Disability in Mainstream Media
This blog post idea came to me after Casualty and Holby City, two of my favourite hospital-based dramas, decided to cast autistic characters in episodes of their shows. I also spoke with a few college friends about my opinion after both these episodes had aired and realized how much my opinion differed from others, so I thought what better thing to do than to post a blog about it?
The main argument I have about disabled people in the media is that, wherever it is possible to do so, a disabled actor (in this case, an autistic character) should portray the disorder the show is trying to show as opposed to a normal person trying to slip into the act for a few days. I’ve managed to do some research into the actor and actress that portrayed the characters in Casualty and Holby City to find out that the Casualty actress wasn’t even autistic herself (or not that I can find from any of her online presence/information). Is it any wonder that I, and several others, believed that the portrayal of autism came across a lot more naturally in Holby City than it did in Casualty?
A lot of people that I spoke to didn’t understand why I thought this was such a big deal, and why it was something I believe we should bother to challenge. It was a TV show, right? It’s there for entertainment. Whilst I agree with this, raising awareness for a disability should always be handled delicately and with great care, and the entertainment factor should be a mere second-hand thought.
Another person I spoke to argued that “normal” people should play these challenging roles because a film set would be too much for a disabled person and could lead to them becoming disruptive and making it difficult to get through the scenes they needed to film.
Whilst I understand the above view and I understand that it’s sometimes easier to go for the person who seems to be the easiest to deal with and will cause the smallest of disruptions, but what does that say if that’s what you think of all disabled people? Is it better not to give an autistic or otherwise disabled person a chance just because they could have a meltdown or nervous breakdown?
A lot of people think this about autistic people, even those that I was talking to, because people believe the moment an autistic person is sensory overloaded or underwhelmed that we will have a meltdown, like we’re incapable of building resilience to a situation. If this was true I would never have lasted in my current mainstream college for as long as I have done because even for someone who perceives as having my shit together, having daily meltdowns would exhaust me quickly. Of course, when I first started college I was having several meltdowns a week, but this has got better in time as I have exposed myself more and more to the sensory input of the situation.
The reason I decided to give a personal reality above is because it’s the same for an autistic or otherwise disabled person in the acting industry. It goes for anyone, really; if you don’t build up the resilience to cope in a certain situation then you’re never going to cope. And with it taking so much more for disabled people to cope in an environment that wasn’t made for people like them, surely we should be given some credit, right?
I think a lot of it boils down to the diversity crisis in the media right now. Whether that be race and ethnic issues or, as I’ve ranted about above, disabilities, there’s a great level of inequality present and it seems like people are very reluctant to take action in order to change this. As it goes, finding a disabled actor or actress in a mainstream show is almost impossible, and often when disabled people are cast we’re exploited in the press and the show are praised for being inclusive when we’re landed a minor roll, leaving white, “normal” people to take centre stage as usual. Equal opportunities should extend further than just gay marriages, people!
However, I think it’s clear from my above points that I think a lot more could be done to give a more positive portrayal of disabled people in the media in future, but what do you think of the current portrayal of disabled people in the media? I’d love to hear your opinions.
Until next time (because it seems that I totally suck at keeping up a weekly schedule),