Fox's "Glee," the stereotyping of fat black women, and making friends with the loser kid in the wheelchair



I’m getting sick of the-popular-kids-are-better-at-geek-stuff-than-the-geeks trope, which stinks of noblesse oblige. And there are a zillion other things wrong here. But I’ll still be giving this show a try, because I’m that much of a sucker for anything resembling a musical.

But about that preview: Note the unwritten rule in TV that it’s okay to cast a fat actress if she’s black (and especially if she’s black and sings). On the one hand, of course it’s great that some talented fat black actresses are getting work. On the other hand, these actresses are often typecast as sassy, strong-willed types.

I’d rather see fat black women cast in the wide variety of roles white thin men are cast in — when, for example, will we see a fat black female captain of a starship, playing gravitas instead of sass?

ETA: And also, what’s with the kid in the wheelchair? Is it even a speaking role? If it is, you’d never know it from this preview.

It seems to me I’ve seen this a few times — the character of the high school loser in a wheelchair, whose primary narrative purpose — other than being an icon of loserness — is to establish the evilness of the people who reject the kid in the wheelchair, and/or to establish the openminded goodness of the thin, good-looking protagonists who befriend wheelchair loser. (Examples: Heathers, Adams Family Values, Wicked.)1

Diversity consists of real parts, not just tokenism. Given how very rare characters in wheelchairs are, it’s a shame that a high proportion are done badly.

And why are the thin, ablebodied, pretty, white people always the leads? It’s like, it’s okay to have a bit of diversity in a friend group, so long as we remember who’s really important.

(Via Roz Kaveney — congrats on the agent, Roz! — and a hip tip-with-a-quip ripped from the lip of Kip.)

  1. At least the part in Wicked is a speaking, and singing, part, and there’s a bit more to the character. But I want to vomit every time I hear the able-bodied guy blow the wheelchair girl’s mind by suggesting that she can dance — it’s played as if she’s spent her entire life waiting for some able-bodied guy to legitimize her by finding her attractive. As if no one in a wheelchair ever knew that she could dance before the ablebodied came along to let them know. []
This entry posted in Disabled Rights & Issues, Fat, fat and more fat, Popular (and unpopular) culture, Race, racism and related issues. Bookmark the permalink. 

57 Responses to Fox's "Glee," the stereotyping of fat black women, and making friends with the loser kid in the wheelchair

  1. 1
    RonF says:

    Female I can see. Black I can see. But as long as starships are set (as in the Star Trek universe) as at least quasi-military, you’re not going to see fat captains. You don’t see fat captains in the U.S. Military. There are fitness standards, and the military is pretty strict about various things when it comes to choosing who’s in command. Competition is pretty fierce. There’s only about 200+ ships in the Navy and a whole lot more officers than that who want to sit in the big seat.

    Now, if you’re talking about a depiction of a commercial vessel – especially if the captain is the owner as well – that’s a different story.

  2. 2
    PG says:

    RonF,

    Fair point re: military fitness requirements, but why not have a fat woman as a political leader (as in president for BSG)?

  3. 3
    PG says:

    Non-loser wheelchair-user: Stevie on “Malcolm in the Middle”? (also, not a bad looking kid, and kinda hot now that he’s over 18 and I can say that without being creepy).

  4. 4
    Ampersand says:

    Stevie is done well, I agree. I think there are also good characters in wheelchairs in the movie Saved!, in South Park, in that show about the girl who talked to god, and there are probably a few others as well.

  5. 5
    Myca says:

    Oh, and a torture joke! How HIGH-LARIOUS!

    —Myca

  6. 6
    Ampersand says:

    I’ve seen fat men cast as military leaders (although not starship captains), for instance on The West Wing. I doubt that a black woman with the same BMI as Edward James Olmos could get cast as a military leader.

  7. 7
    Amanda Marcotte says:

    This was a subplot on “American Pie”. I don’t know if it can sustain a whole movie.

  8. 8
    Amanda Marcotte says:

    Wait, is it a TV show? FAIL.

  9. 9
    estraven says:

    There’s Dykes to Watch Out For, Alison Bechdel’s series of comics. The main character is, like the author, a thin white (lesbian) woman: her boss* is a fat black woman, and a major character alternates crutches and wheelchair. The strip includs other blacks, latinos and asians; the main character’s first love interest (and possible the most likeable person in the whole storyline) is a white fat woman.
    The strip also celebrate women bodies’ beauty – all of them.

    *She certainly has more command over her bookstore than Captain Kirk oer the enterprise.

