The Transcontinental Disability Choir: Glee-ful Appropriation

promotional poster for Glee, showing the upper torso of Artie, a white student with large glasses and a beige sweater. Standing behind him is another student, Puck, who is also white and wearing a blue tee shirt. Puck is making the 'loser' symbol with his hand placed in front of Artie's forehead, implying that Artie is a loser. Text reads: 'glee: a biting comedy for the underdog in all of us.' Image does not depict Artie's wheelchair, although this is a focal point of his character.

The much anticipated Very Special Disability Episode of Glee, "Wheels" aired last night. And already the rave reviews are flooding in. It's "edgy," it's "a game changer," it's "controversial," it's "moving," it's "thought provoking." Twitter is aflutter with praise.

Did everyone else watch the same episode I watched? Because what I got out of "Wheels" was tokenization and appropriation. I wrote three pages of notes while watching and they were filled with expressions of rage and horror, because this episode pretty much encapsulated, for me, everything that is wrong with the way Glee handles people living in marginalized bodies.

This show has been criticized from the start by activists decrying the use of crip drag, and the tokenization of minorities. The mainstream media caught on this week, releasing a flood of articles expressing shock and surprise about how disability activists were angry about Glee. This episode was evidently supposed to put it all to rest: See, they are actually sensitive to issues which people in marginalized bodies face and they aren't just using people with disabilities as props!

Oh, except that they are. Glee's method of handling minorities is to devote an episode to one minority storyline, and then to shove that minority into the background. We've had the Very Special Gay Episode, the Very Special Black Episode, and now the Very Special Disability Episode, which means that we can go back to focusing on the white, conventionally attractive leads. Who are, of course, the draw, because the most common argument used to justify exclusion of minority groups from film and television is that no one wants to watch them.

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 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.

Using a stunt double for wheelchair tricks and not admitting it is not including people with disabilities. Indeed, acting like you invented wheelchair choreography is not including people with disabilities. It's very clear that an experienced wheelchair user was used as a stunt double for some of the more demanding tricks, and that the choreographer on the final number was not used to working with wheelchair users. Did you know that wheelchair dance is a competitive sport?

I want to touch briefly on some intersectionality fail that happened in this show; these are not specifically disability related, but it still made me cringe. Kurt's throwaway line about "at least I won't get a girl pregnant" which flew directly in the face of recent research showing that GLBT teens are more likely to experience teen pregnancy than heterosexual teens? Fail. Mr. Shu silencing Mercedes when she asked why she wasn't being considered for a role? Fail. Continuing to depict women as lying, manipulative, evil harridans? Fail.

Did Glee get anything right this week?

Actually, yeah. I like that they at least tried to depict disabled sexuality, although they did it very crudely and awkwardly. One of my major criticisms of the show has been that they have not shown Artie demonstrating interest in anyone, or anyone being interested in Artie, and that changed this week. I also liked the depiction of Kurt's dad, in some ways; I like that his father is willing to support him and to go to bat for him. But two small decent things do not overwhelm the monumental amount of fail that happened on Fox last night.

Glee: Same shit, different episode.

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Comments

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I'm not quite understanding

I'm not quite understanding the beef with "crip drag." It seems to me if you're going to have an issue with a non-disabled person playing the role of a disabled person, you cannot appreciate any level of acting because all acting is a lie. Maybe that's why it's called acting. Just sayin. So, you should also be up in arms about the actress who is portraying the pregnant teen because she's not pregnant in real life, and likewise, you should also feel your feathers ruffled by the cheerleading coach because she's not a coach in real life. See where I'm a-going with this?

There are a couple of issues

There are a couple of issues with crip drag, Anonymous Coward.

The first is that crip drag denies opportunities to very talented actors and actresses with disabilities who are routinely told that there are no roles for them. Now, if actors with disabilities attend an open call for a disabled role and an able bodied actor is deemed to be a better actor and a better fit for the part, that's one thing. But most crip drag involves roles for which people with disabilities were not considered.

It also usually involves the portrayal of disability as caricature, which is troubling to me, as a disability rights activist and disabled person, because I do not enjoy the underrepresentation of PWDs on television, and I do not enjoy the fact that people like me are used as figures of fun, plot tools, and props, rather than being treated like real human beings.

It also has to do with the appropriation of marginalized bodies. Being a person with disabilities is not something which passes, which you can take on and off. It is an integral part of your identity. Thus, I have a problem with able bodied actors in disabled roles. Just like I have a problem with white actors in blackface, white actors playing Native Americans/First Nations characters, etc.

If more people with disabilities were getting roles, crip drag wouldn't be such a huge issue. But the fact is that PWDs are underrepresented on television as characters, and even more underrepresented as actors. This means that crip drag is a serious problem.

I do, indeed, see where you're going with this; you dislike the pushback on crip drag so you've decided to use spurious examples and specious arguments while hiding behind anonymity. I'd recommend that you do some Googling to learn a little more about crip drag and take a look at the numerous extensive criticisms of this practice in the film and television industry.

Putting an able bodied person in a wheelchair is not at all comparable to having an actress play a cheerleading coach; being a cheerleading coach is a job. Disability is an identity.

Perfect response to such an

Perfect response to such an insensitive, antagonistic comment.

I've seen so many people's pro-Wheels arguments essentially boil down to "omg, stop complaining, disabled people, they're not making fun of you!" It really alarms me that PWD are still being silenced or being told they are taking things too seriously.

crip drag

While I agree that it's discriminatory to not even audition actors in wheelchairs for this type of role, I've watched an interview with the casting director for Glee and they had a very hard time finding young, midwestern-teen-looking actors with Broadway voices. They also claim to have auditioned disabled actors.

That was the intent in assembling the cast of "Glee," said executive producer Brad Falchuk, along with getting the best performers possible.

"We brought in anyone: white, black, Asian, in a wheelchair," he said. "It was very hard to find people who could really sing, really act, and have that charisma you need on TV."

He understands the concern and frustration expressed by the disabled community, he said. But Kevin McHale, 21, who plays Artie, excels as an actor and singer and "it's hard to say no to someone that talented," Falchuk said.

Vanessa, could you provide a

Vanessa, could you provide a link/source? I'd be interested in reading that interview.

I'd also like to point out that in the original casting calls for Artie's character, he was not described as a wheelchair user, which means that wheelchair users wouldn't necessarily have auditioned for the role. This appears to have been something which was added later.

Links, etc.

http://www.usmagazine.com/moviestvmusic/news/disabled-advocates-protest-...

http://media-dis-n-dat.blogspot.com/2009/12/kevin-mchale-of-glee-says-di...

They auditioned both people with disabilities and able-bodied people. Whether or not they should only have auditioned people in a wheelchair for the role is another question, one for which I don't have an answer. Truthfully, I just stumbled onto this page while doing research for a paper about something completely different.

"That was the intent in assembling the cast of "Glee," said executive producer Brad Falchuk, along with getting the best performers possible.

"We brought in anyone: white, black, Asian, in a wheelchair," he said. "It was very hard to find people who could really sing, really act, and have that charisma you need on TV."

He understands the concern and frustration expressed by the disabled community, he said. But Kevin McHale, 21, who plays Artie, excels as an actor and singer and "it's hard to say no to someone that talented," Falchuk said."

Also, someone mentioned that it obviously wasn't as important for them to find a great dancer (especially a great wheelchair dancer). That's true for the entire cast. They've all admitted to having little to no dancing training. When casting they weren't at all focused on dancing. They were much more focused on finding people with amazing singing talent and stage presence/charisma. This makes sense anyhow. The glee club portrayed on the show isn't even all that focused on dancing, more on performing. Dancing wasn't part of anyone's audition. The entire cast was surprised by how much dancing was involved.

This discussion brings up a lot of issues I've never really thought about, especially the idea of someone trying to act an "identity." But, isn't sexuality also an identity? However, gay people play straight characters all the time and the reverse is also true. Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain or Neil Patrick Harris on How I Met Your Mother.

My curiosity is

I'm more curious about what their casting call looked like, and what roles they auditioned actors with disabilities for. Was someone with a disability considered for the role of Rachel? What about the role of Emma? Or Quinn?

I'm also curious about the upcoming episode that includes scenes with the Deaf choir. From what I saw in the IMDB of one of the people who were cast as members of the Deaf choir, he is hearing. I don't recall what the credentials of the other person credited as such are.

(I'm torn on seeing what that looks like in practice. Do I want to keep watching a show that pains me so, just so I can go on a rant about Deaf culture? Probably not.)

"Midwestern-teen-looking"?

What does "midwestern-teen-looking" mean?

At a guess, "white".

At a guess, "white".

I don't think this is

I don't think this is looking at casting from a rational perspective. Giving a role to someone because they are disabled is no different than not giving a role to someone who is disabled. Acting is a job with certain requirements and if someone cannot meet those requirements for some reason they are not going to be able to succeed as an actor. Unfortunately, that means many disabled people will never become successful actors. This is no different than a paraplegic individual being unable to get a construction job. They simply cannot meet the requirements.

It also makes much more sense for a TV drama to keep their options open. You never know what kind of crazy story line a TV show is going to go off on next. Maybe next season Artie will receive radical treatment so he can walk (we already say the actor using his legs in a dream sequence).

There is always the possibility that the makers of Glee did open casting to disabled individuals but found that the actor who they chose to play Artie was the best fit for the part.

Thank you E. S. Smith. For

Thank you E. S. Smith. For your response to the Anonymous Coward. You could not have made your comments any clearer. you said it so clear for those of us with disabilities.

Able bodied person's if they have not experienced disability in their lives or family's will never get it, or even understand what we deal with. Those of us with a disability have to deal with our afflictions and their ignorance. We struggle to achieve just a fraction of what able bodied person's take for granted.

