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Magical Cripples and Their Life Lessons: Disability on TV


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#1

beastie

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Posted Sep 27, 2005 @ 8:51 AM

Did T.V. news adequately cover Hurricane Katrina as a disability story? Did Theo Huxtable start a revolution in awareness about learning disabilities? Anyone remember "Cousin Geri" on Facts of Life? What ever happened to the actor who played Corky on "Life Goes On"? Is there any way we can discuss the Jerry Lewis telethon without coming to blows?

Yes, folks, this is your catch-all thread for discussion of disability issues on T.V. Discussion of any disability is welcome, but don't neglect the Mental Health Thread.
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#2

MeerkatNotMink

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Posted Sep 27, 2005 @ 9:03 AM

Nice thread title beastie!

"Cousin Geri" - she's on "Deadwood" now, isn't she?

Is there any way we can discuss the Jerry Lewis telethon without coming to blows?

Doubt it! ;-)


I'm going to have to think about something more intelligent to say, but for now I just want to cheer the existance of a thread that can include both my complaints about TV coverage (or lack there of) for disability sport and my intense hatred of Bo from "Over There"!

Edited by MeerkatNotMink, Sep 27, 2005 @ 9:04 AM.

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#3

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Posted Sep 27, 2005 @ 10:03 AM

If I remember correctly, at the end of the Hottest Olympians thread there was a post about the Hottest Special Olympians. Go with your first impulse, MeerkatNotMink.
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#4

VersesBatman

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Posted Sep 27, 2005 @ 10:12 AM

There was this girl in a wheelchair in Different Strokes. She was highly annoying too. I don't remember her name.

The blindness in Little house on the Prairie.

Yep, Geri plays a barmaid on Deadwood, I believe.
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#5

Namaste

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Posted Sep 27, 2005 @ 10:44 AM

I recall way back (it's been 20 years or so now, I guess), there was a shortlived soap called "Capitol" in which one of the characters/doctors used crutches. And he was, of course, always nice, polite, caring and capable of curing everyone. He even invented an artificial heart, although he was an orthopedic specialist or something.
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#6

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Posted Sep 27, 2005 @ 10:56 AM

There is Doc Robbins on CSI, who has no feet.

Of course, he doesn't give us any life lessons, other than a crutch can be used to play air guitar.

The fact that he doesn't make that big of deal of having no feet, and that the writers haven't done any thing to make it a very special CSI is sort of a lesson in it's own right.
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#7

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Posted Sep 27, 2005 @ 11:02 AM

What ever happened to the actor who played Corky on "Life Goes On"?


He's doing personal appearances for (I believe) the Special Olympics... I saw a blurb on the local news not too long ago that said he would be in our area soon.

I always appreciated it on Port Charles when the character of Matt, who was played by Mitch Longley, an actor who's in a wheelchair in real life, would do something like go out for lunch with some friends and he would have to move a chair away from the table to accommodate his wheelchair... it was a simple thing, but in real life you wouldn't conveniently find a table that had room for your wheelchair, right? I thought it was a nice bit of realism that added to the character of Matt and was respectful of the actor's own life experience.

ETA: It's the Downs Syndrome foundation Chris Burke is making appearances for, not Special Olympics.

Edited by espie, Oct 4, 2005 @ 11:29 AM.

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#8

Justin Cognito

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Posted Sep 27, 2005 @ 11:01 AM

There is Doc Robbins on CSI, who has no feet.


Bigger than that; he has no legs. There's been one casual mention of it (in the episode with the Buddhist monk mass murder, Doc Robbins mentions that he looked into Buddhism as a means of coping after losing his legs) and a few visual gags (Doc checking out the bottom of his shoe while his lower leg is turned upwards-- at a 90-degree angle).
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#9

xii

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Posted Sep 27, 2005 @ 11:14 AM

"Cousin Geri" - she's on "Deadwood" now, isn't she?


She is. And that show is interesting because it's devoid of virtually any political or social correctness, and therefore anyone with a disability -- Jewel, or the Rev. with the brain tumor, for example -- has a generally brutal existence and is frequently singled out publicly in vicious, humiliating ways. Any acts of humane compassion are usually small, and private. It's horrifying, yet refreshing.
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#10

MeerkatNotMink

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Posted Sep 27, 2005 @ 11:31 AM

If I remember correctly, at the end of the Hottest Olympians thread there was a post about the Hottest Special Olympians. Go with your first impulse, MeerkatNotMink.