  10. 10
    samedifference1 says:

    Hi ampersand

    I was sent this great post of yours by a DisAbled blogger, as a suggestion to be included in the Disability Blog Carnival that I will host at Same Difference on May 14th. But, I love your post so much thay I’m going to cross post it at Same Difference tonight instead. You’ll be mentioned in my Guest Contributors page and your blog will be added to my blogroll. Thanks!

  11. Pingback: Fox’s “Glee,” the stereotyping of fat black women, and making friends with the loser kid in the wheelchair « Same Difference

  12. 11
    kat says:

    Yeah, cuz only losers like to sing?? What??

    Chorus was the most popular elective at my high school. My senior year, about 1/3 of the school belonged! That’s not an exaggeration. Kids from every clique and group sang.

  13. 12
    Kay Olson says:

    I hadn’t seen this extended preview and didn’t know a wheelchair-using character existed in the show. Maybe he can sing inspirational songs for us. Then be healed and dance.

    Seriously, I have been excited just to see if Glee measures up to my childhood memories of Fame. And the lack of disabled characters on fictional TV has given me such low expectations I am mostly just happy the character exists, though for once I would like the wheelchair-user to be a girl. Or disabled but not using a chair. A female or non-white or non-straight Corky would be fantastic. As is typical, imo, disability tends to be treated as something so socially overwhelming that Hollywood fiction requires a straight white male to be the “victim.” Anything more and our little heads would all explode.

    Still, Glee is from the creator of Nip/Tuck who is reportedly also directing the pilot and producing with a colleague from Nip/Tuck, which, at the very least, probably means that stereotypical characters will be complicated in some controversial ways. I’m all for that. They made interesting use of Peter Dinklage — a great actor and dwarf — as a very sexy love interest for awhile and I never thought that character was a token, though they did absolutely use his small stature and prejudice against him because of it as part of his story arc. I’m not a particular fan of Nip/Tuck for a number of reasons, but it never lacked for complicated characters or even ones with non-normal/disabled bodies.

    My take on glee club being uncool: Anything earnest is uncool in high school. I think it could be used as an interesting vehicle for playing with everyone and everything that suffers from high school uncoolness, especially if Fox pairs it closely with the nonfiction phenomenon American Idol as they seem ready to do. And the fact that a show like Dollhouse has gotten so much better after several episodes just because there’s too much happening for any pilot or preview to portray satisfyingly gives me hope.

  14. 13
    Nathan says:

    The captain of the Saratoga in Star Trek IV was a black woman, and, iirc, a little on the thick side. But it was a very small part. Maybe five minutes of screen time.

    Fat Momma from Who Wants to be a Superhero? was an interesting case. She got what, second place? And she was certainly a fan favorite.

  15. 14
    Nathan says:

    Also, my show choir was competitive on the State level in had several overweight people in it of both sexes. They could sing, the could dance, no one cared.

  16. 15
    nobody.really says:

    [W]hat’s with the kid in the wheelchair? Is it even a speaking role? If it is, you’d never know it from this preview.

    And what’s with all those extras that AREN’T in wheelchairs? Do they have speaking roles? If they do, you’d never know it from this preview.

    :-)

  17. 16
    Ampersand says:

    Yeah, right, lots of characters don’t get lines! It’s not like every single one of the six characters who are a member of this fictional glee club gets a line in this preview, other than the kid in the wheelchair! And it’s not like the kid in the wheelchair is never shown speaking in words, but is shown multiple times being used by one of the ablebodied kids as a prop!

    Oh, wait. It is like that.

    Anyhow, this is just a preview. I’m still hoping the show itself will be good.

    * * *

    Myca, I’m not sure that I agree that torture jokes are always bad.

  18. 17
    nobody.really says:

    At least the part in Wicked is a speaking, and singing, part, and there’s a bit more to the character. But I want to vomit every time I hear the able-bodied guy blow the wheelchair girl’s mind by suggesting that she can dance — it’s played as if she’s spent her entire life waiting for some able-bodied guy to legitimize her by finding her attractive. As if no one in a wheelchair ever knew that she could dance before the ablebodied came along to let them know.

    This is a toughie for me. Short version: 1) Wicked is a clever show. 2) I find myself reluctant to surrender cleverness in the interest of social goals.