Thanks, Bradley Goodman

"Crip drag" is not just acting

Great post. I like Glee a lot but there are SO many things wrong with it that are becoming increasingly hard to ignore.
@Anonymous - "Crip drag" is a problem for the same reason it is a problem to have white actors with taped eyes playing Asian characters. (And I'm using race and disability comparatively here NOT because I think they are interchangeable oppressions but because I am Asian and have thought a lot about these issues in terms of race and I'm attempting to apply that understanding to the disability context.)
1) Race and disability are lifelong identities (ok, you might not be born into disability, but once it's there, there it is), lived experiences. Careers and pregnancy are inherently temporary.
2) Being a person of color or a person with a disability is to be constantly marginalized by society at large. Pregnancy and cheerleader coaching, not so much. (Do I have to spell this out? It's really a ridiculous analogy, but I'll play along anyway.)
3) If actors of color and actors with disabilities were given just as many shots at decent roles as white, nondisabled actors, this would not be an issue. But this is not the case. Turning on the tv at any time of day or night will inform you that for such actors, there are very very very few roles that are not stereotypical, degrading, miniscule, etc. They don't give "neutral" roles to an actor in a wheelchair. They give the actor in a wheelchair the role of "guy in a wheelchair." And how many of those are there? Really? So when they give the role of "guy in a wheelchair" to a guy who does not use a wheelchair, that's pretty crappy. It's an exercise of privilege, a reinforcement of privilege, and really what's the point?
4) There are precious few role models for kids of color or kids with disability. I still remember how powerful it was to see Harry on 21 Jump Street - possibly the first Asian character I ever saw who was not a ching-chong stereotype. There haven't been very many since then. It was jarring to see an Asian face just acting all ... normal and stuff. Like he belonged in the world. Compare to David Carradine on Kung Fu - "let's all pretend this white dude is Asian, because we all understand we would never give such an important leading role to an actual Asian person." It's a sucky feeling. It's a sucky feeling when Avatar gets whitewashed and all those Asian good guys get turned into white people. Kids notice and internalize this stuff. I can imagine a disabled kid watching Glee, sees a character that sorta looks like him, and learns that the actor playing Artie was actually disabled - that would feel amazing, like "I can do cool, fun, creative stuff when I'm grown." But in real life, the disabled kid watches Glee, learns the actor is not disabled, and it's just more of the same crap - "you're not good enough."
5) You won't ever convince me that a white actor can do a better job of portraying an Asian character than an Asian actor can. I don't have a disability, but I assume that an actor who actually uses a wheelchair and experiences the daily challenges and oppressions of disability in an ableist society will necessarily bring something to the role that a nondisabled actor will not. Could that disabled actor nonetheless be a bad actor? Of course. Evaluate each actor on her or his own merits, but use common sense.

crip drag, let me explain the problem

An actor in a wheelchair cannot portray an able-bodied character. The only roles he can play are characters in wheelchairs. So when you cast an able-bodied actor for a character in a wheelchair, you are denying that role to a talented actor who happens to be in a wheelchair. That is the problem.

Instead of finding a Black actor to play the role, would you cast a white actor and put her in blackface?

Pregnancy is not a disability and it's a temporary condition. You can start filming the movie when she's pregnant, but by the time you're done filming she'll have a two-month-old baby instead of a pregnancy. Also, since movies are shot out of sequence, you'd have all different belly sizes in your movie out of order, which would make for a very poor movie.

An actor who's a cheerleading coach can play characters who are not cheerleading coaches, and actors whoa re not cheerleading coaches can play characters who are, especially if the actor used to be a cheeleader, or went to cheerleading camp when she was in high school, or attended a cheerleading camp to learn about the role, so she could portray it accurately.

A woman who was pregnant once can recall the experience of pregnancy to play a pregnant woman in a role even if she is not currently pregnant.

An able-bodied actor cannot live the experience of a person in a wheelchair. Even if he sits in a wheelchair for three hours a day. Because, as Artie so ironically said, it isn't something you can fake, or, alas, WALK away from. The able-bodied actor cannot accurately portray those feelings because he doesn't know them. Now, TAB viewers probably won't notice the difference, because we don't know what it's like either, but conveniently dismissing the fact doesn't make it go away.

Yes, it's called "acting," but the acting has to come from somewhere. It's not just "faking." Actors call upon emotions in their lives to play those roles. The reason actors have to audition is because some actors can portray certain emotions better than others; you can't put this actor, whoever good she may be, into any role because while she may be great at this role, she may royally suck at that role because she cannot identify with the character and her emotions. An able-bodied actor cannot idenfity with the discrimination, dismissal, and oppression a character in a wheelchair has had to deal with all her life.

"An actor in a wheelchair

"An actor in a wheelchair cannot portray an able-bodied character. The only roles he can play are characters in wheelchairs."

I agree with everything you've said except this. I realize that you're referring to a culture that seems unwilling to allow PWD to play neutral roles or even *gasp* roles traditionally considered able-bodied, but there's no reason this practice can't and shouldn't be challenged.

Correction

You're right, the statement as it's written (by me, in haste and anger) is untrue.

What I meant to say (and should have written) is that an actor in a wheelchair cannot portray a character that requires walking, running, etc.

Many roles could probably easily be adjusted to be played by an actor who is not able-bodied, but the roles that require certain physical tasks cannot be played by an actor who cannot perform those tasks because of a physical disability. (An actor in a wheelchair could play Peter Parker's boss, Jonah J. Jamieson, but an actor in a wheelchair could not play Peter Parker/Spiderman, because of the physical demands of the role.)

My husband is an actor (SAG and Equity member), and I had this conversation with him. He said, in all the auditions he's gone to (some at large audition facilities, where several shows/productions were holding auditions), he had never seen an actor in a wheelchair, or who needed a cane or crutches, etc. His argument (because he likes to play Devil's advocate, and also wants to know ALL the facts before passing judgement), was that the reason and able-bodied person was cast as Artie was, more than likely, because the casting director did not find an actor who could 1) play the role, 2) sing, 3) play the guitar, and 4) was in a wheelchair, because the number of actors in wheelchairs is very small if that population exists at all (in his view, based on his experiences).

I responded that the reason there were so few actors in wheelchairs/with disabilities is that they never get cast in anything. If there were more roles for them, or if they knew that they would still be considered fairly for the role despite their disability, then more PWD would pursue acting careers (which is a tough and cruel career to get into).

So, yes, I agree with you that we need to start casting people who are "different" into those traditionally able-bodied roles. And my statement was poorly worded, thanks for pointing that out and allowing me to rephrase it.

Yeah, right on anonymous!

Yeah, right on anonymous! And what's up with white guys not being allowed to use blackface to play black characters? Surely that's acting too?

(In case anyone is under any doubts, I'm being sarcastic here. The anon above is an idiot.)

This was not a very

This was not a very appropriate choice of words on a post about ableism
( http://disabledfeminists.com/2009/10/11/ableist-word-profile-idiot/ )

It is not at all like a non

It is not at all like a non pregnant woman playing a pregnant woman. It is more like using a white actress to play a black woman...

Background minorities

I have an issue with this statement: "Glee's method of handling minorities is to devote an episode to one minority storyline, and then to shove that minority into the background."

We saw an episode centered around Kurt, and he was definitely not shoved into the background. A big part of last night's episode was about Kurt and homosexuality.

While Kurt was indeed a

While Kurt was indeed a B-plot in last night's episode, for the most part, the show focuses on the members of the main cast who are straight, so I stand by my statement.

Kurt's role in last night's ep

Kurt was not a "big part" of last night's episode, nor was his homosexuality. There was ONE scene where he and his dad talked about it -- wait, two. I don't think the first one counted, since they barely talked.

Even if we don't get into the issues of Kurt being gay or Mercedes being Black, all the songs are sung by Rachel, with Finn if she needs a romantic counterpart, and the rest of the "cast" is shoved in the back as movable furniture.

Kurt asked to audition for the role. He was told no, the pretty white girl is going to sing it, like we've always done. After threatening a lawsuit, he gets to audition. But what does he do???

Alas, he purposely blows the audition to let the pretty white girl sing the song. AGAIN.

Because he, as a dirty gay kid, SHOULD sit in the background. He should know his place! Who did he think he was, trying to be AN EQUAL MEMBER of Glee, and get rights such as AUDITIONING for parts???

Maybe you can argue that Kurt played a "big" role in last night's episode. That role was to teach us that Rachel is better than everyone, especially gay kids. Nobody wants to see gay kids on stage! Shove him back into the background, where he belongs.

Maybe you can argue that

Maybe you can argue that Kurt played a "big" role in last night's episode. That role was to teach us that Rachel is better than everyone, especially gay kids.

In my viewing, at least, that was pretty explicitly NOT what Kurt's role was about. He was denied the right to audition because of what was explicitly shown as a mixture of nepotism and heterosexism, and his dad fought for him. He was shown practicing and hitting the big high note that he needed to prove that he could sing the role.

During his audition, he didn't purposefully blow the audition because "Rachel is better than everyone else"; instead, he chose to throw the competition by failing to hit the high note we had previously seen him hit so that his dad wouldn't be subject to possibly threatening homophobia directed against Kurt. In my mind, that actually shows him to be much "better" than Rachel--while Rachel values her role as a star over almost everything else, Kurt values his relationship with his father more than the opportunity to sing one solo in a high school show choir. Also, while Rachel is relatively privileged and can pursue her dream at all costs because the consequences for her are rarely more than a slushie in the face, Kurt has more at stake, like, for example, his relationship with his father, possibly his source of income if reflexive homophobia causes customers to stop coming to his dad's shop, and of course, his personal safety.

I agree that the token minorities are for the most part shoved into the background of the show, including in this very episode, but nowhere is it implied that Kurt is "dirty" because he's gay, or that he should know his place is in the background, or that Rachel is better than him, except by the (clearly negatively portrayed) homophobic phone call his father received. He was shown to deserve both the chance to audition and the solo itself, and his decision to throw the competition was described as an act of strength rather than an act of capitulation or weakness. (Whether or not this sacrifice for family, especially combined with how feminized Kurt is, is actually a good thing, is a seperate issue.)

I do, however, think that the reasons the minority characters are shown to fade into the background (shyness, insecurity, fear of homophobia and discrimination even from their friends), as much as they or may not be realistic, are also incredibly convenient for the writers of the show, in that it means the straight white able-bodied characters stay right up there in the foreground.

But that's the thing. This

But that's the thing. This is not the real world. These are not real people who made these decisions. This is the writers wring a plot that "just happens" to give the spotlight back to Rachel. And as you noted below, this is not the first time they've done so. I guarantee it will not be the last.

I think Kurt's decision makes sense for his character. He wants to protect his dad and this was the only way he knew how. But I am very critical of the writers' decision to once again shunt one of the minority kids back into the background in favor of the white, ablebodied, straight kids.

Fail, self

Oh--I totally forgot to mention that an earlier subplot with Tina actually does exemplify what you're talking about. In one episode (the "Single Ladies" football episode) Schuester gives Tina a solo that Rachel feels she deserves (from his pov, Schuester gives Tina the solo so the other kids have a chance to feel like a star and thus won't slack off, because Rachel's so good that the rest of them are "intimidated" by her and let her carry them; from her pov, to punish her--which also seems somewhat likely given the way he acts towards her; either way, it really has nothing to do with Tina and her talent). After initially feeling good about herself, Tina fails to hit one of the high notes of the song and eventually concedes that Rachel deserves the song because "she's better than me", and moreover, since Rachel is thinking about quitting Glee, it's "better for the team" if she gets the song (because Rachel, of course, carries them).

As with Kurt, Tina comes off as the better person because she's willing to make sacrifices for the team in ways that Rachel won't (and in ways that the show valorizes), but in this case, it's explicit that it's not really a sacrifice because it was an "unfair" prize that Tina won in the first place.

In this episode we have the

In this episode we have the first whiff that some of the kids think it's unfair that Racheal gets all of the solos. I have a feeling we'll see more of this...and Mr. Shuster (sp?) isn't going to be lookin' like a saint.

