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Disability Bitch hates exploitation

24th February 2010

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Readers, this week my No Legged Friend has been on the phone every ten minutes, concerned. He thinks I should stop writing this column. He thinks the BBC are exploiting me. Well, he gave me pause for thought. See, I HATE EXPLOITATION and I wouldn't want to be part of it.

The thing is, I don't want to stop writing this column. It's my job. I enjoy it. I'm also doing it by choice. Y'know, because I want to. Believe me, I'm full of hate and more than willing to purge the darkest sentiments of my soul every week. On the BBC. For money. Readers, it's possible that someone's being exploited by this arrangement, but it's not me.
Sarah Palin
But oh! In America a debate rages about the exploitation of disabled people. Or, rather, two specific disabled people: Trig Palin - son of former Vice Presidential candidate Sarah - and Andrea Fay Friedman, an actress. Both Trig and Andrea have Down's syndrome.

The controversy revolves around the fact that Andrea has appeared in an episode of the satirical cartoon series Family Guy which mocked Sarah Palin. Sarah believed it also mocked her disabled son, and objected. She's stated that only "cruel, cold hearted people" would mock those in the, erm, "special needs community". Can someone get a memo to the Palins? I think she means me and you, disabled people, but I would like to check.

Anyway, apparently Sarah Palin thinks members of that community are "some of the most loving and compassionate people in the world." Congratulations, special needs community. I'm sure you're thrilled by the endorsement. Unfortunately, the writers of Family Guy think differently. If you'd like a summary of what happened in the troublesome episode, you'll find one here on Wikipedia.

In brief, one of Family Guy's lead characters, Chris, plucks up the courage to ask his disabled classmate Ellen, on a date. They don't get on. Chris breaks up with her, telling her: "I used to hear that people with Down syndrome were different from the rest of us but you're not. You're not different at all. You're just a bunch of a**holes like everyone else." Slightly less indulgent than Sarah Palin's observation, then.

During their date, Ellen tells Chris her mother is the former Governor of Alaska, a direct reference to Sarah Palin, who used to have that job. And this is why the politician is taking it personally, what with having a DS son n'all.

Andrea Fay Friedman has hit back, saying Palin 'does not have a sense of humour' and that she was mocking Mrs Palin, not her son. She's also claimed Sarah carries Trig around 'like a loaf of French bread, looking for sympathy and votes" and says she should allow him to lead a normal life.
A loaf of french bread
Wow. I mean, seriously, wow. First question: when was the last time you saw a character with Down's syndrome in a mainstream cartoon? Second question: When was the last time you saw an actress with Down's take a key role in a satirical show? And, third question: Why does the presence of an actor with Down's in Family Guy seem to cause controversy so readily?

The argument - which has been percolating for about a week in the US press - now seems to revolve around who is most exploitative to disabled people: Family Guy for including the character Ellen in the show, or Sarah Palin, for daring to be photographed with her disabled son and discussing him with the media. It's such a fuss.

The audacity of it! Those mean old satirists, giving a disabled actress paid work. And that horrid Sarah Palin, for taking her disabled son out with her, in public while she's on the campaign trail. Outrageous behaviour on both parts.
Or maybe not.

My point is that Family Guy taking a pop at a public figure is something they do every episode. It's newsworthy mostly because there are two disabled people involved. That's unusual, but I’m not sure it’s exploitative. Personally, I would like it to be less unusual. There are millions of disabled people in the world. One day, maybe it won't be noteworthy that a public figure is also the parent of a disabled child; maybe it won't be noteworthy that an actress in a mainstream TV drama also has a learning disability. I can dream.


Oh, I've been so busy watching Family Guy, I've almost forgotten to check in with Heather, who was on holiday last week. But she's back and, according to her Twitter page, her Haiti limb appeal is going well. Good.


Following last week's column, in which I complained that all the disabled people I was reading about in the news seemed to want to die, many of my Facebook friends stepped forward to say they wanted to live. That was nice to know. If you also want to live, but have nothing better to do with your life than nack round on Facebook all day, feel free to join me here.

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