    1. Clever show

    Wicked is clever, and the expression of that clever idea depends upon – or at least lends itself to – the problem Amp identifies. Wicked is not just any random story of an author’s imagination. Rather, it’s an existing, familiar story – The Wonderful Wizard of Oz – retold to lead the audience to draw the exact opposite conclusions about one of the major characters, the Wicked Witch of the West. In so doing, the author provokes a bit of humility in the audience by suggesting that our moral judgments do not reflect facts, but rather reflect the stories we choose to tell about facts. That’s a powerful idea.

    And it’s a tall order. Think about it: Among other things, how can you explain that our would-be heroine imprisons that nice girl Dorothy with the goal of obtaining some shoes? Clearly the author must get the audience to challenge its preconceptions about this character.

    Now, how many OTHER preconceptions can an author also challenge in the process before he loses the audience’s sympathy – or even its attention? Thus, while the author successfully challenges people’s preconceptions about the Wicked Witch, he relies on a number of very conventional set pieces in the process. He relies on the audience’s familiarity with conventional gender roles, the stereotypically “blonde” Glinda, heterosexual attraction, a father’s suspicions about his wife’s fidelity and how that impairs his relationship with a child; a father’s guilt about the death of his wife in childbirth and how that influences his relationship with the child; sibling rivalries; a child’s longing for parental approval; obsessive attachment to symbols from one’s childhood (“Rosebud…!”); and, yes, an outcast kid’s clinging to a non-outcast kid’s attention, even to a suffocating degree.

    For those who haven’t seen the show, here’s how this affects the role of the kid in the wheelchair (and, yeah, spoiler, spoiler): Out of feelings of grief and guilt surrounding her mother’s death in giving birth to Nessarose and the fact that Nessarose never developed the ability to walk, the father, ruler of Munckinland, lavished attention on Nessarose while shunning her older sister Elphaba. Elphaba was not permitted to go to college until Nessarose was ready to go, and was going principally to serve as Nessarose’s nursemaid. And as a parting gift the father bestows upon Nessarose some jeweled shoes, while ignoring Elphaba. But, as things turn out, Nessarose is housed separately from Elphaba, and is therefore separated for the first time in her life from the extraordinary attentions to which she had been accustomed.

    At college most of the boys falls for the beautiful and popular student Galinda – including Bok, a citizen of Munckinland. But Galinda is attracted to someone else. When Bok asks Galinda to a dance, she puts him off by suggesting that it would be a nice gesture to invite that poor social outcast Nessarose. Bok, believing that he’s found a way to impress Galinda, does so, and Nessarose latches onto his attentions like a drowning woman hanging onto a lifeline. At the dance, in an effort to attract Galinda’s attention and provoke her jealousy, or perhaps in a fit of sour grapes at being neglected by Galinda, or perhaps because the director realized this show is a musical and a flashy dance number is a great way to express powerful emotion, Bok insists that Nessarose dance with him, and Nessarose responds as if this was the fulfillment of her every desire.

    Much later, when Elphaba is running from the authorities, her father dies and Nessarose becomes leader of Munchkinland. Terrified to be on her own, Nessarose uses the magic she learned at college to enslave Muchkinland in an effort to ensure that Bok never leaves her. She thereby earns the title Wicked Witch of the East. And when Bok finally confesses his love for Galinda, Nessarose casts a spell to obtain Bok’s heart. Elphaba is able to save Bok’s life only by turning him into a man of tin.

    Wracked with guilt that she cannot stay with her sister now that their father is gone, Elphaba does the next best thing and enchants the shoes to enable her to walk. When a falling house kills the sister, the last remaining member of Elphaba’s family, Elphaba’s guilt is compounded. And she becomes enraged that the person who owned the house would walk off with the shoes, emblematic of the parental love Elphaba craved but never obtained. Consequently when she got the chance, Elphaba was willing to imprison Dorothy (yes, and her little dog, too) until Dorothy would give the shoes back.

    Now, would a woman in a wheelchair who is invited to dance really respond in the manner depicted in Wicked? Perhaps not. But Nessarosse is not just a woman in a wheelchair. She’s someone who will eventually do things that would earn her the name Wicked Witch of the East simply to ensure that Bok never leaves her. Knowing the trajectory of the story, I think it’s entirely appropriate to directors to look for reasons why she would have such an extraordinary emotional attachment to Bok — or, in the absence of plausible reasons, to depict her irrational attachment to Bok as having emerged early.

    Looking at the larger context, moreover, consider what the author was trying to accomplish and the bases the author had to touch while accomplishing it: The author had to explain why we should regard Elphaba, who becomes the Wicked Witch of the West, as a hero even though she’s willing to act cruelly toward the innocent Dorothy over a pair of shoes. He needs to explain why anyone enchant a pair of shoes in the first place. And he needs to explain the origins of the Tin Man, and why the Tin Man has no heart. Given all these goals, I think the solution he arrives at is damned clever, and I really can’t fault the guy for not curing cancer, singing the Star Spangled Banner and pursuing social justice at the same time.