In unrelated news, I thought having a Kurt/Racheal mash up was awesome and showed how Kurt can be just as good as any girl.

ease up

I liked the story-line for Kurt. I am gay and can relate to it. I feel that Kurt had every right to be considered for the same songs if he is able to sing them in key. And I loved how his dad stood up for him and was willing to do whatever it took to help Kurt. But, Kurt saw that getting his way and getting the song would hurt his dad business-wise so he stayed true to his characters empathy and gave up something to help the one he loves, his dad. There will be other battles to win and climbing up to the equal mark doesn't necessarily have to be done by hurting our family and friends, they already believe we are equal.

A difficult call

I have to admit that I enjoy the heck out of this show, but there have been several moments and/or plot lines that made me do a double-take. Honestly, when it comes to the issue of "crip drag" (had not heard that term before), I'm on the fence.

If an honest-to-goodness effort was made to find the right person for the role, including auditioning disabled actors, but the person who best nailed the part happened to be able-bodied, then why shouldn't they cast them?

Of course, I can see the other side of this, too: Disabled actors have been marginalized for a long, long time, and it has become a self-perpetuating cycle. There really must have been an actor who uses a wheelchair who could have done a great job with the role--call it the law of averages. It's a little like the industry taking pains to find female stunt doubles for female actors before a man is brought in as a last resort. I get the impression that "crip drag" casting isn't always a last resort.

But I'm hesitant to call for a full-on ban on people who don't have the specific disability of a character from playing that part. It is acting, after all - the art of telling a story (or "lying," if you want to be harsh) about someone who you are not.

Anyway, I think this particular issue may be both a bit more gray and a bit more black and white than maybe folks are willing to admit. A paradox, I know! And one well worth addressing, so regardless of disagreement, thanks for bringing this up.

Crip Drag

I haven't heard anyone calling for a ban of able-bodied actors playing characters with disabilities. Can you give me a link to that discussion, because I would like to see the arguments used.

You wrote:
"If an honest-to-goodness effort was made to find the right person for the role, including auditioning disabled actors, but the person who best nailed the part happened to be able-bodied, then why shouldn't they cast them?"

I haven't read every article about Glee, but I haven't seen anything that says that there was an effort to cast someone with a disability in the role of Artie. What I did read was that it's hard to find someone who can sing, dance, and act. Having watched Glee, they didn't find someone who can dance in a wheelchair, so I guess that the need to dance got put aside for the ability to sing.

The post that s.e. smith links to talks about the decision to cast a non-disabled actor in the role of Helen Keller, where they explicitly say they never considered an actor who was Deaf, blind, or both to do the role.

I'm not seeing a lot that indicates an honest effort to cast actors with disabilities in these roles, and then deciding to give them to able-bodied people instead. Where are you seeing that, because I would really like to see it myself.

I completely agree. I do

I completely agree. I do love Glee despite its many faults, because I love singing and dancing and running around, but the substantial amount of fail that occurs makes me weary. This show at first, I felt, showed significant promise with regards to healthy sexuality and LGBT issues, and that has... not panned out in the way I had hoped. I still don't think I'll stop watching the show, but to be quite frank not only am I pissed with the way the show treats everyone who isn't white and heteronormative, I have slowly grown to hate all the main characters anyway. With the exception of Puck, who I love. On the other hand, I love all the other characters. Obviously this has nothing to do with their priviliged status, they just happen to be really annoying, while Kurt and Artie remain absolutely precious and Mercedes is wonderful and I wish they would have more storylines (I almost cried at Kurt's Defying Gravity performance this week oh my goodness). Tina hasn't been given enough lines for me to possibly be able to judge. The more I write this comment, the more annoyed I get. :D

But Glee better shape up or I'm gone.

The thing that I have had a

The thing that I have had a continuous problem with Glee is the fact that other characters are ignored. I suppose I am biased because of experience with show choir, but there are AUDITIONS for things that are open to anyone who is in that singing range. If you think you can sing it, great. The director still chooses, but it's unfair to even deny Mercedes the right to audition for something that Kurt had to threaten a lawsuit for. I adore Glee because of the music, but the underdeveloped, stereotypical actors really get on my nerves. For instance, if everyone talks ALL THE TIME about how hated Rachel is, then why don't we ever see a time where it affects her? I understand that the bullying is exaggerated, but none of the characters show to the extent that it affects them. I was extremely disappointed and offended by last night's Glee episode. The fact that it was a surprise ending was nice, but I was completely suspicious of Sue Sylvester's motives the entire time, afraid that the show was going to do something awful to their guest. The entire episode made me go "That's not right" in several places.

EXACTLY

The "Rolling" number was the best oen so far (except for "Don't Stop Believing"... but that was Journey), because Rachel DID NOT sing it. It was actually an ensemble number, with several people sharing the lead. WHAT A CONCEPT.

I hate how they talk about "the solo" like it's ONE part of the song, when Rachel sings THE ENTIRE @#&%?!!$ THING. Oh, Finn joins her if she needs a romantic counterpart.

Unfortunately, my TV messed up during the audition scene, so I didn't even get to hear the song!!!! But the whole time, I was screaming, "WHY DON'T THEY SING 'WHAT IS THIS FEELING?'???" It would have been an AWESOME duet idea, for Kurt and Rachel. (Or, even better, Kurt and someone else. I'm sick of Rachel singing, because she's pretty much the only one who ever does.)

Yeah, the whole, "No, Kurt, we're going to let Rachel sing. You cannot even audition, sorry. Oh, guys, remember, WE'RE A TEAM!!" made me puke.

why.

Why? Sometimes I read this stuff and I just want to bash my head in to a wall. This is why feminism is looked at as a fault. It really makes me sad. Here a show is making a genuine effort, trying to take issues left unsaid in ALL other mainstream television. I had some specific points that I just ranted to the room, but im too exhausted to go in to it here, so ill leave it with that. Who takes 3 pages of angry notes?!?! Enjoy women studies, trying to understand why girls today have a hard time identifying with the feminist movement. Christ.

Are we making progress towards social change via media?

s.e.-

I fully grock your analysis, it is spot on in every way. I also agree with many of the other folks who have commented supporting your critique. However, I wonder what you think of the idea of progress in media (for lack of a better phrase). For example, Glee has done something that I have never seen on any mainstream television show (let alone Fox), it has normalized the spectrum of humanity. Taking your criticism as fully valid, do you acknowledge that some effort at representation has been made, even if those representations are problematic? Furthermore, can you call the representation progress?

Since you have eloquently posed the issues of crip drag and others have discussed both race and queerness, I’d like to point to one of my favorite aspects of the show: The depiction of a self-loving, sexy, self-confident, fat woman who breaks about a million rules regarding what we fat people are not supposed to do. In addition, the character of Mercedes Jones does something else radical; she portrays a Black woman who has her shit together — another rarity in mainstream media. Her character is not a drug addict, whore, lost, lonely, born to a single mother, and her father is not in prison (at least none of these stereotypes have been exposed in the plot thus far). In contrast to these images, which are typically promoted of women of color in media, she’s brilliant, kind, & without being self-deprecating, allows herself to be vulnerable (e.g., she falls in love with Kurt). Does she portray an uppity woman? Absolutely, but no more so than Rachel Berry, whose character is both uppity and annoying.

Given the highly problematic issues exposed by your critique, again, all 100% legitimate, do you believe Glee makes any progress towards humanistic and empowering representation? Would you rather have no character in a wheelchair than one played by an actor who is able bodied? Or a show that has no queer characters versus those who are placed in the background? Or do you feel that the very act of marginalization (keeping their story-lines as a framework upon which the straight and able-bodied drama unfolds) further marginalizes groups that have been historically underrepresented? Put another way, if the representation we see on screen is not authentic, should it not exist?

The reason I ask this is because when I watch shows like Glee or Modern Family I wonder: Are most viewers reading between the lines, looking deeper at the mixed messages of these shows (i.e., tokenism, crip drag, racism, and exoticification of the bodies of women of color)? Mad Men is an excellent example of the duality I am speaking of. The show seems to expose the hegemonic power embedded in “isms” and while doing it, portray on screen the very “isms” activists are working to dismantle.

Do I think that characters with disabilities should first and foremost by played by people with disabilities, hell yes! Do I think there is value in American audiences grappling with the very notion of queer sexuality, of people with disabilities as sexual beings, the connection between homophobia and violence to queer people (and all non-conforming beings), the idea that body-positive fat people exist, and the fact that the world is built for able-bodies — yes as well.

What I’m still debating is if Glee, or another other show that tokenizes while also exploring these issues, actually accomplishes any social change or if these shows simply reinforce norms that already exist, namely, that if you’re not white, male, hetero, & cisgendered you matter less, and not only won’t get the lead part, you will always remain in the shadow of the “beautiful” people. In closing, my question to you is: is media making progress or doing more harm than good?

False Dichotomy

Heather, you've said a lot of things in your comment, and I'm just going to focus on one part. I'm not trying to dismiss your whole comment, but this part is sticking out to me as very problematic.

"Would you rather have no character in a wheelchair than one played by an actor who is able bodied? "

These are not our only two options, and I think that when people boil down critiques by people with disabilities to either-or options like this, it's a very "easy" way of dismissing them.

Because, frankly, I would rather characters with disabilities be played with nuance and respect. The fact that Kevin in the first season of Joan of Arcadia was played by an able-bodied person didn't bother me so much because Kevin's role was well rounded, wasn't "look at how diverse we are", and there was obviously people with disabilities involved in the creation of his character, since so many little details were spot on.

That Joey Lucas in West Wing is Deaf wasn't made the only character arc of her presentation. She made mistakes, she had opinions, she wasn't just brought on to be the Deaf Voice of the Show, she had a storyline.

I have no idea if Joey Lucas was supposed to be written as Deaf, but I know she was a well-rounded character. I do know that Kevin was written to be disabled, and again, he was a well-rounded character.

I would be more forgiving of Glee if they had hired a person who was a full or part-time wheelchair user for the role. However, if they didn't change anything else about it, I would still find it problematic for the same reasons I think it's problematic to keep stinting Mercedes on screen time and solo opportunities.

Heather, you are raising

Heather, you are raising some good points here; I think that, viewed objectively, progress is happening. The very fact that we are having conversations about the problematic content in Glee shows that progress is being made, because a show that did this kind of thing 20 years ago would not have attracted this much negative attention. This is probably a result of social, rather than media, progress.

But the problem is, as you yourself so neatly put it, that Glee "simply reinforce[s] norms that already exist." Glee is positioning itself as a hip, edgy show--the idea is that "no one actually believes this stuff" and so it's funny because the caricatured characters are supposed to be read as caricatures. I call this particular social trend "hipster -ism," referencing the idea that it's a particular class of hipster humor which uses offensive content to be "edgy," but primarily only in safe spaces (among other hipsters).

