Toxic Schlock at NBC, Part Two


We wrote about Toxic Schlock at NBC just a little while ago and now we’re disposed to do so again. As a blind person who has a sharp sense of humor I wish to set the record straight though I shouldn’t have to. Blindness is in fact funny. But its not funny if the humorous treatment deprives the blind of intelligence. And that’s what this blog finds so objectionable about the recent bigoted burlesques at NBC. Let me for the sake of argument make an analogy. If Saturday Night Live had presented Tina Fay as Sarah Palin and, yes, for the sake of the comedy payoff had Fay-as-Palin appear on the news segment and lets say that as she was attempting to talk she suddenly opened her blouse   and began breast feeding a baby–and as she was doing so she lost the ability to make sense, thereby reinforcing the old patriarchal stereotype that women can’t be women and think at the same time, well I think its safe to say that millions of TV viewers would be repulsed. Fay’s version of Pailin was funny because it stuck to Palin’s politics. Period.

Yet these recent NBC presentations of blindness have been entirely predicated on the notion that the blind are clueless buffoons. What’s worse from my perspective is that I heard from a former graduate student of mine that a notable disability studies scholar remarked recently that the SNL skits about Governor Paterson were just fine–as though “the disabled” should be as ready and willing to submit to humorous treatment as any other group, etc.

To which I say: “Ah but Grass hopper! You leave out the distinction between bigoted humor and sophisticated wit. No one would find a black face minstrel show to be in any way funny. No one would think my example above viz Sarah Palin was in any way justifiable. Nor would a person of common sense believe any of it was funny.”

That’s what I would say to the disability studies scholar for whom blindness (about which she knows not a whit) is funny no matter how its presented. I can scarcely go on. And why should I? The 30 Rock episode presented a blind woman as entirely unable to perceive her surroundings. How shameful. And what sophomoric writing! Yuck!


Author: skuusisto

Poet, Essayist, Blogger, Journalist, Memoirist, Disability Rights Advocate, Public Speaker, Professor, Syracuse University

0 thoughts on “Toxic Schlock at NBC, Part Two”

  1. Hey, I just found a synopsis of the 30 Rock episode at:
    Connie, now I understand why you didn’t watch it with your full attention. The synopsis is so disjointed. It reads like mindless idiocy! It didn’t sound so much like insult to someone who is blind; it just sounded dumb. And the worst part is that the folks that created it make gobs more money than you or I ever will. Harrumph!


  2. Again, I didn’t see the darn 30-Rock episode. SK, did you watch the episode in question? The part that was objectionable for Connie was, “I heard the young lady say something like ‘funny, I feel like I’ve been walking in circles…'” If they were presenting this woman as laughably clueless (as SK wrote, “entirely unable to perceive her surroundings”), this indeed would be objectionable. But from this line alone (because Connie admittedly wasn’t really following the plot-line that well, and had the volume down most of the time), I see the potential gag as possibly being that this polite young woman knows that something is not quite right, but is in the process of comparing or confirming, in a quite diplomatic way, her perceptions of reality with that of her sighted guide — something that rational blind people do all the time. Are we sure it wasn’t the sighted guide who was being set up to be the idiot in this gag? (If he was an average white male then I’m sure of it. This demographic is by far the most popular “fair game” of the current comedy era because of the unwritten sitcom payback clause that average white males laughed at so many others for so many years that they must now take the irresistibly amusing lumps that couldn’t possibly be put onto people of other genders, ethnicities or whatever.) Again, it would be great if anyone out there who truly watched and listened to the skit in question could weigh on this, but we may not have that luxury.
    The SNL skit about Gov. Patterson sounded objectionable. (Again, I didn’t watch it.) If they were making fun of the way he looks or having him trip over things for laughs, uh oh. Patterson’s vision problem IS cause for politically incorrect amusement, but amusement nonetheless. Remembering that these are emotions, it’s hard to deny them if one is honest with oneself. A politician’s image is a critical component of his currency. Part of his job is visual communication, though this is not necessarily a critical component if other skills overshadow deficits in this category. At a phenomenally serious press conference after the Hudson River plane crash, one notices that the eminent politician standing next to Bloomberg has a serious expression, but his eyes are doing loop-de-loops like Harpo Marx in Horse Feathers. The incongruity of the expression and the situation can be perceived as funny in a phenomenally politically incorrect way on many different levels. Should it be on SNL? No. Because it’s making fun of a disability (at what could have been a horrendously tragic incident). However, if you want to read a HILARIOUS article in the Onion that makes fun of someone’s facial mannerisms, read their take on Obama from May of last year: “Obama Practices Looking-Off-Into-Future Pose” This is FUNNY and politically correct because it does not find humor at the expense of a perceived impairment or disadvantage. The key to politically correct humor is that it must be done so that people are identifying with the stupid behavior and laughing with the characters rather than at them.
    Like molas made by the people of the San Blas islands to record their community’s judgments on new or unfamiliar events, TV network sit-coms, for better or worse, are often our people’s way of exploring and coming to terms with new situations. With the recent ascension of Governor Patterson, the topic of blindness will probably be popping up more often in the media. Do disability groups need to watchdog this process? You betcha. I just want to make sure the watch-dogging is done responsibly. My feeling is that the more people with vision impairments on TV, the better (even when *ugh* that portrayal is done by a sighted actor, for it is oh so much more wonderful when the actor is truly visually impaired.). Because we want to encourage network executives to bravely venture forth into the strange, new world of vision impairment, we must scrutinize carefully before criticizing. If networks are unfairly criticized, perhaps all the blind characters on TV will be relegated to “safer” dramatic roles, and miss out entirely on all the more “edgy” comedy bits out there.
    Do I nit-pick? Oh gosh, I suppose so. But the more weight and importance I give to your blog, the more important it is for me to nit-pick. Again, I perceive this blog as being one of many important mouthpieces in the community. And most of what I’ve said hasn’t been critical, has it? Most of what I read on your blog tickles me pink. I know; I’m annoying. I’ll just pick up my pail and shovel, and head down the beach, and *sob* try to find new friends somewhere else. Gidget, Lamar and Moondoggie – they’ll be my new friends. They won’t mind my tendency to whine and complain, and will like me just the way I am.


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