    2. Is cleverness a justification for arguably anti-social depictions?

    Here’s where the rubber meets the road. Yeah, I can find socially redeeming qualities to the show, but honestly, that’s a cop-out. I love the show for it’s sheer cleverness, they way it reconciles the facts from the Oz books with the new moral. To be sure, it doesn’t give a very sympathetic portrayal of the sole character in a wheelchair. And, perhaps more to the point, it gives a hackneyed portrayal: disabled women sitting around waiting to be rescued by able-bodied men. Even if I don’t do anything affirmatively helpful, surely I could at least refrain from repeating and promoting such depictions, right?

    Can you justify such a portrayal based on the value of the portraying? Not to go all Ayn Rand on you, but I have difficulty saying no. There are some creations that I find so – beautiful? – that I can’t give them up, even if I think they’re socially corrosive. The catalog of musical theater is pretty much stuffed with things in this category. And heck, I have deep qualms about religion, but the suggestion that I’d ever abandon religious music is beyond my comprehension.

    I’d be curious to hear other people’s thoughts.

  19. 18
    Ampersand says:

    Great comment, NR! I wish I had time to respond at length, as it deserves.

    I largely agree with you, and hope that you don’t think that because I’m criticizing these shows that means I think no one should watch or enjoy them. After all, the only reason I have such a strong reaction to that line in Wicked is that I’ve listed to the cast album dozens of times.

  20. 19
    RonF says:

    PG said:

    Fair point re: military fitness requirements, but why not have a fat woman as a political leader (as in president for BSG)?

    I can see no reason personally why that should not be. But now ask yourself how many fat people – never mind just fat women – you have ever seen as a democratically elected leader? I have seen a few – and I mean a few – elected to legislatures. But among the few female executives (State governors + candidates for VP and foreign leaders) I’ve seen I can’t recall any that I’d describe as “fat”.

    In the military you can say that it would be unrealistic to propose that would change because of the way the military works and the requirement for physical fitness and the maintenance of particular BMI levels. You don’t have that formal constraint in politics, but there certainly seems to be a de facto constraint. Of course, you can posit a cultural change in politics as part of the fictional universe. That wouldn’t be all that realistic in the course of a future military, but it’s more reasonable in politics.

  21. 20
    RonF says:

    nobody.really, I went to see Wicked out here in Chicago about 3 months ago. I don’t get out to see live theater much at all. In my opinion your post did a great job in reviewing the plot, characters, and how it all worked and why. Thanks!

  22. 21
    RonF says:

    Nathan:

    Also, my show choir was competitive on the State level in had several overweight people in it of both sexes. They could sing, the could dance, no one cared.

    OTOH I do get to see/hear live choral music a reasonable amount. Seems to me that there’s quite a few “overweight” people and few model types in them. It would be unrealistic to NOT have overweight people depicted in a choir.

    You know, now that I think about it, more than once in Junior High and High School I remember seeing a fat/geeky/unknown/unpopular kid walk out on stage and perform, and see the “Holy shit! She can SING!” reaction from the rest of the school. Just like this English woman.

    Amp:

    I’ve seen fat men cast as military leaders (although not starship captains), for instance on The West Wing.

    There’s a difference in military culture between field officers and HQ/staff officers. Once you pick up that first star and no longer expect to be at the helm of a ship things change.

    Now that would have been a twist on the West Wing. New President: “Hello, who are you?” Officer: “I’m Capt. Fred Johnson, commander of the U.S. Starship Constitution” President: “WTF?!!! We’ve got starships?!!!” Officer: “Yeah, it’s a secret, we didn’t want the Russians to know. So, we can fix this crisis by taking out a few communications satellites. When do you want it done?”

  23. 22
    Jenny says:

    Er, I happen to enjoy Heathers and Addams Family Values(the thanksgiving pagent scene is amazing), but I also understand what you’re trying to say here.

  24. 23
    DaisyDeadhead says:

    It seems to me I’ve seen this a few times — the character of the high school loser in a wheelchair, whose primary narrative purpose — other than being an icon of loserness — is to establish the evilness of the people who reject the kid in the wheelchair, and/or to establish the openminded goodness of the thin, good-looking protagonists who befriend wheelchair loser. (Examples: Heathers, Adams Family Values, Wicked.)1

    Excellent observation, and don’t forget “Mean Girls” and “Saved”…it’s obviously a full-blown syndrome!