And it's true, some viewers are reading them as caricatures. But a lot of viewers are not. Mad Men is actually a great example of a show which is walking the same line that Glee does, only I think it's doing it much better. The issue is that in our society, a lot of people think that these caricatures are real. And when they see a show like Glee, their views are reinforced, not challenged, because the show is not breaking down stereotypes, for the most part.

To take one of your examples: Is it terrific to have a body positive fat character? You bet, and in Mercedes' ONE solo one of the things I specifically mentioned was that she was wearing form fitting clothing and loving her body. On the flip side of this departure from stereotypes about fat people, though, you have Mercedes being treated as a second class citizen, told she can't get solos, not being allowed to be sexual, etc. And while you and I read her as body positive, how many viewers read as one of those mythical fatties who doesn't realize she's fat?

You ask "...if the representation we see on screen is not authentic, should it not exist?"

And, well, it's a tricky question. Television is about the suspension of disbelief. Thus, making a blanket statement like "inauthentic portrayals shouldn't exist" is not really...well, it's not one that I would agree with. But, that said, yes, I think that tokenization and marginalization of people who live in marginalized bodies contributes to structural oppression.

Which means that, yeah, if my choice is between a highly stereotyped caricature and no one at all, I would actually prefer no one.

But you know what I would prefer more? Seeing people in marginalized bodies in lead roles. Seeing characters who represent marginalized groups in roles which are not troped and stereotyped. Take Robert David Hall on CSi; he is disabled, he plays a disabled character, but his character isn't troped or stereotyped, used as a prop or a Special Learning Experience. Or Shoshannah Stern as Bonnie on Jericho--again, a disabled actor playing a disabled character, but one who is a fully realized and dynamic and interesting character, not a random addition for Diversity Points.

We don't need to focus on PWDs (or people of colour, etc) in television to give them good roles; we just need to treat them like human beings, not caricatures which can be pushed around a screen.

Great point

Even if the writers of Glee are trying to use "wink-wink" tongue-in-cheek subversion of social norms, the fact remains that they are broadcasting this show on Fox. Its not like the audience has to take critical theory 101 as a prerequisite to watching the show. The over-the-top caricatures in Glee don't seem so 'absurd' when you place them in the context of broader pop culture's representations of marginalized groups.

amen.

a, fucking, men.

"Here a show is making a

"Here a show is making a genuine effort, trying to take issues left unsaid in ALL other mainstream television."

Practically every sci-fi show ever has done this, along with other various tv shows (Freaks and Geeks and Mad Men, for example). Try again.

Also, I don't think you understand what feminism is based off your out of the blue comments on the matter.

Are we forgetting ...

... that one of those straight leads is Jewish, with two gay fathers (one black)? I agree that certain characters, particularly Mercedes, are doted on for an episode and then pushed aside. I also agree with some that Kurt's sexuality has definitely NOT been pushed aside.

As a white middle-class female without any handicaps, I don't pretend to understand all the issues surrounding the portrayal of Artie, though the criticisms seem valid; but as a bisexual Jewish woman, I appreciate the roles of Rachel/Puck and Kurt.

And I would think that all the characters will be getting their "token episodes," including the straight white leads (who as another reader pointed out, are just annoying, for the most part).

Maybe I'm just an apologist. I do love my "glee"-ful song-and-dance shows, after all -- but to say that as a whole that the show treats diversity in an appalling manner is going too far.

Nope, no one's forgetting

Nope, no one's forgetting anything.

You raise an important point here; obviously, Glee has some good elements and things which it portrays well (although I am not a fan of making the Jewish character shrewish, personally).

However, this is a disability-centric guest blog and I do have a word limit, which means that I need to pick and choose what I address in a given post. And the fact that Glee contains elements which are handled well doesn't outweigh the fact that it contains elements which are handled very, very poorly. A few good things do not make a show immune from criticism.

If I had an unlimited amount of words to use, I'd probably delve much more deeply into positive aspects of the show such as the ones you bring up. I don't recall saying that the treatment of diversity was "appalling," but actually, I do think it's pretty awful. Even the minorities you mention as positive examples are heavily stereotyped and caricatured. Is that really such a good thing?

Indeed, I would argue that a show which does some things right is an especially good target for criticism and discussion, because the fact that they are right on with some things shows that there is potential for improvement. You'll note that I don't dedicate time to critiquing total cesspools of offensive content, because it's clear that those shows have no chance for redemption.

I just came upon this article

I just came upon this article and as a black women with a mild disability, I have to say that I do not seem to have as big a problem with Glee as many internet bloggers and critics do. I greatly enjoy this show and count it as one of my few must see tv shows. I understand where critics are coming from, but does not most every show on tv, no matter how articulate and critic-proof it may seem, have at least some problems? I know that glee's problems deal stem from very serious matters such as sexuality, disability, race, ethnicity and more, but I truly feel that critics may be reading a little too much into the show so that they can find faults. Really to say that you dont like that the Jewish girl is portrayed as shrewish- that seems to me like being a little too nit-picky. Why can't you just view the character as being shrewish and not bring her ethnicity into it? She is also supremely talented, self-centered and spoiled, surprisingly friendly at times, sometimes boy-crazy, enterprising, and so much more- in no way is she just the "Shrewish Jewish girl." When you boil her character down to that, and really when people do that with any of the characters -choosing to focus on just one aspect of their characterization so that they can complain and blast glee for being sexist or racist or homophobic- THAT is what i have a problem with.

Do we need a token episode

Do we need a token episode for the straight white leads? I can't think of a single episode of Glee that hasn't talked about their storylines, focused on their needs, or at least had them featured singing.

Mixed bag

I thought they made a good effort and a couple good points. For instance, when the kids vote to have boy-with-disability (I don't know any of the characters' names. sorry!) just ride with his dad so they don't have to bother fund-raising, he initially says nothing which lets them assume it's fine, but later, when they ask him, he responds that he found it hurtful and thoughtless, and everybody learns to be more considerate. Great.

What I didn't like was the end when girl-who-gets-every-solo-because-why-exactly? and boring-boy-who-thinks-he-knocked-up-his-girlfriend-and-still-throws-a-tantrum-when-she-expects-help-with-doctor-bills went to the restaurant and told the manager that he had to hire boring-boy just because he's in a wheelchair and will sue otherwise. I thought it left too much room for the idea that these abuses can happen easily, or that disabled people are given an unfair advantage over able ones and use their disabilities to blackmail people, or that employers are frightened with threats of lawsuits into hiring disabled people.

I still love the music though. Defying Gravity this week was gorgeous.

Yes, I had a big problem

Yes, I had a big problem with that scene too (aside from the fact that Finn was being forced to get a job by his girlfriend). It turned a very serious issue, employment discrimination, into a gag for a laugh. Which is, one might argue, one of the major problems with Glee in general; the problem with making things like this into jokes is that people really do genuinely believe that PWDs get unfair advantages, people do believe that gay men are all overtly feminine, etc. Is it really all that funny when you're just reinforcing social and cultural values?

Ack!

Heather H, I accidentally marked your comment as spam when I was trying to respond to it. (Shaky hands for the win!) I am not sure where comments go when that happens, but I am going to see about getting you rescued. I just wanted you to know why your comment appeared to randomly vanish (and I am formulating a response to it, because it's a great question).

I read somewhere that

I read somewhere that criticizing Glee is like lecturing a puppy. I don't think it's meant to do anything other than entertain. I like the show most of the time. I love the music. I don't really look any deeper than that.
I do see some inconsistencies with the show's sense of humor, and maybe even the sense of irony. I think the writing is hit and miss. Sometimes it's overly sentimental and other times they're completely insensitive and politically incorrect. Perhaps they're trying to appeal to too many people, which is what most network television does.
They need to stop focusing on whatever self-imposed sense social responsibility they seem to feel obligated to live up to. If they continue on with the after school special-ness, they're going to lose both audiences because it just comes off as disingenuous.
I understood the "tokenness" of the group to be ironic. I'm not so sure anymore, and if it does continue to push "social awareness" then it might as well get moved to the CW until it runs its course.

The point is...

It aims to entertain at the expense of marginalised people, though, Lauren. Some of us don't have the choice but to look deeper and see through the hipster irony.

Ryan Murphy

If you believe Glee's only purpose is to entertain, I would advise taking a look at Ryan Murphy's body of work, specifically his previous teen show.

Honestly, I think he uses the entertainment factor to pull people in, and once he's got their attention, he attempts to throw something meaningful in their faces. Unfortunately, his methodology is flawed, and ends up coming across as offensive a lot of the time, only serving the reinforce the stereotypes he seems to want to discredit.

Re: Popular

I can only assume you mean Popular. Glee's recent attempts at some of the deeper issues that Popular successfully tackled, only makes me think that maybe Glee should hire Jamie Babbit. When she directed episodes of Popular, they were always on-the-money, IMMHO. I especially appreciated (as I was in high school when Popular aired) seeing that being queer or non-genderconforming was not necessarily the end of the world. At a that time, Popular was the only place I had even SEEN queer or transgender issues and people portrayed. I felt like it gave me the right to exist, no matter what people in my home or church may have been saying. I wish the show could have continued, because I am sure they would have tackled more issues of equality if they had- perhaps even by hiring an actor or actress with a (dis)ability.

So while it pains me to see the blatant ableism and even "token POC," ("Ballad" even referred to one of the members of glee as "Token Asian," so maybe they are aware of the show's limitations, somewhat tongue-in-cheek...) I have to keep watching glee because I do not see differently-abled characters portrayed on TV, with the exception being autistic savants and mentally ill (generally negatively portrayed) characters. I want to see difference being represented, as a Special Education teacher with (dis)abilities whose partner is also differently-abled. I need to know that there are representations (within reason) that help create understanding (not pity, which Artie sometimes evokes, much to my regret) where before, there was only ignorance.

And I miss Joan of Arcadia. I enjoyed that portrayal of someone with a (dis)ability far more than Artie's caricature. Glee needs a Tammy Lynn Michaels to be their Nicole Julian to take any heat for badly planned tongue-in-cheek blatant bigotry, and demonstrate that most of the cast is able to be humane and focused on equal rights, diversity, and the accurate portrayal of differently-abled individuals- preferrably by actors who actually are differently-abled and not pseudo-deaf glee club members or actors who don't use devices to assist their mobility in their everyday life.

Popular was grand.

I really love that show, especially the more serious episodes that dealt with transphobia, homophobia and sexual harassment. ("Ch-Ch-Changes" has stuck with me the most -- wow!) Maybe some aspects could have been better -- I do wish some of the main characters had actually come out as queer, instead of just mentioning that they weren't positive they were 100% straight -- but their lessons of acceptance and respect were powerful and relevant in what was primarily a comedy show.
I'm struggling to remember coverage of disabilities in Popular, though. I sometimes thought they were hinting that Harrison's mother suffered from depression, but I don't believe it was confirmed. That could have been good, but then there'd be the whole "depressed lesbian" stereotype to avoid.

