Friday, November 13, 2009

Glee wheelchair episode: not gleeful

Glee decided to put on a show in an attempt to fix the ongoing dilemma they created by casting a nondisabled actor in a wheelchair role (Artie). Their reasoning? They tried, they really tried, but could not find even one talented really disabled actor who could sing and dance. Hmm. Maybe the able bodied actor they hired instead can sing a bit, but he sure can't dance in a wheelchair - but more to that point later.

In this episode, to show that they are sensitive to disability issues, Glee put all the other able bodied cast members in wheelchairs too. Not very original, but maybe they thought doing it en masse would have a good visual effect. It didn't work except to compound their error. But from their ableist point of view- hey why not? The rest of the cast is no more disabled than Artie.

But on to the dancing, which, personally I'd rather forget. If you haven't seen it, I suggest you avoid it at all costs, because images of able bodied people rolling around ramps on a stage looking as if they're afraid of falling off will remain seared in your mind forever. (I wonder if anyone has considered the liability implications of putting inexperienced actors in wheelchairs on ramps on a stage. Probably not. Another good reason to hire actors who really do use a wheelchair.)

I refuse to put a video up here because I've seen real wheelchair dancing. Actually I've seen better wheelchair dancing at wheelchair tennis tournament banquets by an 11 year old kid. Probably because he uses a wheelchair every day.

I'm no dancer, so let's bring in a professional one. According to Wheelchair Dancer, the choreography sucks.

And then there's the sad fact of the "dancing;" the choreography sucks. The one potentially interesting move that McHale supposedly "does" is a cut -- he wheelies on one rear wheel. The rest is notable only for the way that it shows that able-bodied, non-wheelchair-using folk really do think of chairs as bicycles you move with your arms. There's absolutely no body-chair integration at all. They think of sitting in a chair as being only about not being able to move their legs (and in Artie's case as being about having his hips and legs twisted to one side). That mistaken understanding leads to some very weird looking people in chairs. On chairs would be a better phrase for it. The fake paralysis of their legs somehow wends its way up their bodies so that they are really only able to push with their elbows (no wonder they have sore arms!).

Sigh. If only they had asked a wheelchair dancer or choreographer for help or - here's a thought- used real wheelchair dancers! I hate it when able bodied people just don't ask for help before pretending to be disabled. Things always get screwed up that way.

All I can say is that Glee is in a fine mess now. The real problem with this show, as with the rest of Hollywood, is that it keeps insisting on portraying an able bodied version of characters with disabilities. Writing an episode on sensitivity toward a character who doesn't really have a disability to convince those of us who really have disabilities that the show is enlightened just isn't going to work. Nor did the subplot of a girl with a stutter confessing she really doesn't have a stutter help. It's all very confusing and gave me a headache.

Here's what I suggest. Since the show decided a sing-off was fair between two characters, why not bring in a wheelchair user to sing and dance against Artie?

Then we might see some real wheelchair dancing, like this.


FridaWrites said...

They did look afraid, didn't they?

Ruth said...

Yes, they most certainly did Frida!Hope you have a good weekend :)