I think you probably mean Paralympians Bach-us, but anyway, since you encouraged me:

While CBC’s half-hour a night (with occasional extras) coverage of the Athens Paralympics was better than the total lack of US coverage, it still sucked. In that half hour they’d usually just do a short run down of how Canadian athletes did without showing the big events that didn't feature Canadians and never having any depth to any of the coverage at all - and not showing off enough of the winning of sexy Japanese wheelchair racer Choke Yasuoka, but I digress.

They did show some of the wheelchair basketball games in their entirety, but at 2:00 in the morning! It’s not like CBC has such popular regular programming that they couldn’t have preempted something during normal waking hours!

I’m also bugged by the way the coverage of most of the big marathons ignores the (more exciting) wheelchair divisions - except for Boston, for which the coverage is usually quite good (and props to OLN for including a clip of Ernst van Dyk’s 2004 world-record at Boston in their “10 years of great moments” ad).

And I say more exciting, because the runners aren’t as fast, don’t tend to win in sprints and don't have the potential for massive crashes.

xii wrote:

She is. And that show is interesting because it's devoid of virtually any political or social correctness, and therefore anyone with a disability -- Jewel, or the Rev. with the brain tumor, for example -- has a generally brutal existence and is frequently singled out publicly in vicious, humiliating ways. Any acts of humane compassion are usually small, and private. It's horrifying, yet refreshing.

There was an interesting article about that role on "Deadwood" in Salon a while ago actually: Jewell in the rough

I think I've babbled enough, so I'll hold my "Over There" complaints for later!

Edited by MeerkatNotMink, Sep 27, 2005 @ 11:35 AM.

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#11

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Posted Sep 27, 2005 @ 11:33 AM

As a disabled person, I always thought Joan of Arcadia did a great job with Kevin. He was bitter at times, yes, but snarky about it, too. He progressed and then degressed, had bad times as well as good. I also liked the fact he was so unwilling to do a "gimp story" for the TV because he felt like that they were using him as sob story. Even when he did it, though, it was something I could empathized with, he both wented hope for a cure and was afraid of learning that there was no hope.
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#12

DavidK93

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Posted Sep 27, 2005 @ 11:49 AM

beastie:

Did Theo Huxtable start a revolution in awareness about learning disabilities?

I definitely did not know what dyslexia was before that very special episode. I learned later that much of Theo, including his dyslexia, had been based on Bill Cosby's son Ennis (who was murdered in 1997).
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#13

formergr

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Posted Sep 27, 2005 @ 11:50 AM

There was this girl in a wheelchair in Different Strokes. She was highly annoying too. I don't remember her name.

Her character inadvertently taught us a Very Special Lesson that disabled people aren't all patient angels, and instead can be bossy and abrasive, just like abled folks.

No one has mentioned Carrie Weaver on E.R...

Edited by formergr, Sep 27, 2005 @ 11:50 AM.

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#14

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Posted Sep 27, 2005 @ 11:52 AM

I always thought South Park was unique in its handling of disabled characters (i.e. Timmy and Jimmy). I don't know if I am supposed to be offended by how they are portrayed or impressed by the creator's lack of political correctness.

I did like the episodes where Christopher Reeve was evil, Cartman pretended to be disabled so he could try to win the special olympics, and "Cripple Fight," but maybe there is something seriously wrong with me.
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#15

giovannif7

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Posted Sep 27, 2005 @ 12:05 PM

I always appreciated it on Port Charles when the character of Matt, who was played by Mitch Longley, an actor who's in a wheelchair in real life, would do something like go out for lunch with some friends and he would have to move a chair away from the table to accommodate his wheelchair... it was a simple thing, but in real life you wouldn't conveniently find a table that had room for your wheelchair, right? I thought it was a nice bit of realism that added to the character of Matt and was respectful of the actor's own life experience.


I've always liked the actor, and really enjoyed that character - Port Charles had a nice romance going for a while with his character and Debbi Morgan's Dr. Burgess. I was grateful that he left the show before the vampire crap started though... In any case, Mitch is now being completely underused on the series Las Vegas, as one of the underlings in the surveilance room. I'm glad he's working, but I wish they'd actually give him something substantial to do!
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#16

MeerkatNotMink

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Posted Sep 27, 2005 @ 12:10 PM

caro51980 wrote:

I did like the episodes where Christopher Reeve was evil,

Love that one! Yes, South Park rocks (generally & re: handling of disabled characters)!

tobia wrote:

I always thought Joan of Arcadia did a great job with Kevin.