Marginalize This

Ah, another refreshing article decrying the mainstreams depiction of diversity. Clever!
Because that's never been done before. But what I have a PROBLEM with is this:

"It does nothing to advance the cause of people who live in marginalized bodies."
Wow, big step down, Bitch mag.

As a disabled woman, I have never, nor will I ever, live in a marginalized body. You and society may seem to think so. Your use of the description shows your agreement. Go ahead and marginalize yourself, or let yourself be marginalized. I have good, refreshing television to watch.

AMEN, lady.

AMEN, lady.

That's not quite what it means...

This comment has been bothering me, but I'm not quite sure what to say except: another disabled woman here, and marginalisation refers to those negative attitudes in society. Society marginalises us because we do not fit its ideas of what people should be, yeah? Disabled people live in marginalised bodies because society says we are less than, it doesn't mean we are less than, and that's what 'marginalised bodies' means.

Society tries to marginalize

Society tries to marginalize everyone and no one fits society's ideal body type...it doesn't exist. Only those who choose to whine about how they feel marginalized live in the margins. I choose to step out of it and ignore it.

And some of us get murdered

And some of us get murdered simply for having marginalized bodies.

Canada's doing its semi-annual discussion about whether or not Tracy Latimer's murderer deserves to be given a break since it's totally okay to murder your child in a way so horrible we've outlawed it as a means of killing rabid dogs, if your child has a disability.

This Friday is the Trans Day of Remembrance, for trans women murdered for just for being trans.

Friends of mine who are in interracial couples get harassed and attacked, merely for walking down the street hand in hand with the person they love, as happens to queer couples all over the world.

For some us, our life is at risk just for being who we are. This isn't true for all people who fall into these sorts of groups, but it is true for a lot of them.

When you dismiss what we're saying as whining, it tells me that you're ignorant of the experiences of other people.

Anna, cut it out

You're attacking a friend of mine who I directed to this blog, in no small part because she is a disabled feminist kick-ass lady who has her own interesting opinions on the subject. In her case, that she refuses to be described or accept being "marginalized". She is not a troll and deserves more respect than that. Instead of simply being dismissed as "ignorant". That was not her point, I'm not saying we all need to agree on Bitch but I think it's ridiculous that anyone disagreeing is instantly some "-ism" (racism, sexism, etc) and "ignorant", "stupid", whatever and then you can go on feeling better about your preconceived notions.

Hell, I have NO fucking urge to watch Glee but it's hardly the same that she likes to watch that TV show, as someone getting beaten to death for being trans. Way to convolute things just to feel superior.

I joined the Bitch collective recently, but I'm going to cancel and say this post is why if this disrespectful BS continues.

A comment responding to

A comment responding to women with disabilities speaking about the very real experience of women with disabilities and other marginalized (yes, marginalized) groups by saying "Don't say I am marginalized, you make yourself that way" -- you don't see how that might be just a little bit problematic when yes, people who are members of those groups ARE institutionalized, abused, raped, beaten and killed for it EVERY DAY?

Being part of a marginalized group does not mean I am actually less-than, or that my words and ideas are less worthy, or that I value myself any less. What it means is that the rest of society has structured itself in such a way as to discriminate against me and make my life difficult because of my difference. I am not choosing to marginalize myself. I am choosing to identify the real problem and speak out against it and try to change it rather than trying to convince myself to be OK with what's given me, even if it is unjust.

If you or your friend wish to contest the existence of that oppressive system, well, have fun, I guess, but don't get upset when others of us point out that yes, there ARE very real ramifications of that system that are rather hard to write off.

And, thank you, we feel that we have seen progress toward a more respectful and less dangerous environment for those groups BECAUSE we are confronting that system.

I don't think your friend

I don't think your friend needs you to defend her right to have kick ass opinions or express them here.

Pointing out that people are murdered on a regular basis for being disabled, for being queer, for being a certain race, for being female and expecting someone who is engaging with this discussion to understand that is not calling them stupid.

Bitch magazine specifically reminds readers of this blog that: "Opinions expressed on this website are those of their respective authors, not necessarily those of Bitch. Dig?" However, it is true that they did ask us to write about pop culture, and knew that it would more than likely involve challenging people on their opinions of disability, and representations of people with disabilities in pop culture.

Your friend, no doubt, has different opinions. I'd like to read them, instead of just being told to stop whining.

An argument that rejects the idea of marganlized bodies and thus it's okay to watch Glee would make sense if anyone here were suggesting "Don't watch Glee." But your friend argued that all bodies are marganilized, so there's no point in talking about it. I disagree with that argument, because some bodies are likely to be murdered because of who they are. That argument has nothing to do with Glee, but it has a lot to do with the comment it was in response to.

I think it may be best that you consider not commenting further, as your comments have gone into personal attacks rather than rejecting arguments.

Re: I'm Not Quite Understanding

I hear you're not "a-getting" the problem with crip drag. Nondisabled actors using wheelchairs is more like male actors regularly portraying women, and white actors regularly portraying black people than it is like a klutz pretending he's a cheerleading coach. There are plenty of talented wheelchair-using actors who can play these roles. It's not like the role of Artie is award-winning, he's not the star of the show; he's just a supporting role, a "bit" part. Why not give the role to someone who actually knows the part? Why pretend the guy playing Artie is a better actor than he is, to cover up the fact that the show blew off real disabled actors? Plus, every real wheelchair user in America is mocking the screw-ups, the mistakes. Why not go for something a bit more believable?

Also,using nondisabled actors set the stage for crap that's doubly-offensive — some impossible medical miracle will happen, the kid will melodramatically regain "use of his legs" and yet even more meaningless, sappy cliched stereotypes about our community will be perpetuated. Yet more pressure will be put on newly-injured real-life Arties to focus on the impossible rather than live their real, possibility-rich lives

I mean, I know, it's Hollywood. By definition it's meaningless, mindless entertainment. Still, it'd be nice if they got it right once in a while.

That episode sucked. Sue

That episode sucked. Sue went soft! Not cool!

Nuance, please

Anna Deavere Smith and Sarah Jones are two actresses who portray people of different races and ethnicities than themselves. Deavere Smith also portrays people with medical conditions she doesn't have, and specifically portrays real-life people that she's connected with through personal interviews and relationships.

I love their work. I think it is honest and powerful. However, the running contention on this thread seems to be that it is never okay to act a character that doesn't have the same identity that you have.

So what of Deavere Smith and Jones?

Here's Deavere Smith in her many characters:
http://isak.typepad.com/isak/2009/10/anna-deveare-smith-character-in-ame...

Here's Jones in her many characters:
http://isak.typepad.com/isak/2009/10/the-characters-of-sarah-jones.html

Here's Deavere Smith interviewed on Bill Moyers Journal last night about her work (including an interesting answer to the question if acting is lying):
http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/11132009/watch.html

Citation Needed

However, the running contention on this thread seems to be that it is never okay to act a character that doesn't have the same identity that you have.

I must have missed those comments. Could you link to them please?

um.

Here's the thing, though: Anna Deavere Smith and Sarah Jones don't appropriate disability to make it "inspiring" or amusing to non-disabled folks (quite unlike Glee).

I see this completely

I see this completely different. The way they are focussing one by one on the minorities has led me to believe all characters will slowly but surely be fully rounded ones. After all we're only half way the season, I don't think we can judge fully now. I'm also very annoyed by the negative portrayals of minorities and women but I'm starting to think as the season progresses the stereotypes will be broken.

It's funny how we can show

It's funny how we can show fully rounded white able-bodied straight characters early on, but have to wait for Very Special Episodes before we can learn anything about the other characters.

We still know *nothing* about Tina (well, except that it's easy to fake a stutter, which is so far from reality that I don't expect them to find their way back), basically nothing about Mercedes, and very little about Kurt.

The show was originally pitched as 13 episodes. This is episode 9. Episode 13 is all about Sectionals. That means they either intended to "fully found out" the rest of the cast in the next 3 episodes, or figured they didn't need to.

Fully rounded?

There is much about Glee that is problematic and I agree with many of the thoughtful and complex critical comments that have been shared in this thread. I do think that the show is being broken out into bits and pieces here, though, and that assumptions are being made about its overall success in terms of both its treatment/utilization of characters of privilege and its coherence as a whole.

I would like to offer an additional perspective--and in the interest of full disclosure I'll say that I am a white, middle-class, well educated, able-bodied, cisgendered, queer, feminist lover of that oft-problematic artform called musical theater. I am also a writer/teacher of literature, and I get that my opinion is colored by that aspect of my experience, as well...but here's the thing (in my humble opinion): Yes, many of the writers'/producers' choices indeed make direct and indirect negative impact. I'm guessing that that is not their intention. Rather, I think the blame itself can be equally spread between ignorance and/or laziness and the fact that when you get right down to it the whole show is poorly written. Every character and every storyline is two-dimensional and based on stereotypes. There isn't a single aspect of Glee that I would call well-rounded except the musical performances themselves...which is really the whole point of the show (though there have been failures there, as well).

I'm not in any way excusing the show's faults or suggesting that strong musical performances trump the need for integrity. I'm not even allowing room for the possibility that musical theater (or television) can't pull off depth of narrative or character. Still, I do think that the format is a hindrance in this particular case, in the sense that the creators may have bitten off a bit more than they can effectively chew. What I really, really want to believe is that they're going for camp and just not doing it as well as they could if they had the luxury of more guaranteed episodes, a cable network, a clearer sense of their target demographic, etc.

It's important to talk about the most harmful failures of any endeavor, but I think it's important, too, to put those conversations into a fair frame of reference. Is Glee trying to do something progressive? I think so, but I'm willing to consider the fact that I may be thinking too optimistically. Intentions aside, the show is deeply flawed. I also happen to really enjoy it on the pure-entertainment level, when I can manage to turn off the critical voice in my head. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I'm not sure.

Elia, that's a really

Elia, that's a really interesting argument. I'm not sure I agree with it, but this may be influenced by my not being familiar with the musical theatre genre.

I think part of why I'm seeing the main characters as well-rounded is because we know things about them. We've had personal narratives from them - Puck, Finn, Rachel and Will have all had the voice-over narration of their inner thoughts. Even in the Very Special Episodes, we don't get this from the other characters - no personal thoughts from Artie (which may have been horrible, or awesome, depending), or Kurt, or Mercedes. I know the musical aspects are supposed to do that, to a lesser extent, but I wish they would actually give some of that time to the other characters.

As someone with a musical theatre interest (background?), I'd really like to learn more of your thoughts on it, should you have time/energy/inclination.

Voice overs

Yes! This has really been bothering me, and when I mentioned it to someone I know who watches the show, she hadn't even noticed. Because of the selective voice overs, we see the white popular characters from their own points of view. Because we don't get voice overs from anyone else, we see them from everyone else's point of view. This is a huge distinction, and one that I think many viewers fail to notice.

Does Glee have time to remedy this? Absolutely. But, uh, they've also already had time.