    The 1985 horror movie SILVER BULLET (by Stephen King) had a good part for a kid in a wheelchair, but still used disability as a plot device (possible victim). Nonetheless, the kid was smart, capable, likable, etc.

    I can’t think of any other examples, though.

    It’s pertinent to remember, Stephen King WAS a fat kid. ;)

  25. 24
    DaisyDeadhead says:

    good characters in wheelchairs in the movie Saved!

    A good character, but still mainly serves the overall purpose you mention: letting you know which (able-bodied) kids are the “nice” ones, by which kids are his friends. His own story-line goes nowhere.

  26. 25
    Kip Manley says:

    I’d just point out that television shows, done properly, are more nuanced than movies, which are themselves far more nuanced than trailers.

    Also, that the tokenized nature of the “sidekicks” in the Glee trailer was so outrageously outrageous that it seemed to me it was set-up to satirize precisely that element of the broader genre of inspirational-highschool-creative-losers-make-good; that it would over ensuing episodes be commented upon, chewed up, spat out, and ultimately deconstructed. (Not, note, the characters themselves. Merely their status as tokens in the—but look! Now I’m drawing unwarranted conclusions from a two-minute sales pitch! Aired by Fox!)

  27. 26
    Elkins says:

    It’s pertinent to remember, Stephen King WAS a fat kid. ;)

    Indeed. Which makes the character of Harold Lauder in The Stand one of the most breathtaking examples of authorial self-loathing known to popular fiction.

  28. 27
    harrietsdaughter says:

    Pardon me – but the “fat” girl? She’s not …. fat. No, she’s not stick thin, either but fat?

  29. 28
    bradana says:

    Looking for fat female elected executives? Check out Dixy Lee Ray, governor of Washington state in the ’70′s.

  30. 29
    B. Adu says:

    There are fitness standards,

    Weight standards.

    Having a BMI of 30 makes you obese, do you know what that looks like? A lot of people who used to be thin who have acheived that milestone, don’t even know it and would still see themselves as slim.

    2) I find myself reluctant to surrender cleverness in the interest of social goals.

    Cleverness sometimes means sacrificing neither, that’s why it’s clever.

  31. 30
    PG says:

    B. Adu,

    At least in the Navy, it’s not a simple weight standard; people who are heavier than is the norm for a physically fit person of that height then have their body fat checked. “Male applicants measured at 22 percent body fat or less (23% for male applicants 40 years of age or older) may enter the Delayed Entry Program (DEP) and ship to Recruit Training Command regardless of their weight. Female applicants measured at 33 percent body fat or less (34% for female applicants 40 years of age or older) may DEP and ship to Recruit Training Command regardless of their weight.”

    Also, I find it implausible that many popular/lasting works of creative art were born of the author’s desire to achieve social goals rather than to express herself. Most of the creative people I have encountered do it because they have to get something out of themselves, not because they think it will End Racism or Cure Cancer. And I say that as someone strongly inclined to didacticism who realized, having bored the crap out of the teacher and other students in a Playwriting course, that it isn’t compatible with decent art.

  32. 31
    Simple Truth says:

    There’s a website called TvTropes.org (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/CharactersAsDevice if you’ve got a whole day to click through a bunch of interesting links) that comments on this stereotype. I believe they call it “Magical Differently Abled Person” to go along with their “Magical Negro” and “Magical Native American”. In short, they make fun of the fact that TV/Movies/etc uses these types of characters as shorthand or one-shot inspirational episodes. While it’s not quite the same thing, it seems in the same vein. It’s a neat site if you’re a writer or avid reader…which I believe you all might be since you read and comment on this blog. :)

  33. 32
    Jeff Fecke says:

    @SimpleTruth –

    TVTropes is an awesome site, and anyone with any interest in storytelling (in any form) can get lost there for hours on end. And yes, this absolutely fits the “Magical ____” category.

  34. 33
    PG says:

    I didn’t get to watch the embedded video until just now — Lea Michele = will have to give this a try. Am now replaying “My Junk” and “Mama Who Bore Me” on a loop (I wish someone would do a version that’s just the first act).

  35. 34
    kristin says:

    I know I am coming super late to this – just got linked here from feministing – but I vaguely recall hearing that the actor playing the wheelchair-bound guy is actually a singer (boy band, maybe?) in his “other life” which makes me think that he will do something outstanding later in the season, and not just be there for the sake of having a character in a wheelchair. But we’ll have to wait and see, I suppose.

