Grab a cuppa and a comfy seat, and let’s chat a while! It’s time for Coffee and Conversation!
When I was six, my family was driving on a highway late at night. Streaks of headlights and taillights painted the dark. For the first time, I realized that each car held people living lives as important to them as mine was to me.
I wanted to know what those lives were, and to share my own..
What does it look like, when television gets characters with disabilities right?
Some time back, Rose B. Fischer posted this critique of the show “Push Girls”. I hadn’t heard of the show, before reading the article, and, based on what Rose had to say about it, I’m not likely to watch it, because it seems almost as if they’ve gone for women with many “other” characteristics that are generally deemed desirable, as a means of compensation for their use of wheelchairs, and that is a turn-off for me. From the description, it feels like the intent might be to overcome the chairs in some sense, to minimize them and their importance in the lives of these women.
I’d rather see a show where the equipment and accommodations that allow for a full life, whatever it may be, is simply portrayed as a part of that life, like air, or food, or clothing..
Which is why I love Red Band Society. This fictional drama centers around a group of teenagers living long-term in a hospital. There’s also one younger boy, Charlie, who serves as the narrator, even though he’s in a coma. Each of the young people has a serious disability that requires their hospitalization:
Leo and Jordi: have cancer centered in their legs. Leo had a leg amputated, and is recovering after chemotherapy; Jordi is recently diagnosed, with his treatment plan still up in the air.
Dash has cystic fibrosis. I’m not sure why he’s at the hospital so long, because, having some fairly intimate experience with CF, he seems more or less healthy. It may be a plot device, or part of his treatment plan, or because he’s on the transplant list.
Kara has a terminal heart condition. She needs a transplant, but years of apathy, smoking and drug abuse mean that she’s not a candidate, and won’t be added to the list unless she seriously alters her lifestyle.
Emma has anorexia. She pretends to go along with her treatment plan; she strives never to disappoint anyone. But her illness has control, and she’ll go to great lengths to avoid food and the consequences of not eating.
Charlie, is in a coma, due to an accident, for most of the first season. He was in a car crash while temporarily not seat-belted. When he regains consciousness, he’s unable to move much beyond his eyes, and communicates through a computer.
Hunter has liver disease, and will soon die without a transplant. He was intended to receive one from his deceased brother, but it was deemed unusable, and discarded.
The magic of Red Band is that the illnesses and conditions, while obviously playing a powerful role in the kids’ lives, do not define them. They relate to one another not through disability, but through personalities. They are a group of people learning about themselves and one another at a very changeable time in their lives. They’re as subject to their hormones, to likes and dislikes, and are as averse to being controlled as any other adolescents. They have an on-site school, and homework, and hopes for their futures. They have lives that were interrupted to varying degrees by their illnesses, and, they try to remain connected with or resume aspects of those lives. Leo was a soccer star; Kara a cheerleader; both need to adjust their perceptions of themselves and their new realities. They handle this in different ways and in different timeframes, in a way that is believable for the characters.
They aren’t heroes. They make good choices, and bad ones. Frustration and jealousy can get the best of them – Jordi and Leo both want Emma; Jordi, needs money to become emancipated, and considers selling pain killers; Kara, frightened of her feelings for Hunter, seduces Leo; Emma focuses on her studies and her quest to get into an Ivy League school…there are hard and hurt feelings, and sometimes the kids are cruel to one another.
And yet, they band together, in a shifting alliance, and they do their best to support each other in attaining their goals, and when someone’s disability or life becomes intrusive – when Dash has a serious respiratory attack; when Kara goes suddenly blind; when Jordi’s mostly absent mother abandons him again just after the first round of chemo leads to a collapse. They collude to procure a little autonomy, and do what they can to help one another get through each day. They are people first, teens second, and dealing with disabilities as a factor in their lives – rather than as the whole of those lives.
To me, that is a more honest picture of disability, even if the show is fictional. I’m not sure if the show will be back for another season, but, if it is, I will definitely be watching.
What are your thoughts? Do you have a favorite show that deals with disability with positivity and realism? Are there shows that disturb you with their portrayal of characters with disabilities? I’ll provide the refreshments while you make use of the little conversation box down there!