Thank you!

Thank you! Everyone is praising Glee to the skies for simply having characters who are nonwhite/gay/disabled without realizing that the show marginalizes these characters on a weekly basis, and focuses on the (straight, abled, white) leads. This isn't diversity, it's tokenism. The fact that the show advertises itself as being for "the underdog in all of us" just shows how clueless they are. Oh, look at the poor majority kids!

For extra bonus points

They got a diversity award for it.

And a whole bunch of people saying, basically, "Look, you have your token character on this show, what more do you want? A good representation? What sort of nonsense is that! Put up with what we give you and be happy with it!"

glee

With all the negativity in the world now why cant we have a show that makes you laugh out loud and forget all your worries for just an hour a week without more negativity such as this blog. I dont feel that Glee makes fun of the disabled if anything they let people forget about their worries for just a little while. i think we can all agree thats not such a bad thing.

Well, there goes my temper

Well, see, some of us actually have disabilities, or have family members with disabilities, and can't see what we're supposed to find funny about our lives.

Could you explain the humour? I know, it stops being funny if you have to explain it, but just tell me what's funny about the way disability is handled in Glee. Is it the way that Artie gets ignored until the very special disability episode? Is it the way that Tina is faking her stutter - something that would be pretty much impossible to do for that length of time? Is it the ha ha! of watching the nice able-bodied kids have difficulty with getting their lunches? Oh, ho ho ho!

Feel free to enjoy the show. No one is telling you that you can't. What we're saying is that we don't enjoy the show. We don't enjoy our life experiences being triviliazed this way. We don't enjoy Very Special Learning Opportunities. We don't like having another show reinforcing the idea that people fake disabilities all the damned time, and manage to get jobs out of doing it.

We don't find it funny at all, because we're tired of trying to find jobs when half the businesses in town aren't wheelchair accessible. We're tired of having to spend so much of our income on the medications we need to live. We're tired of our bodies being treated like they're horrible and awful.

Find it funny all you want. But don't tell me how much fun I'm supposed to have watching it.

Let's take a look at those fascinating pronouns

why cant we have a show
that makes you laugh out loud and forget all your worries
I dont feel that
Glee makes fun of the disabled
if anything they let people
forget about their worries
i think we can all agree

There. That's better.

Now who is the "we" who can all agree? Because I see some disagreement here. I hear some people not laughing. I'm noticing people (y'know, "the disabled" and their allies) feeling hurt and even angry because "they" (who make the show) are entirely separate from "the disabled" and aren't listening, just as you're not listening, perhaps because you can't see "the disabled" as people worth listening to.

But never mind engaging with any of that. It's obviously really all about how Jennifer feels that's really important.

Funny?

What's funny is that Jennifer even thought the episode was supposed to be funny. I'm sure it had its supposed-to-be-funny moments, but on the whole I think it was trying to be serious, oh-so-insightful and sensitive. Which, obviously, it wasn't. But the fact that Jen thought we were supposed to be laughing at Artie's life pretty much says it all.

terminology

If you're going to write an article denoting the portrayal of people with disabilities, then AT LEAST have the professionalism to CORRECTLY SPELL the disabilities in question. It's DOWN SYNDROME....actually Down syndrome. No apostrophe after the "Down" part, as Dr. Down, who first indicated the condition, did not actually HAVE the syndrome.
In the eyes of a parent of a child with Down syndrome, you just did a big hit to your own credibility.

Oh goodness, I made a typo!

Oh goodness, I made a typo! Thanks for the correction.

Actually, while Down Syndrome is the accepted usage in the US (and thus should be used here because this is an American site) I was taught to spell it Down's Syndrome, which is a commonly accepted spelling in other regions of the world.

Disabled VS non-disabled actors

I agree that an actor with disabilities should get an acting role for a disabled(or non-disabled, for that matter) character, but only if the disabled actor is genuinely better at the role than the non-disabled actor. It shouldnt be about who is disbabled, and who is able-bodied. Acting is about acting, and roles should go accordingly to the best actor.

Leaving out an able-bodied actor who is a better performer is just as bad as leaving out a disabled actor who is a better performer.

Please understand our objections before rejecting them

Britt, your comment basically ignores everything we've been saying, in comments, in the post, and in the linked posts.

It's very frustrating. Please consider what our actual objections are.

Also, Kevin McHale can't act like a person in a wheelchair. He is very bad at it. He is really bad at wheelchair dancing. Many people who use wheelchairs have pointed this out. How does this make him the best choice, when he can't actually play a vital part of the role?

In comparison, Jason Ritter in Joan of Arcadia does a very good job of acting as someone who has become a full-time wheelchair user after an accident.

There is more here than you're apparently reading. If you could treat our objections with a bit more respect, it would be appreciated.

Yes, because everyone in a

Yes, because everyone in a wheelchair is good at wheelchair dancing.

And how do people in wheelchairs act, btw?

Just sayin'.

Everyone else in the show

Everyone else in the show can dance. That's what they do. They're a singing and dancing club, and their job is to be able to dance.

And people who have been using a wheelchair for the number of years that Artie is supposed to have used the wheelchair for wouldn't be so obviously uncomfortable with it, and so bad at maneuvering it.

Frankly, there are many many places you can go on the internet to complain about how people with disabilities are objecting to the show. Telling people on a site dedicated to critiquing pop culture that they're critiquing pop culture too much for you is a waste of both your time and ours.

I'm not criticizing or

I'm not criticizing or critiquing anything. I was just saying, there is no way that people in wheelchairs "act" as you insinuated they do.

Read my post below.... I clearly object to the casting, and in my eyes, it's the same as casting a white actor to play the part of a POC role.

And, FYI, there is such a thing as critiquing too much. Sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar.

Huh?!

I can't understand what it is you're trying to communicate, unless you really are that self-unaware.

Unless "act" is in fact a synonym for "walk," in which case I invite you to inform the rest of the English-speaking world of this development, people in wheelchairs can, in fact, act.

I was saying "act" as in

I was saying "act" as in "behave." As in, all people in wheelchairs don't all *behave* in a certain way, or in the same way.

I am well aware that people in wheelchairs can "act" as in "perform" like on a TV show.

And sometimes a feminist

And sometimes a feminist commenting space becomes toxic for people with disabilities who write about their experiences and criticisms of feminism or things that feminists like from the lens of disability studies.

Enjoy the show as much as you want. I would like to see an actor who doesn't constantly look like he uses his wheelchair for a few hours a day while shooting, since his character, the one that I'm supposed to be all proud of the show for including, would be using it daily since he left the hospital after his accident four years ago.

Anna, I AM AGREEING WITH

Anna, I AM AGREEING WITH YOU.

The only thing i was pointing out is that you were incorrect in saying or insinuating that all people in wheelchairs act a certain way.

Jeez, take a chill pill.

Another thing.... the character hasn't been in a wheelchair since birth or childhood. You can't say that just because the character has been in a wheelchair for four years, that he'd be totally adept by now. It's not as simple as that. I'm not excusing the actor's supposed inability to use a chair, but I am saying that it's not the same for everyone, and perhaps it's an indicator of the character's discomfort with being in a wheelchair.

"Take a chill pill": Just a

"Take a chill pill": Just a wee bit problematic to tell a disabled woman who is being firm but rather measured and courteous with her criticisms.

Sort of like "Geez, don't go all hormonal on me" or "Is it that time of month?" in response to a woman doing same.

In context, please.

Amandaw, you're not reading my comments in context, and instead you're reading them as if they exist on their own, and as though they aren't a response to hers.

I was agreeing with Anna, and I was telling her to chill out and not get so angry with me over something I didn't say. She was basically attacking me over something I didn't say, and over a sentiment I don't hold. I'm agreeing with her, and she's kinda going off on me for no reason.

1) I am responding to your

1) I am responding to your comments in context. You were telling a disabled woman who was using a perfectly reasonable (again: firm, yes, but still measured and reasonable) tone that she needs to "chill out." I wouldn't have described her tone if I had not read the whole exchange.

2) It doesn't matter what context you use it in, telling a disabled woman to "chill out" or "take a chill pill" is an ableist silencing tactic.

You don't get to tell someone what to be angry about. Especially not when it is a matter that affects her directly, but not you.

It doesn't matter if you were agreeing with her on one matter; she still has the right to take exception with any aspect of your comments which is problematic.

You might not like having it pointed out to you, but don't you dare whip out your privilege over her to get her to stop having the nerve to say "ow" when you step on her foot.

You know what I don't get?

You know what I don't get? How a great deal of disabled people on this site are asking to be treated like able-bodied people, to be given a role that isn't the 'guy in the wheelchair' position. Yet now you are saying "gasp, how dare you tell a DISABLED woman to take a chill pill?" Do you all want to be treated normally or do you have to keep inserting your little 'disabled' card whenever you want to play the victim? Seems a bit too convenient to me.

And I also find it a bit amusing how whenever somebody says the slightest negative thing on this post, the whole world blows up. Haven't any of you learned how to take criticism? How to politely disagree with somebody instead of reinforcing your opinions on them? I mean, they've already read your post; they're not going to be changing their minds just because you tell them once again exactly what you think.

(Sorry, second paragraph was unrelated to my reply to amandaw)

Haha, so funny to think about how much Glee has evolved and made everybody on the show such an important, vital part.

Hi s.e. and Anna, I just

Hi s.e. and Anna,

I just wanted to tell you that this article and your comments have made so much sense to me, and have really articulated everything that bothered me about this episode of Glee. (My thoughts while watching the episode: Why is Mr. Shu going out of his way to draw attention to Artie's disability? How is sitting in a wheelchair for a few hours going to give someone ANY idea of what it's like to live with a disability? How is bringing in a girl with Down syndrome for ONE EPISODE not a network gimmick? Why is Sue giving letting that girl into the Cheerios JUST because her own sister has Down syndrome??)

Yikes. It kind of felt like a racist going, "But I have black friends!" over and over again. Sure, Glee. We believe you.

Anyway. I'm leaving this comment here because of Anna's comment about toxicity. Some of the negative things people are saying are absolutely audacious. I can only guess these people are overly defensive of their world view, and to have it challenged has upset them. But good god. People are being really nasty. And it makes me mad, because all you're doing is providing your (well thought out, experience-based) points of view. So I guess the gist is, those negative commentators do not speak for everyone! At All! And this article is doing good, because it's making people (myself included) think about the ablism inherent in hollywood, society and language. So thank you for all the things you have said.

Also, fyi, Whitney argues with everyone. She did it with Sady (Taylor Swift post). She did it with me (Adam Lambert post). She comes in, attacks people, and refuses to see anyone else's point of view. It's what she does.

Pardon?

What part of "I agree with this blog post" isn't being understood here?

The only thing I was saying to Anna is that it's incorrect to say that people with disabilities act in a certain way, or people in wheelchairs are comfortable using them. That's all.