  36. 35
    Silenced is Foo says:

    I have to say, I though Wicked was a little overwrought with cleverness. Issues of racism, prejudice, obsession, disability, etc. are wonderful in a story… but Wicked feels like really light fare, even as musicals go. So including these sorts of issues just seems like a cheap tie-in. The whole side-plot with the talking animals becoming regular animals seemed like a desperate attempt at social relevance you’d expect in a ’90s TV-movie.

    At least, that was my view of the play. No idea if the book is better. Although I think it’s kind of funny that the book is meant to refer to the original Oz books, while the musical is obviously meant to refer to the movie.

    And on the subject of roles for characters in wheelchairs, but Aliens Resurrection, while being an abortion compared to the earlier movies in the series, had a good (adult) one. His disability wasn’t ignored in the film, but the character had enough involvement in the plot to be more than the “token disabled guy”.

  37. 36
    Chris says:

    “It seems to me I’ve seen this a few times — the character of the high school loser in a wheelchair, whose primary narrative purpose — other than being an icon of loserness — is to establish the evilness of the people who reject the kid in the wheelchair, and/or to establish the openminded goodness of the thin, good-looking protagonists who befriend wheelchair loser. (Examples: Heathers, Adams Family Values, Wicked.)1″

    Hm, I didn’t see this in “Wicked.” Nessa isn’t really “rejected” by anyone but Boq, who isn’t evil–he just isn’t in love with her. Nor does she seem to make anyone else look better by being friends with them, since the only person that really seems to care about her is Elphaba. And the book applies even less to this. Plus, she isn’t really a credible moral arbiter in either the book or the play. Which isn’t to say her character isn’t problematic.

    “At least, that was my view of the play. No idea if the book is better. Although I think it’s kind of funny that the book is meant to refer to the original Oz books, while the musical is obviously meant to refer to the movie.”

    Actually, though the novel has a lot of influence from the books, some of the most defining characteristics of Elphaba (green skin, black wardrobe) and Glinda (being of the North, slightly vapid) are straight from the movie.

    The book also handles those issues you mentioned with a much darker tone than the play, which may appeal more to you. It also explores a lot of interesting stuff about power, religion, sex, and the nature of evil, which the play didn’t have a lot of time or desire to do. I like both about equally, even though they are very different.

  38. 37
    Daran says:

    Ron F.

    But as long as starships are set (as in the Star Trek universe) as at least quasi-military, you’re not going to see fat captains. You don’t see fat captains in the U.S. Military. There are fitness standards, and the military is pretty strict about various things when it comes to choosing who’s in command. Competition is pretty fierce. There’s only about 200+ ships in the Navy and a whole lot more officers than that who want to sit in the big seat.

    PG:

    Fair point re: military fitness requirements

    Frankly, I’m astonished to see a feminist regard this a a “fair point”. Why? I can understand the necessity of a fitness requirement if your job involves manhandling heavy equipment, but not if your job is to order other people to manhandle heavy equipment.

  39. 38
    PG says:

    Daran,

    Frankly, I’m astonished to see a feminist regard this a a “fair point”. Why? I can understand the necessity of a fitness requirement if your job involves manhandling heavy equipment, but not if your job is to order other people to manhandle heavy equipment.

    The question was not whether the fitness requirements are inherently correct, but whether their factual existence justifies having fictional characters who are supposed to be in the military having to comply with those standards. I don’t think it’s fair that Hindu widows often were treated as bad luck and forced to live in impoverished group homes, but it would be kind of ridiculous to make a movie about Hindu widows in the British colonial era and show them going around as leaders of society. It’s simply inaccurate, even in a movie that’s not a documentary.

    I think you are misunderstanding the point of this thread, which is about the fictional depictions of different kinds of people. In real life, there are big black women who have powerful roles in society and who aren’t all sassy loudmouths; fictional life should reflect that diversity.

  40. 39
    Daran says:

    The question was not whether the fitness requirements are inherently correct, but whether their factual existence justifies having fictional characters who are supposed to be in the military having to comply with those standards. I don’t think it’s fair that Hindu widows often were treated as bad luck and forced to live in impoverished group homes, but it would be kind of ridiculous to make a movie about Hindu widows in the British colonial era and show them going around as leaders of society. It’s simply inaccurate, even in a movie that’s not a documentary.

    Um, Ron F’s remark wasn’t in the context of any historic era, or the current one, but “But as long as starships are set (as in the Star Trek universe) as at least quasi-military”. Isn’t one of the points of speculative fiction to imagine societies different from any that is or has ever been?