It’s funny, because while I liked Joan of Arcadia I always seemed to have issues with the Kevin plots – everything from his attitude (he was supposed to be two years post-injury but was just noticing things most people would seen in a month), to his ease at finding an apartment, to the fact that he spent the whole first season with armrests.

And I was always weirded out by the scenes of him and Bear together because, even though I like Jason Ritter, when they had shots of him and Mitch Longley rolling down the street together I always had this awareness that one was “faking” and one was the “real thing” (but maybe that’s just me).

I actually have general issues with non-disabled actors playing characters that start any series disabled (like Weaver on ER)– I find myself wondering why they couldn’t have just found a disabled actor.

That’s one of my many issues with Bo on Over There – the actor isn’t particularly good or well-known, so why couldn’t they just have hired an actual amputee actor and spared us all the funny camera angles and digitally edited shots? I don’t think the fact that the character doesn’t become disabled until the end of the first episode as an excuse since the character is only a single below-knee amputee & they can usually “pass” just fine.

Edited by MeerkatNotMink, Sep 27, 2005 @ 12:12 PM.

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#17

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Posted Sep 27, 2005 @ 12:22 PM

That’s one of my many issues with Bo on Over There – the actor isn’t particularly good or well-known, so why couldn’t they just have hired an actual amputee actor and spared us all the funny camera angles and digitally edited shots?

That is something mentioned in my house every Wednesday night. I think Bo is a self-centered ass. I don't know if it's the character or actor, but I don't feel any sympathy for him. I wish he would get sent back to combat so they can blow up the rest of him.

Edited by DebraAnne, Sep 27, 2005 @ 3:24 PM.

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#18

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Posted Sep 27, 2005 @ 12:28 PM

She is. And that show is interesting because it's devoid of virtually any political or social correctness, and therefore anyone with a disability -- Jewel, or the Rev. with the brain tumor, for example -- has a generally brutal existence and is frequently singled out publicly in vicious, humiliating ways. Any acts of humane compassion are usually small, and private. It's horrifying, yet refreshing.


But Jewell is very much like everyone else on that show - subject to indignity but able to show humanity. I agree that her existence is shown to be very difficult - Al Swearingen regularly refers to her as the gimp - but the beauty of that character is that she really isn't any different from anyone else in camp. And, despite Al's crudity, he is also protective of her (as is Doc Cochran).
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#19

MeerkatNotMink

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Posted Sep 27, 2005 @ 12:34 PM

I wish he would get sent back to combat so they can blow up the rest of him.

Yes DebraAnne! Yes!
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#20

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Posted Sep 27, 2005 @ 1:59 PM

Anyone remember "Cousin Geri" on Facts of Life?


God forgive me, but...for years my best friend and I used to imitae her saying: "I'm not drunk, Blair, I have cerebal palsey".

I'll escort myself to hell, thanks.
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#21

formergr

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Posted Sep 27, 2005 @ 2:18 PM

It's not just you, I had a boss who would randomly at times just say, "But, Bleah?!!" And because I'm joining you in hell, I laughed every time.

ETA: MeerkatNotMink, ITA with you that there's no reason disabled characters shouldn't be played by a disabled actor. That being said (knowing nothing about the industry), I was wondering if there are that many disabled actors out there? Not because of any lack of acting ability, but I'd assume they haven't been given much of a chance until very recently (if even now), and that there might be a really small pool who have representation, etc. In which case it might be easier to find an abled actor to play the part. Not that it's right, but wondering if that's the case. Anyone know more about this?

Edited by formergr, Sep 27, 2005 @ 2:23 PM.

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#22

kalinara

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Posted Sep 27, 2005 @ 2:30 PM

I'm not sure this counts, but I've always loved Joe Dawson on Highlander. An amputee-character played by an amputee actor, but it was never really a plot point on the show, aside from one episode that had to do with an evil immortal/Vietnam army buddy.

Anyway, Joe was just Joe. He had artificial legs and walked slowly with a cane. He was a Watcher who was fond of his charge. He played the blues and had a dry wit and owned a bar. The disability was an undeniable part of the character (and actor), but the character was so much more than just "the disabled guy".

