Glee & Their Non-Gleeful Audience?

2 May

In my blog I want to focus on two characters from Glee. I am on the fence of what my main topic should be but I know that I want to talk about the misrepresentation of disabilities found in Glee.

Disabled people have been traditionally confined to a narrow spectrum of roles in the media. Two types of characters chosen for the majority of disabled roles are ones who are pitied or supercrips. In Heroes of Assimilation: How the Media Transform Disability, it is expressed that one in five people have a disability and are “shamefully misrepresented in the fun-house mirror of mass media” (1). Glee is a family television show that has proven to be one of a kind. Glee is a prime example of how different disabilities are portrayed in the media. Two characters that stand out because of their disabilities are Emma Pillsbury and Artie Abrams. There is a difference between a good depiction and bad depiction of disabled characters. Representing only the negative aspects of disabilities is far from beneficial to disabled communities. But it isn’t beneficial either to bombard the public with only supercrip portrayals. It is important for popular television shows to give an equal representation to all sides and stories.

Either media outlets counter the typical characterization or play along in instances of disability representation. Artie Abrams is paralyzed from the waist down so he is in a wheelchair. Those with disabilities want to feel normal and accepted, but when given pity it makes them feel different than the mainstream. The great thing about Arties is that he is a very social teen with many friends and in a well known social group at school. I have seen plenty of shows that portray people in wheelchairs as constantly needing help with transportation to fitness. Artie does not tolerate pity from his peers; he counters the stereotype that disabled people need help from others. The overplayed portrayal of pitied disabled Americans in the media is the fault of media producers and gatekeepers. Economic power is tightly linked to representational power.

Emma Pillsbury has OCD and has it bad. She is constantly disinfecting and going through her daily rituals. The portrayal of characters with OCD is somewhat new. As most people know, people with OCD have difficult everyday obstacles, but are able portrayed sometimes as unable to live “normal” lives. Every person has obstacles and difficulties in situations and it is the ability to overcome them that allows a person to succeed. Emma is controlled by her OCD and looked at as a freak. This representation of OCD is not comparable to the different severities of OCD. Her character is always shown doing her rituals and has become known for her disability which is exactly what people do not want to be only recognized for.

A supercrip is a person with a disability who overcomes his inabilities to live in society as a normal nondisabled person and achieve goals and aspirations that never seemed attainable. The supercrip character is used too often to represent the majority of disabled people. This gives a large percentage of disabled Americans a false sense of hope and identity.

The main reason that the large percentage of Americans with disabilities are not represented correctly or fairly is because the creators and designers of television shows, movies and magazines are more interested in the “dollar-and-cents dynamic that governs, to far too great a degree, what makes it to the screen or page”  (1). There is a lot of controversy about whether Glee is representing disability populations fairly. Some believe that Glee is another example of how to not represent these populations because they improperly inform the audience of what OCD and paralysis is all about.

Rheanna Nelson


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