    Would you have agreed that the following is a good point, if it had been uttered in 1965?

    “But as long as starships are set as at least quasi-American, you’re not going to see black female senior officers”.

  41. 40
    PG says:

    Daran,

    “But as long as starships are set (as in the Star Trek universe) as at least quasi-military”. Isn’t one of the points of speculative fiction to imagine societies different from any that is or has ever been?

    I’m trying to think of any militaristic sci-fi I’ve read or seen that isn’t totally bought into an image of The People Of The Future (Or Galaxy Far Far Away) looking physically fit. I can’t think of any. Heck, the only sci-fi I can recall that specifically doesn’t show the Future People looking physically fit is Wall-E, and it was heavily criticized (on this website and elsewhere) for a mocking view of fat people. Someone upthread suggested Edward James Olmos as being overweight, and I really don’t see it — Olmos is probably thinner than average for a 60-something man.

    If RonF is saying it is a basic part of military culture to demand certain standards of fitness, even when those may not be necessary to perform the tasks associated with the position, then I don’t have a problem with quasi-military settings depicting their characters as compliant with those standards.

    Would you have agreed that the following is a good point, if it had been uttered in 1965?
    “But as long as starships are set as at least quasi-American, you’re not going to see black female senior officers”.

    It would have been pretty ludicrous in 1965, the year after passing a federal law barring sex and race discrimination in both public and private employment, for someone to suggest that it is inherent to American culture to bar black women from particular jobs.

  42. Pingback: Is GLEE Racist/Heterosexist/Ableist? « judgmental observer

  43. 41
    Think Out Loud says:

    Okay let’s be honest. This is TV, it doesn’t matter if a role is accurately portrayed or not as long as its entertaining. I am sooo glad though that someone saw the stereotype too and how once again the group’s lead singers, the thin white girl, and the white guy, are paired up as a couple. While the minority kids play backup also I wanted to point out how this tv show is nothing but a white version of Sister Act II. They owe it to that movie which had a primarily black choir, to include more diverse cast members who actually speak, the asian girl hardly talks, she’s like meg from family guy!! I hate this, I’ve just un-recorded the series.

  44. 42
    Sasha_feather says:

    This post has been included in a linkspam at access-fandom. Thank you!

  45. 43
    Eva says:

    !SPOILER ALERT BIG TIME FOR GLEE WATCHERS!

    The most recent episode of Glee was a wheelchair using “learning” fest. (Clearing throat). Excellent points here about the prop using of people who use wheelchairs in media…no arguments here on any of that. The comments here are for clarification…I am not advocating their mis-use of all variety of issues…satire seems real important to the forward thrust of the series.

    The wheelchair using guy regularly has speaking parts, on every episode, although until this episode we didn’t know much about him except he plays guitar and sings, and uses a wheelchair.
    Glee spends a lot of time making fun of itself making fun of everyone who might have any kind of vulnerability at all, including but not limited to:
    white teenage guy who uses wheelchair,
    Fat black teenage woman,
    thin white pregnant teenage woman,
    Jewish teenage woman who happens to be the sperm-donor baby of her two gay fathers (a white Jew and an African-American…religion unknown),
    white Jewish teen father-to-be,
    Asian teenage woman who was faking having a stutter & has a crush on the wheelchair using guy
    working class white guy who wants to sing more than he wants to be a quarterback and is being led down the garden path by his pregnant girlfriend (who is lying to him about who the dad is)

    And that’s just the students…do you want to know what kind of mishigoss (sorry, my Yiddish spelling is purely phonetic) is going on with the adult characters?

    Um…just go an watch an episode. I try to suspend my disbelief, but TV requires that in the best of shows, doesn’t it?

    Ok…just realized this was originally posted in April…oops.

  46. 44
    Zee says:

    Pssst! You, as well as the show forgot to mention anything about Tina, the token Asian American girl who gets like, 3 lines who’s character has nothing too special going on relative to the main plot.

  47. 45
    JH says:

    There’s a website called TvTropes.org

    I was just about to mention TVTropes with regard to this:

    It seems to me I’ve seen this a few times — the character of the high school loser in a wheelchair, whose primary narrative purpose — other than being an icon of loserness — is to establish the evilness of the people who reject the kid in the wheelchair, and/or to establish the openminded goodness of the thin, good-looking protagonists who befriend wheelchair loser.

