Another ridiculous media portrayal of disability making our lives worthwhile

I started this blog because I was sick and tired of hearing stories about how it’s so worth it to have X health problem because of all we learn from it and blah blah blah.  Yes, I have received a lot of insight and wisdom from my health problems.  And if I didn’t have my health problems I’m sure I’d have gotten that insight and wisdom from someplace else.  After all, healthy people find it.  And I’d gladly give up those “benefits” this instant if it meant I’d get my health back.  It just pisses me off when people suggest that it’s worth being sick because of all we learn from it.  If they want to say that’s true for them, I’m fine with that, but so often it’s suggested that this is true for everyone, and that’s just not the case.

In general I like the tv show Glee.  I started watching it because all of my queer friends were watching it, and they made it sounds much better than I would have expected a show about high school kids to be.  Mostly, they and I loved that it was so inclusive of our LGBT community.  This show covers difficult topics like bullying, domestic abuse, and eating disorders.  It also has characters from minorities that aren’t often seen on tv, and never so many in one show: gays, lesbians, bisexuals, a possibly (I think likely) transgender character, one with down syndrome, a student of mixed race, blacks, Asian-Americans, a Jew, an evangelical Christian, someone with OCD…. it’s really quite amazing.  And from the start, there as been Artie, who is in a wheelchair due to an injury sustained in a car accident that occurred some time in the past.

Tiny spoiler alert: What I say now gives away a tiny part of this past week’s show, aired December 13.  It does not in any way spoil the ongoing plots of the show.

In the first moments of last week’s episode, we see Artie looking and acting upset, with a bruise on his face, and we immediately learn that the janitor didn’t salt the ramp into the school and so he slid down it and fell out of his chair.  He was humiliated to have to wait for someone to come by and help him.  He says that he wishes he’d never been in that accident and ended up in his wheelchair.  This is where the It’s a Wonderful Life ripoff comes in.  Yes, that’s right – a student/spirit comes by to show Artie what life would be like if he’d never been in that accident.  Of course, everyone else is much worse off.  His friends are no longer his friends, some are being bullied, others haven’t graduated like they should have, a teacher has stayed in a bad marriage.  What’s more, it turns out that Artie is a jerk.  He’s one of the bullies.  People are miserable.  All because he was never paralyzed.

In the end, Artie must choose whether to stay in this new messed-up reality or to go back to being in the wheelchair.  Of course he chooses the chair.

Now obviously the ways in which everyone else’s lives are messed up is a bit far-fetched, but they need it to make the plot work, so let’s just go with that for now.  As always, though, there’s no mention of the people whose lives would be improved by that accident having never happened.  I bet his parents would be happier for not having gone through all of that stress.  And what about the other driver?  And maybe one day he helped a neighbor carry something heavy upstairs.  I bet there are all sorts of ways he could have helped people, or otherwise affected their lives in a positive way.

As for the idea that Artie was only a nice guy because of the accident, I have to object.  I’m not sure how old his character was when it happened, but I really have my doubts.  Still, it’s high school, so it’s very possible he fell in with the “wrong crowd” when he could walk, and that didn’t happen when he was in the wheelchair.  But there’s this suggestion that I see and hear so often that the illness/disability makes us better people.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve met some disabled people who are real assholes.  And I’ve met non-disabled, non-ill people who are really nice.  Funny how that works.  It turns out, you can be a great person AND be healthy!  You can be a jerk AND be disabled or ill.  Go figure!  (You get that that’s sarcasm, right?)

Finally, there’s this idea that Artie became such an amazing, selfless person simply by being in a wheelchair (I was going to write “by being paralyzed” but that’s really not the focus in the show, the focus is the chair) that he’s even willing to go back to being unable to walk for the rest of his life just to make everyone else’s lives better.  Sure, this makes his life better too because he gets his friends back, but my impression was that he did it mostly to help everyone else.  Because, you know, we ill and disabled people are always so selfless like that.

Actually, I’m a pretty selfless person.  I go out of my way to help others.  I was like that long before my health problems started.  And if I was told I’d get my health back but I had to personally hurt people, I wouldn’t do it.  But if I was given the chance to be healthy, and I knew it might hurt some people but help others, and I wasn’t directly responsible for changing reality, I’m guessing I’d go for Door #2: GOOD HEALTH.

Like I said, I enjoy this show and I really appreciate the way that they handle complicated and controversial topics that other shows avoid.  Overall, I think they do a good job.  I guess that’s why I was extra disappointed to see this initial part of the show, which once again reinforced the ridiculous, deluded idea that ill/disabled people are inherently “good” because they are ill/disabled and that they don’t mind being ill/disabled all that much because they know that it makes everyone’s lives better.  How are we ever going to get the respect we deserve as long as this message is being communicated to the masses?

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