Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Just Like Everyone Else

There is a new controversy, new controversies seem to come with the regularity of the rising Sun, between Sarah Palin and her family and the writers and producers of the adult cartoon Family Guy. The controversy stems from an episode of Family Guy that aired last Sunday, February 14th where one of the teen character's, Chris, dates a teen girl with Downs's Syndrome. During their first date the girl tells Chris that her mother was the "former governor of Alaska." This is of course a jab at Sarah Palin and some would say her infant son Trig who has Down's. Ms. Palin, and her daughter Bristol, have responded via Ms. Pailn's Facebook account.

First, let me say that I am a fan of Family Guy. The writers take jabs at every perceivable group without prejudice. I watched the episode in question and when Chris was dating a girl with Down's I knew a Palin joke was coming, especially with Ms. Palin calling for the firing of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel for using the term "retarded" in a recent metting. I thought the joke in question was pretty lame. It was simply a cheap shot for the sake of a cheap shot. Family Guy creator Seth McFarlene usually writes with more creativity and intelligence. Is Sarah Palin's response another attempt to garner favor with special needs parents? Throughout the 2008 election, Ms. Palin received criticism for parading her children in public and perhaps using her special needs son to garner votes. I don't know if this is the case here. Her reaction might match the initial reaction of any other mother with a special needs child. I would, however, offer a differing view, not on the joke itself, but the episode as a whole.

The girl in the show with Down's Syndrome acted like any other teenage girl with an attitude. She acts like a diva and Chris gives it to her straight. "You know, I used to hear that people with Down syndrome were different than the rest of us. But you're not! You're not different at all! You're just a bunch of [BLEEPS!] like everyone else!" I give that sentiment resounding AMEN!

Why? As a husband of person with special needs, one of the most frustrating things for my me and my wife is when people treat her differently because she is in a wheelchair. They talk to my 29 year old wife like they would a 6 year old just because she cannot walk. It makes me livid especially when it is people who should know better. I cannot count how many times people at Church functions or at Vanderbilt Divinity School, a place that prides itself on diversity, spoke to my wife as though she were a child. People with disabilities want to be treated like everyone else that includes crakcing jokes at their expense. But in order for that to happen people need to see them like everyone else. People see the chair before they see Angie. People see the physical characteristics of Down's Syndrome before they see the person. People see the drool and uncontrollable arm and head movement of Cerebral Palsy and not the person. Our initial reaction to a person with special needs is to either look the other way or pity them. People with special needs need to be seen and they damn sure don't need your pity.

You can make jokes about everyone, just not people with special needs, that's just cruel. It would be cruel to make fun of the disability itself, which is what happens behind closed doors, but to joke around with a person with disability is the ultimate way of treating them like everyone else. There is a guy I went to school with who has CP. I was hanging out with him and group of other guys and they were all joking around like guys do. They gave him as much hell as they gave each other. At first I thought it was cruel, but then one of the group said "What is crueler joking around with him or leaving him out because he is different?"

Family Guy did not make fun of this girl's Down's Syndrome. They just included a girl who happened to have Down's Syndrome. They treated her like any other teenage girl. The real shame is that their real treatment of a girl with special needs will be overshadowed by the Palin controversy. People are people and to treat people with dignity is not to treat them entirely differently because they happen to have a special need. This only serves to alienate them from the community.


Katie Z. Dawson said...

absolutely well said!

(and on a side note - I hope/pray that I didn't ever treat Angie or anyone else at VDS that way - sheesh, or ever in my life, and if I did it was about me and not about them... and I feel terrible that you both have experienced that)

B Smith said...

Most people, including you Katie, were absolutely genuine and cool with Angie. There were a few students and professors as well who would talk to her like they were talking to a toddler in a stroller.