Once again, I AGREE. Do I need to repeat myself again? *I agree,* it's wrong to cast an able-bodied actor to play a disabled character, when there are talented actors who can play the role. It's the same as casting white actors to play biracial characters or people of color.

So please listen: I agree, and I am certainly not attacking anyone. I am agreeing. OK?

Except that Anna isn't

Except that Anna isn't saying either of those things, Whitney. I have to say, I am pretty aghast at your behaviour in this thread.

Confused

Except she did say that the actor who plays Artie can't act like someone in a wheelchair. And that he can't wheelchair dance.

That's the ONLY thing I objected to, which is why I said that it's incorrect to say that people in wheelchairs act (read: behave) in a certain way (and that not everyone in a wheelchair can wheelchair dance) and I have no idea how that got misinterpreted into me disagreeing and arguing. If that's not what she meant, all she had to say is "That's not what I meant, this is what I meant" and that would have been that. But she didn't, and i don't know why, and then she basically went off on me for something I didn't say. Which is why I told her to chill. Last time I checked, it's OK to tell someone to calm down when they get angry over something the other person didn't do or say.

I'm trying to say that I agree, and people keep arguing with me over things I didn't say. Needless to say, I'm extremely confused and frustrated, because I'm being attacked left and right, even though I have repeatedly said that I agree with the things in this blog. I have no idea what I said that has warranted such vitriol. So will someone please bring me into the circle?

And for the record, if anyone is confused, I was replying to this:

"Frankly, there are many many places you can go on the internet to complain about how people with disabilities are objecting to the show. Telling people on a site dedicated to critiquing pop culture that they're critiquing pop culture too much for you is a waste of both your time and ours."

I never said anything to Anna that would warrant such a response like that. I never said people here were overly criticizing or critiquing.

You know, for agreeing with

You know, for agreeing with the blog post & concepts expressed, you sure are doing a lot of arguing with them.

Agreeing or not...

using silencing tactics against a marginalized person and using tone arguments are classic anti-feminism 101, and something that I am getting sick of seeing held up as "good faith" or "agreeing with" someone. They are neither of those things. Apologies that I feel an awful lot like Anna and s. e. are being attacked when it keeps happening.

You can do one of two things; just shut up, which is something I don't find easy, or learn an awful lot very fast, which is what I tried to do. ~ Jane Fonda

This is beyond ridiculous.

This is beyond ridiculous.

Using silencing tactics? Tone arguments? Pardon?

Listen, if I misinterpreted Anna in what she was saying, all she needed was to tell me was what she meant, and instead, she went off. She didn't need to tell me those things because I know, and I agree, and I concur, and that's why I'm here too. And you also know what? I don't believe in treating people differently, and if a white, straight, able-bodied man did the same thing, I would tell him to take a chill pill, I would tell anyone who reacted that way.

Whitney: What you don't seem

Whitney: What you don't seem to be getting is that saying "take a chill pill" to a woman with disabilities is a deeply ableist remark. Construing disagreement as pathology and telling someone to go and get a medical cure for it is a problematic metaphor to start with; brandishing that against a disabled person comes across as hostile and prejudiced.

Whether or not you understood the metaphor you were wielding doesn't remove the negative effect it has on the recipient.

Still confused

But it had nothing to do with her disabilities (I didn't even know she was to begin with), it had to do with her going off on me for something I didn't say, and for going off on me for a sentiment I don't hold. And, it wasn't about her remark, considering I AGREE WITH IT (let me be even more clear: I don't think people are overreacting, and I never said that I thought so, which is why it angered and confused me when she made that comment, saying that I was), but that it was unnecessary to tell that to me, because I wasn't talking about that. So I'm sure you can understand how that upset me, since I'm here trying to support and agree, and all I'm getting is attacked. And besides, how on earth is that an ableist remark? I have to take daily medication, I'm not offended by that phrase. Besides, how do you know I'm not disabled myself?

I'm sorry, but if ANYONE started going off on me for something I didn't say, and attacked me for something I didn't say, I wouldn't treat them any differently, no matter who they were.

So apparently I'm not allowed to tell people to calm down and use the colloquial equivalent to it, and why the hell did it take people so fucking long to tell me that's the thing they had a problem with? Jesus Chisto, if you have an issue, say it immediately. I'm not a mind-reader.

Does everyone understand now or do I need to explain further?

yes, but..

I absolutely respect your opinions, and I understand what you are objecting. I was simply saying that, on a whole, roles should be cast by who the best actor is for that particular role. I was not saying this is the most important issue at hand, but from a few of the posts that I have read, it seemed that a few people were saying that disabled roles should solely go to disabled actors.

I wholeheartedly agree, the actor who plays Artie is a terrible actor. No doubt there are more than a few actors in wheelchairs who could have done a much better job.

Citation Needed

Can you please link to those posts? I've read a lot of posts on this subject, and I haven't read any that said that, so I would like to see them.

Kevin McHale is the best

Kevin McHale is the best male singer they've got out of the students. Boy can sing.

I agree with that sentiment,

I agree with that sentiment, to cast someone who is disabled simply because they are and the character is disingenuous to that person.

It's like supporting Sarah Palin for a president even though you disagree with her on every stance she has, but you support her because she is a woman. That's sexist. And it's racist to support Obama simply because he's black.

However, casting a non-disabled actor to play the part of a disabled character is the same as casting a white actor to play a character of color. It's the same when Angelina Jolie was cast as a biracial woman in that one movie, or when any other actor portrays a character opposite of their race. It takes away jobs from the actors who are biracial or black or Indian or Native American. Just how the filmmakers of the Twilight movies had an opportunity to cast a Native American actor, and Taylor Lautner only discovered he had Native American heritage *after* he was cast. And it's the same how Jake Gyllenhaal was cast as the Prince of Persia when they had an opportunity to cast an Iranian or Middle Eastern actor.

yes, acting is acting, but there are lines that just can't be crossed. But do we hold this standard for all actors? I thought Felicity Huffman did a fabulous portraying a transwoman in Transamerica.

For the record, Transamerica

For the record, Transamerica is not the best example there. There are trans women who feel that that movie was made from a cis-centric perspective for cis audiences, and did not do a good job of portraying the real lives of real trans women. Haven't watched it in a while, but with the cissexism that is rampant in society, including mainstream Hollywood, it seriously wouldn't shock me.

Back to the OP (and less of a direct response to the comment above), having TAB actors played the roles of characters with disabilities would be a hell of a lot less loaded and problematic (and likely to be done poorly) if society and the social context was less ablist. Sure, acting is about acting (as a part-time actor, I have managed to grasp this concept!), but acting *well* is about a hell of a lot more than that. While it is always tempting to refer to someone's innate talent and personal imaginative powers when talking about creative endeavours (and while I fully respect the power of imagination to let us dream things we have never experienced), imagination is nothing without observation and comprehension. We *don't* just pull things out of thin air -- actors base their performances on their own knowledge and experiences, sometimes synthesizing and analogizing in order to get at things outside of the actual experiences, but nonetheless they cannot act something that they do not understand. Acting is about acting, and acting well is about doing research, 'm afraid. So, yes, it is *more likely* that an actor who actually uses a wheelchair is going to be better at understanding a character who uses a wheelchair than an actor who thinks of a wheelchair as a chair with wheels (or a prison, etc.--as a non-wheelchair user myself, I am having trouble expressing exactly what a TAB like myself *wouldn't* understand about wheelchairs. Just goes to show.)

Cis? The only reason why I

Cis?

The only reason why I brought up that movie was to demonstrate the idea that only certain people can play certain roles. Could only transwomen play that role? Was it the script and the portrayal they objected to, or the acting, or the casting? Besides, last time I checked, not all transwomen have the same story or experience the same things, nor have the same lifestyle.

Besides, can only blind or deaf actors play blind or deaf characters? That's the jist I'm getting to. When does acting stop being acting, and start becoming emulating one's own life?

Re: "Cis?" This is

Re: "Cis?" This is Google-able, but I'm feeling extra helpful today, so here's a pretty good intro to the word, Semantics, Gender, and Cis. And here's one person's quite recent take on portrayals of trans women in cinema, Cissupremacy: The Hollywood Edition, specifically referencing Transamerica. More can be Googled.

Trying to keep this train on the rails, I personally have not argued either A) that all marginalized people lead the same lives, or B) that a person with a non-marginalized body can never play a role for a character in a marginalized body and never do it well. I have argued that it takes a lot more work (and and self-insight and reflective critical thinking) for a person in a position of privilege to understand the life of anyone who does not have that privilege, and therefore portray that life or an approximation of it with skill and complexity. Acting IS emulating. You are always only ever working from what you know (even if what you know is based in part on imagination and research into what other people know). Fortunately as human beings we are capable of learning a great deal, provided we apply ourselves and recognize the limitations of our own perspectives in order to challenge them.

I still would prefer to see more PWD on screen and in creative roles, because TAB people aren't doing a good job of participating in these narratives without co-opting them to suit ablist frameworks. Same goes for trans* folk. I don't see why these identities should be open for exploitation, especially when we recognize reasons for not exploiting other marginalized identities.

I Googled.

I googled, and found nothing. I'd rather ask someone personally than google and find the wrong information. So thank you for sharing those links.

I never said that you said those things, and I know you didn't say them, I was simply commenting on you saying OTHERS have said it.

What I am wondering, is if it's not OK for an able-bodied person to portray someone with a disability, does it apply to all people, or not? That's all. Because it would be a consistent view to say that a person with their sight shouldn't play a blind character, and that role should only be for blind actors. I'm just looking for consistency.

I just remember seeing Ray, and I thought Jamie Foxx's performance was brilliant, having worked with the blind myself. Humans have an amazing capability to understand and empathize with others, while they might not know *exactly* what it's like, it's possible to relate.

Whitney, the reason we're

Whitney, the reason we're bothered that this role, like so many others, is played by an able-bodied actor isn't because it's "not okay". That's taking a complicated argument and simplifying it far too much.

These are the things going on:

- Actors with disabilities have a difficult time getting any roles at all.

- Often, although not always, when a character with a disability shows up on show, their disability is the only thing about them. They are "wheelchair kid" or "blind person" or "that very special lesson about disability we're all going to learn". If you check out the tvtropes pages on disability, you can see some examples of this across many mediums. Disability Tropes.

- Characters with disabilities are so rare on shows that the SGA commented on it as problematic, especially in light of the "20% of Americans have disabilities". (This number is variable. In Nova Scotia, it's 22% for the whole population, 35% for people over 35. I don't know the breakdown elsewhere.)

So, we have few actors with disabilities getting parts, few roles going around, and those roles are typically poorly written caricatures. Often, people with disabilities are shown as being bitter and angry and out to get the able-bodied world, too.

[All those things are pretty much worse for trans* people, but I'm more familiar with disability, so that's where I'm focusing my objection.]

