30 Rock – NBC – shame on you!

I remember the first time, when I was very young, when my mother said, "Connie, don't point.  It's not polite."  I think I was pointing at someone in a wheelchair.  I don't exactly remember the conversation that ensued, but I remember the underlying message: people with disabilities are really no different than the rest of us.  We all have lives; we all have purpose; we all experience joy and disappointment; we all have feelings, and no one likes to be pointed at.

Shame on the folks at NBC and 30 Rock for pointing fingers last night. (As if this wasn't enough)  The depiction of a young woman, a blind young woman out on a date with one of the characters on 30 Rock (I don’t watch it enough to know names) was just appalling.  

Here’s the interesting thing: I didn’t even hear the dialogue last night.  OK, I heard one line.  I had just turned the channel and my timing was such that I saw a lovely young woman, carrying a cane and being guided through a building.  I heard and saw just enough to realize that this woman was being guided through the building but was being mislead to thinking she was being escorted into a restaurant.  I heard the young lady say something like "funny, I feel like I've been walking in circles…"

Just then my daughter called and since she means more to me than a television show, I turned down the volume.   What I saw happening on the screen caught my attention however, and what I saw came through loud and clear.

The writers at 30 Rock took a character, a woman who happened to be blind, and poked fun  – and pointed fingers -  for a laugh.  Millions of laughs, I'm sure.

I’m not amused.  There is a reason why disability awareness and sensitivity training programs have been developed over the years.  But clearly the power players at NBC and 30 Rock have yet to pass around that memo.  And why should they.  Pointing fingers is good for business.  And so much fun.

While not blind myself, I live on the Planet of the Blind.  And not only do I live there,  I work there too.  I have conversations with parents of young children diagnosed with inherited blinding eye diseases.  They are desperate to find treatments and cures for their children.  I sometimes feel compelled to tell them that with proper support and education, their children will be just fine.  But they are afraid….

Why wouldn't they be?  After all, popular culture is still pointing.  And laughing.


0 thoughts on “30 Rock – NBC – shame on you!

  1. Hi Elke,
    Don’t be too hard on yourself. It is SO much easier to write in a sympathetic forum like Planet of the Blind. If you notice, MANY of us do just that. The born-again evangelists write on their blogs; the left-wing socialists write on their blogs, never the two shall meet, except on opposite sides of the street at protests in front of Federal buildings. POTB doesn’t write to NY Post about their fixation on Gov. Patterson’s blindness, as opposed to addressing his problematic behaviors. It’s comforting and enlightening, though, at least to gripe amongst ourselves. Of course, we also express our opinions most strongly by where we spend our money and for whom we vote, so our message does get out in one way or another. Thanks for following up with the outcome. Your honest posting here was courageous.


  2. I’m sorry to say that I gave up. I wrote to the administrator of the site and asked her to delete my post because somebody there responded with the usual vitriolic nonsense of if there’s a blind person on the show we should damn well make fun of their blindness, and I didn’t have the courage to ‘face’ him even online, and I just felt sorry for Tina Fey, who has really done nothing more than absorb her cultural mores and does not deserve my wrath. Suffice it to say – I stuck my neck out and I got scared. And it’s been a bad week and I give up on advocacy for awhile.


  3. Hi Elkie,
    I was quite pleased that you posted on this topic, becauses you seem to be the only one who truly watched the episode from start to finish. If you believe in what you say, and I’m sure that you do, then you should have sent your email, and I’m glad that you went to the trouble to do it. I hope that you will post again on this website if you get a response.
    The private, non-profit vision impairment rehab agency that I work for in L.A. has an employee who is an actress and has a vision impairment. She is always available for consultation with members of the entertainment industry at no cost (donations gratefully accepted) for “tech advisements” with regards to issues of vision impairment. Many performers and shows use this service to try their best to get these issues right. I’ll check tomorrow to see if 30 Rock inquired at any point. It sounds like they didn’t. Some people who are sighted, and consider themselves to be very “creative” think that they can imagine what it would be like to be blind, and what sort of humor would be appropriate. Generally, it REALLY makes a difference if they have a little help from people who have “been there, done that”!
    Oh gosh, the administrators at my agency generally tell me that I can say anything I want on blogs or in online courses and such, just as long as I don’t mention my agency’s name. They say that because I’m so darn outspoken! In this case, it might be helpful to mention, in case any entertainment people wander in, that the agency that can help with tech advisement is Braille Institute at Brailleinstitute.org.


