17 February 2010

Sarah Palin's Disability Disability

Sarah Palin hates people with disabilities. I knew that before I knew anything else about her. She introduced herself to America by holding up her baby and telling all the world everything that was wrong with him.

That's despicable.

If she really viewed her infant as a human with real potential she would have either left him and his siblings at the hotel (like a responsible parent) or simply introduced him, rather than claiming some kind of hero status because she chose not to have an abortion (a choice, by the way, which she implied was hers to make).

That plus the simple facts that Palin opposes a universal health care system (the only thing which would actually move the "disabled" toward equality), opposes adequate educational funding, opposes hate crime legislation, and opposes federal regulations which might ensure that people are treated equally in America. She also, of course, opposes parental leave laws and increased welfare benefits which might make it possible for parents to care for high needs kids.

Now we have Sarah Palin vs. Family Guy, a cartoon politician debating an actual cartoon. And, well, I'm with the actual cartoon, and here's why:

Just as The Simpsons, for all the criticism leveled at them by America's right-wing, remains the only show on television where the family eats breakfast and dinner together daily and goes to church together every week, Family Guy and South Park are the only two shows on American TV which deal consistently with disability issues in the context of normal life.

Wheelchair-user Joe, on Family Guy is - by far - the most competent male on the show, but that's not the thing... the thing that Family Guy does is face the issues. Yes Joe is a hero cop, but it won't get him into the brewery tour (see above), and yes Chris can go out with a strong, determined girl, but people will still make fun of him for dating a... yeah, you know the word. That's a kind of reality brought into American living rooms which pretty stories on the Nightly News can not offer, and which all of Sarah Palin's whining about "haters" can not touch.

Just as on South Park, where Timmy and Jimmy are truly part of their school's community, of their town's community. They are not "surprisingly successful," because, damn, few of any of us are. Instead they are real kids who sometimes do things well, often can not, who are sometimes picked on, and sometimes befriended.

Let's bring in the Jeff Shannon of the Seattle Times here, commenting on a BBC Ouch! poll which found Timmy to be the favorite disabled character on TV in Britain:

"So why would disabled voters choose an animated, learning-disabled, wheelchair-using fourth grader as "The Greatest Disabled TV Character"? A misfit kid whose vocabulary is almost exclusively limited to garbled repetitions of his own name, yet who has gained a minor cult following as lead vocalist for a heavy-metal garage band called The Lords of the Underworld?

"The simple answer is that Timmy is downright hilarious, but for disabled "South Park" fans, closer examination of the character's popularity (like that of "Stevie" on Fox's "Malcolm in the Middle") leads to a startling revelation: Comedy Central's controversial cartoon series, featuring a foul-mouthed batch of fourth graders in the "quiet mountain town" of South Park, Colo., is the source of the most progressive, provocative and socially relevant disability humor ever presented on American television.

"With his jagged teeth and can-do spirit, Timmy appears, at first glance, to uphold the condescending disability stereotypes that are gradually fading from mainstream entertainment. But like everything else in "South Park," he's actually challenging preconceptions, toppling taboos and weaving his singularity into the fabric of the show. Insensitive, unenlightened viewers may laugh at Timmy, but the character's popularity is largely determined by those who laugh with him.

"That this is happening on "South Park" — a series routinely condemned by conservative watchdogs — comes as no surprise to anyone who understands what the show is all about. Co-creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone (who financed the excellent documentary about disability "How's Your News?," available on DVD) may seem like juvenile provocateurs with a liberal agenda, but "South Park" would not have become a pop-cultural phenomenon if there wasn't a method to its madness. Parker and Stone are equal-opportunity offenders, and when nothing is sacred — not even the seemingly unassailable image of the late Christopher Reeve — the satirical playing field is level, and timely issues become ripe for outrageously comedic scrutiny."

You see Sarah, holding up your baby for political gain is hate speech, bringing the disability community into the mainstream is not. I hope that when Trig grows up, Sarah, he explains that to you.

- Ira Socol


Janet Isserlis said...

thanks for this , Ira

I wish I made time to read your many posts here, through twitter and elsewhere

this is really beautifully written and, as always, very very smart


Dan Callahan said...

Back when I was in college a decade ago, I got into an argument one time with another preservice special education teacher about Timmy on South Park. She didn't like the way he was depicted, saying it was a poor example for the disabled community. I strongly disagreed, pointing out that he's accepted by everybody around him, the characters themselves don't make fun of him, and, if anything, he's one of the most popular people in his school.

HomerTheBrave said...

I have to leave a 'me-too!' comment here, mainly because what you're saying is right on, but also because the captcha word is 'autists.'

Sarah Palin gives me the creeps, and I really worry about Trig whenever she opens her mouth. For instance in that video clip, when asked about the cartoon, her response is to say that when she looks at Trig she "sees perfection." Which means she's not seeing him at all.

bigmaggie said...

The persistant logical inconsistency of that ridiculous woman makes my head hurt. Rush Limbaugh is allowed to be "politically incorrect" with respect to persons with disabilities in the pursuit of satire but Family Guy isn't?