So, there's this high profile role (which, granted, no one knew would become high profile when the show was pitched). There are problems with the way disability is being presented. People with disabilities that are bothered by this presentation are saying "This wouldn't have been such a problem if you had hired an actor who was disabled." (Others are saying "Why didn't you hire a consultant?" Others don't care. Like feminists, people with disabilities have a wide range of opinions on these subjects.)

The argument isn't "no one should play disabled characters except actors with that disability". No one's said that anywhere that I have seen, although I admit that my eyes are beginning to glaze over and I'm exhausted from the whole discussion at this point.

The argument is basically three fold:

- We need better representation on t.v. and in movies, because we're rather tired of being portrayed poorly, except when someone wants an Oscar. More roles like Kevin in Joan of Arcadia.

- We need roles that we can actually play. (I keep coming back to Joey Lucas in West Wing here, as I believe that Marlee Matlin was cast because she's an outstanding actress, and then the character became deaf, but I'm not sure.) They don't have to be written for us.

- If more characters who "just happened to be disabled" were played by actors who actually are disabled, the roles might not be so bad. There's no guarantee of this, of course.

Portraying our argument, as many people have, as simply "all characters with disabilities must be played by actors with disabilities" is a strawman. It's really easy to knock down because it's not what anyone is actually arguing.

I don't know how many times

I don't know how many times I have to say this before everyone finally reads it, but I AGREE. I'M BOTHERED BY IT TOO. I thought my comments would have made that obvious, but I guess not.

I KNOW. I AM AGREEING. This is just getting ridiculous. I'm being attacked for a position I don't hold. Good God. If one more person explains this to me as if I don't agree with you, I'm going to lose it. It's extremely frustrating to be talked to like this, because I agree. I hold your same opinions. Please read this and understand.

The only thing I'm wondering is if it applies across the board. So will someone please answer that?

trying my hand at a response to this...

Whitney, S.E. said this in her last comment: The argument isn't "no one should play disabled characters except actors with that disability". No one's said that anywhere that I have seen...

So to answer your question, no, it most likely does not "apply across the board," but application across the board is not really the issue.

thank you for answering.

thank you for answering.

Re: TransAmerica

I think that should there have truly been no transwoman they could find to cast for the role, they should have cast Peter Outerbridge, since he did (IMMHO) a phenomenal job as Judy in "Better Than Chocolate." Just my two cents... That being said, I really enjoyed that the movie was fairly mainstream and a wide range of people were exposed to it, and while I appreciated how Felicity Huffman performed the role and enjoyed elements of the movie, it would have been much better had a ciswoman not been cast in an mtF role.

While I'm a fan and don't

While I'm a fan and don't quite agree with everything here, I found it a very interesting (and important) viewpoint and I kind of hate how many people are just brushing off this sort of thing as "those wacky squares who complain too much".

Some people will laugh it off (I personally do, I'm gay but think Kurt is one of the funniest character on the show), but it's extremely unfair to act like everybody should and marginalize anyone who doesn't.

This is a hard one for me

This is a hard one for me because I really do love Glee--I love the humor, music, acting, plot twists, and the sheer energy of the show.

I was able to enjoy the Wheels episode somewhat but there were a lot of moments where I felt myself suppressing my opinions to do so--turning the brain off...I didn't like the tokenism of the disability episode at all.

I do think the main point about actors with disabilities having fewer opportunities is a good one, but I also feel that they would do a more authentic job. I posted the following on another blog with the same topic:

For me the resonation and authenticity in acting can be better understood when you look at the gaze of the audience and which viewers’ opinions are being heard. For example, many people will say, it doesn’t matter if a person is disabled, an actor will be able to portray any character if s/he has skill. But there are nuances for a disabled theater-goer that might not ring true, where the general audience would be sold on the performance. Similar to gaydar perhaps, the little cues and body language that might be invisible to most people.

Another example would be Deaf actors not being hired for roles of Deaf people (the New York Times recently had two posts about this related to The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and The Miracle Worker). While a lot of people would argue that any skilled actor could play a Deaf role, I would say that those not Deaf or in the Deaf culture might be convinced, but a Deaf audience would not find the performance authentic. It’s hard to make this kind of argument heard though, if the minority sees something the majority of people overlook.

this is the first time I've

this is the first time I've posted here (so my reason for being anonymous is not to "hide" but simply b/c I'm not a regular...) but I do feel compelled to respond to the denouncements and anger that seem to be rampant in these posts: as some of you have pointed out, there are places still in this country where being a member of any number of "marginalized" groups is actually dangerous, even life-threatening... I agree ... In my experience, having grown up in the liberal, upper middle class of the Northeast and had the benefit of a well-rounded liberal arts education then moving to an extremely rural conservative area - well, you can imagine it was a bit of a culture shock - but when I listened to people, really listened, about issues such as these (race, sexuality, abilities) - then calmly and rationally respond with my own experiences without anger, I found that most people were willing to engage in an honest dialogue that didn't make them feel like an insensitive ignorant bastard and that they simply suffer from a lack of exposure and the prejudice that fills that void.
The arguments in these posts, for the most part, aim for an ideal that is perhaps close-at-hand in places like NYC or SF or in pockets of the country where communities have been able to find their voices. For example, the debate over casting decisions and that the actors in the wheelchairs didn't know how to dance in them well enough and the plotlines are skewed toward the white, straight characters (which, last I checked, is still almost every show on major network television) - these are all valid but fail to acknowledge the greater reality. So let's call a spade a spade: this IS a mainstream, FOX singing sitcom. While you all rage against the lack of nuance (and yes, there is a decided lack of nuance - which I'm sure will lead to the arguments that Glee simply perpetuates the prejudices I'd alluded to above) and the injustice of the casting decision (and yes, I'm sure they didn't bend over backwards in their casting calls) PLEASE remember that somewhere in some small town there are kids and adults alike watching this show and for the FIRST TIME EVER seeing that a teen in a wheelchair CAN dance and HAS a sexual life. The idea may or may not be to inspire and the portrayal may certainly fall short in many regards, but the result is certainly exposure, which is better than silence in my mind. Is the imperfect version of Glee better or worse than nothing at all? For me it is the incremental way we bring the entire center up to a new norm - and yes, we need people to push the envelope and make sure that the next show is done *even better* but seriously, not only was Rome not built in a day, so to speak, but if the activists out there continue to focus their anger on anything less than total perfection, they will miss out on the fact that the *disparity* between areas of this country (and the world) is actually the most alarming aspect of these issues...and there are certainly people of "marginalized" groups in these small towns who desperately need even an opening like Glee to even start their dialogue....I guess it comes down to this: are you looking for a character who speaks to you in a personal way (i.e. someone you can relate to) in which case Glee will most likely fall short OR are you looking for a show to start conversations between ALL people about issues they would otherwise not be talking about if they didn't have some light, fluffy pretense for it?

I agree

Thank you, fellow Anonymous poster, for this post. It acknowledged what the original blog writers were trying to get across, but looked at it in a slightly different way, which I liked. (And I have to say I'm a little scared to post anything on this topic, for fear of getting blasted.)

I just wanted to add that my 5 year old daughter watches the songs on this show (I fast forward the rest of the episodes for her) and loves them. And she's been very curious about Artie. We live in a small midwestern town, and she doesn't know anyone in a wheelchair. So she asks me a lot of questions about Artie. And yes, I tell her that the actor can walk, but the character can't, and some people can't, and we're all different, but that isn't a bad thing, etc etc. It's hard to explain ableism to a 5 year old, but I'm doing my best, and think it's great that this show is, despite its issues, and man does it have some, making her more aware that people can be different and that's ok.

Wow, this is very mean and

Wow, this is very mean and hostile forum. "Anonymous coward"? really? I should have stopped reading right there.

I'm pretty sure that was

I'm pretty sure that was meant to be tongue-in-cheek.

Kurt is more than a token gay

Alright, I have some stuff to say. First of all, thank you for posting this. Even though I disagree with what you said here, it will be very useful for my argument paper on Kevin McHale being casted as Artie.

And I'm not going to get into that with you because I simply don't have the time right now. It's a little off topic, but you made several mentions of Kurt (the gay kid) that I felt I should defend.

It wasn't just "The Token Gay episode". I know you wrote this before more of his storyline was added to the main plot, but Kurt is more than you made him out to be. I'm a lesbian and that moment between him and his dad gave me the strength to come out of the closet. And for the first time in all of television I relate to a character. Not just cause we're both gay, but because we've had similar struggles and we share a lot of the same character flaws. And Chris Colfer, who plays Kurt, is glad to be playing a role that is helping gay teenagers out.

Kevin McHale has had disabled fans respond the same way to his character and his feelings about playing the character are nothing short of extremely respective to the disabled community. In one interview, he said he honestly understands where you guys are coming from. And Becky may have been a "throw away character" (even though she has been in more than one episode) but did you read any interviews with the actress who plays her? The girl was really excited to get the role and she was just...really amazing. THAT was the most inspiring moment from the episode to me. And, no, I'm not disabled and I admit I'm not going to have as much insight into the topic as you would.

But here's how I feel about the casting: In normal shows, the role should go to a handicapped person. For example, Joan of Arcadia had a character who was also in a car crash and is now paraplegic. That role should have gone to someone who's really in a wheelchair (even though any flashback scenes wouldn't have happened). As much as I love that show, I admit they were wrong. But in a show like Glee, you need what's called a "triple threat"-they need to sing, dance and act. And be able to play their character well. And have great chemistry with the rest of the cast. If all of these things are not met, the show will fail. So, the amount of people who had the potential to play Artie were VERY VERY few. I think Glee was justified in that case for picking an able-bodied actor. Maybe there was someone who was better for the role, and maybe they were handicapped, but they felt Kevin McHale was the best fit for the role. In musicals, cast whoever works the best with everyone else. In the rest of the acting world, priority for handicapped roles deserve to go to actors with those disabilities.

And while I defend Fox here, the logic people use that "actors should act whatever role. That's why it's called acting." Yeah, that's BS. Because, as Artie said in this same episode "I'm going to be stuck in this chair for the rest of my life. And that's not something I can fake" Able bodied actors can play disabled characters, but disabled actors can't play able bodied characters and its not right to take that role away from you guys unless it's such an extremely challenging role in a musical.

THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU

THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for this article! Finally someone is talking some sense about Glee, a show I'm boycotting for all these reasons. My beautiful 4 year old son has cerebral palsy and spends 75% of his pre-K school day in his wheelchair. He's going to grow up to be a REAL Artie, not a poser. I've thought long and hard about how to go about replacing Kevin McHale and have come up with a decent solution: Put the word out for an open casting call for a disabled actor, with top-notch skills in acting and dancing, and have them send in their audition tapes. End the show 5 minutes earlier to air the top 5 (the cream of the crop). Have America vote on who the replacement should be, American Idol style. Can you imagine the ratings???

If you EVER decide to start a "Fire McHale!" petition, please let me know and I'll post it on Facebook.
Thanks again for this insightful commentary. :)