of your life? yeah…i wonder how that works in your head. hope you feel better about your take downs… hope you dont take down all your friends with your supposed foes. take care.

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  14. I really liked what Arielle had to say.
    I too have a SCI and have been injured since I was 13. I am 28 now.
    I must say, I was not super happy with the way that they showed Artie and making his disability somewhat depressing but Arielle is right.
    You have your good days and your bad. I personally am very proud to have a disability and feel great about the person I have become because of my disability- the people I’ve meet, the things I have done that I probably wouldn’t have if I were able-bodied. I am a very positive person and encourage embracing and empowering.
    But, just last night I cried myself to sleep because I have been having a rough couple of days watching some of my peers achieve things that have been more difficult for me due to my disability. I wished that I could not have to deal with all the additional baggage this life comes with, because frankly it’s exhausting sometimes to constantly have to fight to get what you want however minor it may be.

    I don’t think that I should be ashamed of having those feelings. I am entitled to feel sad sometimes and want to walk again. As a matter of fact one of the things I miss the most id dancing. I frequently think up of dance sequences in my head–hahaaa….

    I much rather liked the episode when Artie gets his school to make the theater accessible to him and when the students fundraise to get the accessible bus for a competition. It shows action and change and equality.

    However, I feel the writers are very aware of disability because it has been in many episodes from physical to cognitive disabilities and it touches on inclusion which I think is so positive. The fact that characters are being written into shows and movies is fantastic. Maybe this is what the general public can handle at the moment. I do believe we are moving in the right direction though.
    Take a look a few years ago, storylines did not include gay relationships and much less kissing on the screen. That has changed and so will this.

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  15. Pingback: More on Glee Disableism | Dis/positional

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