  4. I like and watch that show, it is one of my favorites, but that character really, really annoyed me. So I actually went to the trouble of signing up for an nbc.com account so I could write tina fey a letter in the ask tina part of the site. Below is my letter. I hope it isn’t too scathing. I would love to know what you think. (Is it too scathing? did I let my impulsivity get the best of me? should I delete it?)
    dear Tina Fey,
    Apparently you don’t have an email, or I can’t find it, but anyway.
    I and many other people in the disability community are wondering why such a great show pulled such a cheap stunt last week with the issue of Kevin’s friend, who happened to be blind. I understand that you, being a Saturday night live alumnus, may have absolutely no respect for people with blindness whatsoever*, but I guess that I thought you came across as nicer than those guys in your interviews. And you had Peter Dinklage on the show, and you treated him okay. I also just really enjoy your show overall, it is really funny. But it is NOT funny when you take a person’s disability and make it into a humorous stunt. Blindness can be funny, disability can be funny, but your trick was not. You gave the impression that people with vision problems have no way of discerning the environment around them, and that they can be easily manipulated by people who see better than they do. This is just not true. You may assume that everyone knows this, and that this made the skit funny, but most people in this country have a poor impression of what people with blindness can do. Why do you think that woman’s character would have needed an affirmative action program? Because people with blindness, no matter how incredibly competent and intelligent they are, still have a 70% unemployment rate. Your show just contributed to the stereotype that people with disabilities do not have real value, by using a person with a disability for a cheap laugh. I am disappointed that this show did this and that you agreed, as a producer, to allow it to go through. The next time you are thinking of featuring an actor with a disability in any way, please do us a favor and don’t, because your kind of publicity is just the kind that we could really do without.
    *I am referencing here the despicable way in which that show portrayed Dave Patterson, and gave the impression that all people with vision problems are bumbling, incompetent idiots. Which he may or may not be, but is has nothing to do with his vision.


  5. Hi Connie,
    When you reported on the episode of 30 Rock that you suspected was poking fun in a mean way at a woman who was blind, I heard that Zamboni noisily running again in the background. I have never watched 30 Rock — I don’t get much past news and docs on TV. But this is the typical sitcom schtick: Someone, a nice, but ignorant idiot, someone you or I could easily identify with because they are so hip and dress so nicely, does something really mean or stupid to someone else. This is the “tension” that must be resolved. We feel compelled to watch because we want to see if this injustice is supported or resolved in a just way. In a sitcom, it’s pretty near ALWAYS resolved in a way that enlightens us and makes us feel very good about who we are. Lucy always started an episode by lying to Rickie, but it always ended well. That’s why it’s comedy. I may be completely wrong in this supposition about your episode of 30 Rock; I would want to investigate the matter further before they got my Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. But that would mean *ugh* I’d have to watch the show!


  6. Well, you’ll be happy to know I’ve successfully promoted Blind Judo (martial art) in my local community. Was interviewed last week, and they came and took photos at the dojo a few days ago. I’ve been in judo for over 14 years now… I teach a class of about 15 kids (all sighted, none disabled)… I have Congenital Nystagmus; and am 20/400…
    I’m told the story MAY run front page of our local paper, but we won’t know till it runs… So wish me luck. We hope to get some visually impaired kids to come out now!
    Best think twice before you pick a fight with a blind man (or woman) they may just be the head instructor of your local judo club. 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s