Disability Reality TV (Fantasy Reality TV, that is)

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Reading Ben Mattlin‘s book the other day, he reminded me (as the reader, not me in particular) that in the disability rights movement there’s been a warning to not reveal too much about your personal life to the public. When you do, you open yourself up to unsavory reactions. You might get some of the following:

  • pity (poor disabled person with the hard life)
  • frustration (quit complaining about being a poor disabled person with a hard life)
  • reverence (disabled persons with hard lives are rich with wisdom, compassion, and deeper self-awareness than the rest of us mere mortals)
  • disingenuous cries of inspiration (disabled persons who accomplish anything mundane are amazing and inspire me to do more mundane things more often; after all, my life can’t be as hard as theirs)

Ok, so how do you make a documentary that doesn’t push so far into people’s personal lives as to inspire stereotyping reactions? You can’t control or even predict how any viewer will react. But in crafting our stories, we do want to be as genuine and realistic as possible to help avoid unnecessary pity or reverence.

To honor my constant worrying over how to present the featured artists in my film realistically, honestly, and as whole, well-rounded people, I present to you now with some comedy. I always enjoy when someone reminds me to use comedy. Comedy peels away the layers of discomfort that we feel around disability, talking about disability, and attitude barriers to having genuine dialogue.

Here is a list from 4 1/2 years ago. It’s from Britain, so not all of the terms relate to life here. But it’s just as relevant as when it was posted in 2008.

This is from Ouch!, which has blogs, podcasts, and all manner of things about and by disabled folks.

Top Ten disability reality shows that should have been made

  1. You aren’t what you eat: Gillian McFreak gives 6 disabled people a weird diet of Aduki beans to see which one of them gets their sight/hearing/amputated limbs back first.

  2. Top Gear. Acute psychiatric inpatients race around the ward in souped up pyjamas.

  3. Who’s Leg is it Anyway? Contestants try and guess the famous amputees from their prosthetic legs.

  4. What’s The Worst That Could Happen? A team of terminally-ill contestants compete in an escalating series of dangerous extreme sports.

  5. Universally Challenged. The Ultimate Disability quiz!

  6. Gym’ll Fix It. Physios try to convince disabled that exercise will cure them.

  7. Cash In The Attic (But I Can’t Get Up There)

  8. How To Look Good Knackered

  9. Can’t Cook? Won’t Cook? A panel decides if disabled applicants pass the “Main Meal” test for DLA.

  10. Irregular Heartbeat – a story of everyday folk in rural North Yorkshire with Arrhythmia.