Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Psudo-TV Snobbery: Reality TV & Disability

I would love to say that I am a TV snob, but that is simply not true. Yesterday, this is what I said about a show I was watching:

“What is up with the fashion on this show? Is everything cycling back to the early 80s?”

Then later…

“Oh, he’s the teenage version of the werewolf ghost that’s stalking her, and he was in high school in the 80s. That’s why his clothes look all 80s. Cool, I caught that, huh?”

See the 80s furry collar

 Literally, this is what I said out loud to my husband and little toddler as they played games. One played something shooty on the Ipad the other played a very complex game of sorting and gathering toys that I couldn’t begin to understand. My husband was kind enough to respond about the cyclical nature of fashion for my first comment. But, respectfully declined to have words  for my second comment of the MTV masterpiece I watched. I think this is because he is a firm believer of the adage: “It you can’t say something nice….” 

He was the teenage ghost of this werewolf.
But, I pretend to be a TV snob because I hate reality TV with a laser-eye-beam burning passion. While I do take in the occasional lone “empowered” woman brand-building vehicle of a show, I will not- repeat- WILL NOT- watch a show where people are fame-whoring idiots pitted against each other  where it ends in a bleeping slap fest. I was a watcher of the original Jon and Kate Plus 8. My husband and I watched subconsciously planning for our own family commenting on Kate’s occasional rigidness and Jon’s occasional lack
 of effort while we mostly enjoyed the kids’ personalities.
 We felt so cheated when the show insidiously became its own pitted slap fest.

I wonder if Norman is as upset about how bisexuals are portrayed on TV as I am
I’m one of these old folks that remembers life before reality TV. I remember clearly sitting in my basement excitedly awaiting the next episode of The Real World. I’m talking The Real World number one. Only they didn’t call it number one because they weren’t sure there would be a two because unscripted television was such a crazy idea. I had to watch it in my basement with my braces (teeth braces, I refused to wear leg braces anymore) on the down-low. There was no way my mother, let alone my snitchy old fashioned step-father would tolerate a show about a bunch of young people, from "all walks of life." (All walks of life being  two African Americans and a bunch of White people.) My elders wouldn't object to that so much as them cursing. There was even a bisexual guy (gasp!). One time, they even all drank and a party and talked about smoking marijuana (no!) The most controversial thing at my house would have been the sex, or just the talk of sex. They never had sex with each other on The Real World (much to the producers dismay, I’m sure.) But, they talked about it, along with discrimination, morals, values, and the vast maturity differences between 19 and 25 year-olds. (Although, Heather, 19, said Becky, 25 was actually the immature and inconsiderate one.) Yes, I remember all seven of their names without looking them up (Kevin, Heather, Eric, Norman, Becky, Andre, Julie) and I think about how they may be doing now. Most of them weren’t even “TV attractive” so who knows?

But, I also think about the subtle and wonderful things that happened on the show like Julie, the Southern virgin, Eric, the Italian male model, and Heather, the African American girl from The Bronx becoming great friends for life without sex or drama. You see back then the format was so new that the producers didn’t know to pick people with personality disorders for the show let alone to give them free access to alcohol and start manipulating them into fights. You know, good TV.

They put the Grrrr in Push Girl

So, when Push Girls, the reality show about women in wheelchairs came along, I didn’t expect very much. I was surprised when my friends did. Some of my friends were upset that all of the women looked like models and were TV attractive. Of course they were. I feel like this when people with disabilities get upset about Glee. Of course they didn’t hire a real disabled actor, of course they fucked up the wheelchair dancing…Why are you expecting anything more? We are the ignored minority as most people just started seeing us as a minority group 15 years ago. We still don’t really qualify as part of affirmative action plans and most of us live below the poverty line and…Well, I won't get into all of that right now. It will make me want to escape and watch something about teenage ghost pirate werewolves who are abused by their underground terrorist parents. I will say, I grew up when two Black people living with a bunch of White people (one ignored bisexual) was a huge deal to have on TV. The only way disabled people made it onto a show was as a tool for others to feel better about themselves.  So, anything more than that and media would think they were giving us a huge gift. I thought Push Girls might be the gift of model looking girls in wheelchairs being shown to look as bitchy as any other reality show girls.

But, as one of the women is a producer it is quite a different gift. A very complex and sometimes painful gift that looks fully at disability identity (while selling really awesome looking wheel chairs I cannot afford.) In the past four episodes they have  managed to normalize these women as full sexual people with complex lives. Not only that, these women rely on each other for true strength and friendship. Better yet they have also managed to attack (and maybe even conquer) the paradoxes and pitfalls of disability identity. (That’s a big paragraph that basically says: These chicks are keeping it real, real to each other and real to what they are dealing with.)

 They are opening up a huge conversation about disabled people as a minority group in America. They are particularly taking about disabled women in America. Usually, wherever America wants to look at disability as a minority experience It looks through the eyes of men who were once able bodied jocks who became disabled (aka men with acquired disabilities). 

So maybe it is not surprising that one criticism of the show is that all of these women have acquired disabilities. Us born-withs are too un-relate-able, but we make good Batman villains and bitchy teen werewolves. Of course, not everyone is going to be represented or satisfied as is the case of all disfranchised minority groups, but it is still a very powerful beginning, or what I hope is a beginning. This is just my beginning of writing about it (I also hope) as there is so much to address.

All in all, I think America now views people with disabilities as they did African Americans in the early 1960s. We are actually a group of people with our own thoughts and feelings and struggles similar (but still different) to “everyday” people’s struggles. We are climbing up in their minds almost of the verge of some kind of breakthrough to understanding and representation. I think Push Girls is the Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner of our time, or at least of reality television.

I always thought he was too good for her.
So, like Sidney Poitier who dares to marry a vacuous bimbo of a different race, all the girls on Push Girls have to be beautiful, extraordinary and above and beyond any other woman in real life. (I guess American pop culture is the vacuous bimbo of a different race the Push Girls are daring to marry in this metaphor. How apt.) But, hey the girls get to be Sidney Poitier each in their own way. They actually get to be a bit more flawed and human then his character in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?. As we climb further I look forward to the day they call us all Ms. Tibbs, and thank the Push Girls for paving the way with their beautiful decorative wheels on those Colours Wheelchairs that were originally designed for male jocks who became paralyzed to play sports, of course. Just wait until I start taking you through all the episodes one by one. It gets pretty intense I may have to point out some fashion while I'm debating the continuum of disability identity. You know I'm gonna bring up mind-reading waitress fairy vampire relations somehow. 


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