The Dumbing Down of Disability on Glee


“Hairography” was pretty typical of Glee for me– lots of awesomeness, like Quinn singing “Papa don’t preach,” no matter how inappropriate for baby-sitting that would actually be, and Kurt’s manipulative makeover and then some really heavy-handed embarrassing stuff.

I think this show has a real problem with the way it deals with disability. I didn’t write about it at the time because there are other people who wrote everything I wanted to say, and better. I realize that many people thought the episode “Wheels” was a step up for the show, but on the whole disability activists and writers disagree– and I see their point. Glee seems to view disability as inherently about clumsiness and tragedy and incompetence. When you live with a disability you become competent at your life. That’s why the wheelchair experiment is offensive: in real life it would just make Rachel think “Poor Artie! Always dropping food all over himself… his arms sure must hurt!”

Likewise this episode had the “hilarious” Glee coach from the school for the Deaf who HAHA doesn’t even know how Deaf he is. So what’s the message here? Deaf people are stupid? The fact the the only “real” singing had to come from the McKinley kids was patronizing. Why did the show treat sign language as if it’s equivalent to choreography when really it’s equivalent to talking? ASL *can* be used in choreography, but there’s more traditional dance involved as well.

It reminded me of the pathetic wheelchair choreography in “Wheels” which was basically “sweat ‘n push ‘n JAZZ HANDS!” Competitive wheelchair dancing is a real thing and it’s a lot more interesting than what Glee showed us.

Really, if you can’t do it right, PLEASE don’t do it.

It can’t be *that* hard to find people with real disabilities to act as advisers to the show, even Private Practice, a show I think is MUCH worse found a real wheelchair user to play their disabled character. Some professional and personal advice would help to avoid some ridiculous, embarrassing errors.

I really like Glee and I want it to succeed. I love that there’s a musical show on tv, I have an enormous crush on Puck and I love Kurt and Rachel’s rivalry. Last week doostyn made a list of things Glee has to lose in order to become the excellent show we both want it to be. To that I have to add: No more very special episodes about disability.



9 Responses to “The Dumbing Down of Disability on Glee”

  1. doostyn Says:

    “ASL *can* be used in choreography, but there’s more traditional dance involved as well.”

    Also traditional hoooooooooooootness. Thanks for reminding me of this video (wiping drool off the keyboard now), and shame on you Glee for not making the deaf school show choir the most rocking show choir of all, all shirtless and choreographed and with no “hairography” distraction. I’m with you, no more very special episodes, but if you’re going to do them, at least make it so that the “very special” amongst us don’t exist to teach us valuable lessons. At least make it so that (and really, I gave the show the benefit of the doubt and thought maybe this is where it would go) those who are “differently abled” are capable of show-stopping numbers that don’t have to teach us shit, but can just be awesome.

  2. gnatalby Says:

    I know! I thought there was going to be a “twist” and that the Deaf school was going to be the best choir of all.

    I guess I should have known this day was coming since they kept mentioning that they were competing against the school for the Deaf. Apparently despite my reputation as a cynic, deep within me there is a naif who thinks that people who are smart and clever will also be like, sensitive to difference and diversity. This show seems to run the risk of simultaneously being “too PC” and too offensive.

  3. melaka Says:

    hi there, I came over here from shakesville. Thank you so much for blogging about this. As a Deaf person, I was very disappointed with this glee episode. I was part of a performing group in my Deaf high school, and we would NEVER do anything like that. We gave a good show, complete with dance, choreography, acting in addition to signed songs, which by the way, were much more interesting and engaging that this episode. I got my hopes up too – only to find out it was one of those “very special” episodes.

    Then I saw some of my Deaf friends posting on facebook about what a great episode it was.


  4. gnatalby Says:

    Thanks for commenting!

    Not to be all “some of my best friends are Deaf!” but I find myself more attuned to Deaf issues because a good friend is an interpreter and his fiance is deaf, so I’ve definitely spent more time interacting with the Deaf community than any other disability community. I’m far from perfectly attuned, it’s just from having one friend who’s affected by it.

    I would hope that if I were writing a tv show on the topic I’d a consultant.

    I feel like fake diversity is annoying and what give PC-ness a bad name, when you just throw in a bunch of people who are different in some way from the white male norm and then don’t bother to learn anything about the ways they are different and what their lives are really like it tends to just seem preachy, cloying and forced, whereas I, a consummate gossip, find true stories about the way people who are different from live endlessly interesting.

  5. Anna Says:

    THERE ARE BOOKS! Hell, they could have read When the mind hears, it’s very engaging. Why couldn’t they read a book?

  6. Sasha-feather Says:

    This post has been included in a linkspam at Access-Fandom. Thank you!

  7. Andrea Says:

    What a great post!! I got here from Feministe. I would have LOVED to see Glee do something more like that incredibly hot video, rather than having the deaf school be basically upstaged by the Glee kids. It was such a disappointment.

  8. Andrea Says:

    Is it too early for the next review of Glee? Yea, I thought so. I need to calm down. I’ll check back tomorrow 😉

  9. gnatalby Says:

    Heh, yes, I live abroad, so it takes me a little extra time to get my Glee.

    Also I’m a vampire and am still up at 5:41 am.

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