    This lazy characterization trick is called a “Pet the Dog” moment; it is, of course, as condescending as that name implies. The inverse would be a “Kick the Dog,” a scene where someone is needlessly cruel to the wheelchair kid, so the story can prove how evil they are, usually to justify doing something cruel/fun to them.

  48. 46
    Robert says:

    I wanted to mention something that I recently discovered that you might find interesting, Amp. The Aubrey-Maturin novels, set in the period of the Napoleonic war, have a fat hero.

    Not a peripheral character, not a mary-sue dropin – the frickin’ protagonist (Aubrey). He is regularly described as huge – and not in a derogatory way, but rather in the same neutral, “this is just a fact” way that I would describe you as having dark hair, or you would describe me as being incredibly handsome.

    Aubrey is also a skilled commander, a superlative seaman, can climb a mast in three seconds flat, totally a bad-ass in a fight – and literally nobody in the world cares that he is fat. It does not interfere with his promotions (his own mouth does do that sometimes), none of his men care, it has no impact on his (active) romantic life. His best friend (Maturin) who is also his physician does discuss his weight with him a few times – but not in a context of “you need to lose weight”, but rather in a context of “big guys like you have to be careful when they exert themselves strenuously, your heart might be weak”. And that’s never a major point, it’s just perfectly in character for Maturin (who thinks he knows everything).

    Aubrey is just a bad-ass action hero who happens to be a big ole tub.

    It is so awesome.

    So naturally when they made a movie out of part of the series (“Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World”) they cast Russell Crowe. Sigh.

  49. 47
    Ampersand says:

    That is interesting. Maybe I’ll try to read them. Thanks.

  50. 48
    Eva says:

    Zee -

    Pssst! You, as well as the show forgot to mention anything about Tina, the token Asian American girl who gets like, 3 lines who’s character has nothing too special going on relative to the main plot.

    I don’t know who you’re referring to in the above quote,

    Asian teenage woman who was faking having a stutter & has a crush on the wheelchair using guy

    but I did note in my post an Asian teenage woman. I realize belatedly it should have been Asian-American. My apologies for the mistake.

  51. 49
    Ampersand says:

    Eva, I think Zee was talking to me, not to you.

    Point well taken, Zee. (If it was me you were making your point to.)

  52. 50
    nobody.really says:

    The Aubrey-Maturin novels, set in the period of the Napoleonic war, have a fat hero.

    Not a peripheral character, not a mary-sue dropin – the frickin’ protagonist (Aubrey).

    If memory serves, Aubrey is described as “14 stone” — that is, not quite 200 lbs. Perhaps that was an extraordinary weight in 1801?

  53. 51
    Robert says:

    18 stone (250 pounds) according to TV Tropes. I apologize for linking to TV tropes and thus destroying your day. 250 pounds would fit the descriptions I remember from the books.

    I am not an expert on the physiology of the English people of 1801, but I’d wager that 250 pounds was 99th percentile. It’s 95th percentile for a 30 year old white man today.

  54. Pingback: Glee: Confronting Adversity with Hyperbole and High Notes « Gender Across Borders

  55. 52
    MaryTodd says:

    Why do the producers and casting directors of the hit show ‘Glee’ insist on ALWAYS presenting Black women and girls as FAT, LOUD, OBNOXIOUS, UNATTRACTIVE, IGNORANT, GHETTO, etc.?

    On tonight’s episode (‘The Substitute’), for instance, they presented “beautiful, petite, blonde” Gwyneth Paltrow getting beaten-up (in an unprovoked attack) by a FAT, UGLY, LOUD Black girl (who, of course, “had an attitude” about nothing).

    There was NO REASON for them to present this crude image of Black teen-girls (other than to reinforce the stereotype of the ugly, violent, loud Black).

    The producers, writers and casting directors of this episode should be ashamed of themselves and the Black actress who took on this moronic role should hold her head down in shame.

    This presentation of the Black teen girls was both offensive and pathetic in my opinion (and I AM NOT EVEN a BLACK person).

    [NOTE:
    This criticism does NOT include plus-sized actress, Amber Riley (a regular cast-member of the show) -- who has managed to present herself as both an attractive and a dignified character on the episodes I have seen ... unlike all of those other Black actresses who have appeared on the show in 'guest' roles.]

  56. 53
    elle says:

    Of course its okay to cast a black actress if she’s fat. Because it’s a racist stereotype of the which seems as if it will not die. It’s called the mamie stereotype and once upon a time being a mamie or maid – a huge, dark, sexless and unnattractive role was ALL black women were allowed to play. Why must the dark black girl always be fat? