(Most of my guest blogs have appeared on DisabledOnlineLosAngeles. Check 'em out.)
The most recent one, I talked about the new Sundance Channel reality TV series, "Push Girls." So far, I guess you could say I have a love-hate relationship with the show.
I love that it exists. I love that it shows hot, empowered women on wheels. I love that it uses real para- and quadriplegics, telling their own real-life stories.
Well, in fairness, when it comes to disability issues I'm a bit of a radical. I think the most disabled among us should be welcomed as equals. I want to hammer those who construct or sanction obstacles to acceptance, integration and access--those who accept or perpetuate stereotypes. I want to salute all those who've come before and laid the groundwork for everything from curb ramps to civil-rights legislation. The things we practically take for granted now. I want to remember, appreciate, and remain vigilant.
This show does none of that.
I understand they are supposed to be loud and brash and flashy. That's the nature of TV, especially Reality TV. But when one of them says something like, "If you can't stand up, you've gotta standout!", I want to answer back, Why? Isn't it okay just to be who you are, disabled and all?
Granted, I love the scene where the one goes to be photographed in an attempt to restart her modeling career--and ends up having a muscle spasm. The photographer sort of freaks out, but the woman herself remains calm and in control as she explains what she needs, why this happens to her, and what to do about it. This is the reality of her disability, and she is completely competent in controlling her own care, making sure her needs are met. A powerful scene that's especially significant if you know the history of disability portrayals.
I hope to see more like this.
Unfortunately, the first episode was a tad overmuch for me. Now, I'm not exactly a Reality TV fan. I'm not into the voyeuristic aspects. But to me, too often these women seem to protest too much (to borrow from Shakespeare). It's sad.
For instance, when one of them says that people wonder if she can still have sex, she doesn't just say yes, I can and do. She actually ladles it on with "oh yes--lots and LOTS of sex!"
In future episodes, I'm looking for more about obstacles and barriers and advocacy. It's a dangerous thing when the burden of integration is put on the oppressed minority--in other words, to say these chicks will fit in just fine if they're plucky, sassy , and brash enough to make it. I'm delighted they're independent-minded and hate to be helped, as they keep reminding us. But sometimes we need to ask for help, and the sooner we face that the better.
And sometimes--maybe all the time--we need to remind the nondisabled world that it ought to meet us halfway, at the very least. We might not want favors or special treatment, but we shouldn't have to do all the work of inclusion ourselves. Because all the guts and bravura (or hairspray, makeup, bangles, etc.) in the world won't get your wheelchair up a flight of steps or even get you that job or that relationship. The other side has to be open and affirming of us, disabilities and all.
Disagree? Please let me know.***
LA-based journalist Ben Mattlin, who was born with SMA, is the author of MIRACLE BOY GROWS UP: How the Disability Rights Revolution Saved My Sanity, available now for pre-order from Amazon.com and BN.com--for more info, go to www.MiracleBoyGrowsUp.com