As I recall, he was also on Wiseguy, though it's been years since I've seen it, so I don't remember much there. I don't remember his handicap being much of an issue aside from the fact that he used a wheelchair while doing tech stuff.
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#23

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Posted Sep 27, 2005 @ 3:09 PM

But Jewell is very much like everyone else on that show - subject to indignity but able to show humanity. I agree that her existence is shown to be very difficult - Al Swearingen regularly refers to her as the gimp - but the beauty of that character is that she really isn't any different from anyone else in camp. And, despite Al's crudity, he is also protective of her (as is Doc Cochran).


I agree with all of the above. The thing is, usually when we see a disabled person being publicly humiliated, it's usually in the context of a Very Special Episode in which we learn an important lesson about respect. In Deadwood, there's no lesson. Life sucks 99% of the time, throwing the occasional acts of humanity into sharp relief.
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#24

MeerkatNotMink

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Posted Sep 27, 2005 @ 3:10 PM

kalinara wrote:

I'm not sure this counts, but I've always loved Joe Dawson on Highlander…The disability was an undeniable part of the character (and actor), but the character was so much more than just "the disabled guy".

Sure it counts – it’s just that since it was so natural (as with the coroner on CSI), there’s not much to snark on! ;-)

formergr wrote:

I was wondering if there are that many disabled actors out there? Not because of any lack of acting ability, but I'd assume they haven't been given much of a chance until very recently (if even now), and that there might be a really small pool who have representation, etc. In which case it might be easier to find an abled actor to play the part. Not that it's right, but wondering if that's the case. Anyone know more about this?

It’s true that disabled actors haven’t been given too many chances on TV, but from what I’ve read it’s not because they’re in short supply – they just seem to not be hired as often. I remember reading an article a while ago about an actress (a wheelchair user) who found that if she auditioned for non-disabled roles she often wouldn’t even get past the first stage, and that when she auditioned for disabled roles those usually went to able-bodied actors too – even if most of the actors auditioning were disabled (I’ll try to find a link).

Related articles:"Talented, ambitious … and disabled" and "SAG study: Actors with disabilities face job discrimination"
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#25

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Posted Sep 27, 2005 @ 3:31 PM

WAY back in the day, Louie Anderson had his own sitcom on CBS. The only notable thing about it also starred Paul Feig and Laura Innes. Anyway, Louie worked at some generic workplace, and his secretary was in a wheelchair. The show didn't last for too long, but I remember that when TV Guide reviewed it, the critic noted that the show consisted of fat jokes but nothing was ever said about the wheelchair his secretary was in, and a few episodes later there was a throw-away joke where Louie put something on a high shelf and told her, "You're gonna need monster truck wheels to get up this high."
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#26

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Posted Sep 27, 2005 @ 3:54 PM

This is a great thread. I agree that disabled actors should have priority over non disabled actors when necessary. It drives me crazy when there is a disabled character but we never see the impact of the disability on their daily life. For example Kerry Weaver uses crutches yet she's able to go outside in all types of weather and she never loses her balance. I use crutches and would never go outside in a blizzard or an ice storm. I'm always shocked how accessable tv land seems to be. On tv accessable parking spaces always seem to be available and curb cuts are plentiful. I wish real life was like that. I admire John Hockenberry for spotlighting these issues on Dateline.
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#27

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Posted Sep 27, 2005 @ 4:18 PM

MeerkatNotMink, thanks for that. I couldn't remember the post that well and in my ignorance, I get the Paralympics and the Special Olympics mixed up.

Jim Byrnes was on the short-lived Jake 2.0 as some kind of executive officer in an intelligence agency. I don't remember much about that either except how happy I was to see him get more work.
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#28

formergr

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Posted Sep 27, 2005 @ 4:30 PM

MeerkatNotMink, really interesting articles, thanks for finding and posting them.
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#29

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Posted Sep 27, 2005 @ 4:42 PM

KathyK, you make a good point, but I always assumed that Kerry had had the crutch for so long (and as we learned this year, she's been disabled since birth), that she's able to get around no matter what the weather's or walking surface is like. That said, I've noticed that her dependence on the cane varies--sometimes she's practically walking normally, other times it's as though she can barely move without it.

And she's a reverse VSE herself, what with being such a grade-A bitch and all.
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#30

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Posted Sep 27, 2005 @ 4:55 PM

Laura Innes once said that she was glad ER doesn't make an issue out of Weavers disability.
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