Tuesday, September 08, 2015

The Symbol

Photo Description: Wheelchair access symbol going up a ramp with a directional arrow below.
 Joe and I spent the Labour Day weekend doing nearly nothing. We went out every day for at least 20 minutes, as we had to say 'hello' to the world, and both of us need to feel fresh air on a daily basis. But for the most part we celebrated Labour by avoiding it at all costs. Much of our days were spent binging on post apocalyptic televisions series. We like those. Mowing down zombies is perfect fodder for relaxing the brain while contemplating how tasty and organ it must be.

We took a break from the zombies, as one must, and watched a couple episodes of a murder mystery series we've been watching over the past many months. There are a lot of seasons and a lot of shows, so we know the characters well. But then something happened while watching it which shook me up just a little bit. One of the characters was standing on a sidewalk outside a building, she was bantering with her partner. A very typical scene for the show. But I noticed over her shoulder a wheelchair access sign. It had the wheelchair symbol, the blue badge person, and an arrow underneath it pointing, presumably to the wheelchair entrance of the building.

That was it.

But I've been watching this show over several seasons. Several. I've never seen a disabled person in it. Not as a main character, something I'm familiar with, but, and maybe more importantly, not even in a background shot. You know the 'people milling around' shot or the 'people walking by' shot or even the 'people gathered around the police tape' shot. Never. Not one.

I thought through most of the television shows that I've seen and, again, I can't recall m/any where someone with a visible disability just happening by. Just being part of the crowd. No crutches, no walkers, no wheelchairs.

I don't need to watch zombie shows to see a post apocalyptic world. I see it in every show. People with disabilities, disappeared. The symbol, the person in the chair, is like a hieroglyphic, it represents people who don't exist any more. In TV world maybe we've all been 'mercyied' away. In TV world maybe the ugly laws are back and we are shut away from the camera's eye. In TV world, they'll show the symbol but not the people.

On the bus this morning, we had several pick ups and drop offs on my way to work. It was comforting to see, we still are here. We still exist in the world.

That symbol is only a symbol.

Not a sad reminder.

Of a people gone missing.


Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt said...

There are so many interesting old people - you don't see them much in movies and TV.

There are so many wonderful people who also happen to be fat - they are there only if they're so funny they can't be ignored.

TV and movies are full of perfect people. There are a few perfect people in wheelchairs as main characters (Ironsides, Dark Angel) or in bed completely paralyzed and yet still fascinating (The Bone Collector), but not many just THERE, being themselves, and getting the job done - or being part of the background.

Part of that is the physical demands on filming, long days in holding pens for extras, and the same scene repeated over and over, a tiring task for healthy people. But part of it is exactly what you said, ignorance of real life, and the refusal to portray it.

CapriUni said...

I don't think the absence of visibly disabled people in crowd scenes on TV (and in cinema) is the result of deliberate "ugly law" thinking (or, I don't like to think that), but rather, it's the result of casual, careless, casting, when it comes to extras.

Directors want everything in a scene to be perfectly controlled. So when they film on location, in an actual street, they will close the street off completely, and hire every single person in the background. And, if they have able-bodied privilege, as most of them do, they just don't consider hiring anyone with a disability to simply be in the crowd for the sake of realism. ... Just like people don't think to ask you for help in opening jars. :-)

But, like you, I've noticed the complete lack of "our kind" in crowd scenes. And that's how I've come to recognize, within seconds, as I'm channel surfing, whether I'm watching fiction or nonfiction on the screen:

In the real world, wheelchairs and walkers are just about everywhere.

(Though, once, I saw a wheelchair person in background on a TV cop show. And I cheered. ... Until later in the episode, when it was revealed that he was planted there as a Clue-to-the-motive).

Kristine said...

But I will! I'll be one of those people in a wheelchair on tv! On an episode of Portlandia!

I know you already know that, because you see my Facebook. But I can't pass an opportunity to mention it. :)

CapriUni said...

@ Kristine:

\o/ Woot! That's fantastic. Congratulations!

(also, as a silly aside: My brain mixes that directional arrow with that wheelchair symbol, and tells me the person is rolling backwards down the ramp).

Andrea Shettle, MSW said...

Wait ... you took a break from watching zombies slaughtering humans in order to watch a program about humans slaughtering other humans? Er... okay... :o)

But seriously, I don't think there is any more excuse for erasing disabled people from post-apocalyptic fiction than there is for erasing us from any other fiction

Here is some more dialogue around this issue that has been circulating around in Tumblr:


(And if you click on the notes and keep scrolling, there are more comments that people have made in other versions of the same post going around Tumblr. Tumblr, unfortunately, is not the ideal platform for sustained large-group conversations. Good for other things like signal boosting, but not for that.)

Kristine said...

@CapriUna, I did the same thing! My brain took a long moment to process through, "Are they warning that a chair might slide backward? Is it a steep ramp? Are they telling us to back down it? What's going on...?" I got there eventually. :)

Max Neill said...

People used to object to LS Lowry's paintings because they included so many disabled people. They thought he was exaggerating. Actually he was painting a typical Salford street scene and painting what he saw. Have a look at Lowry's work.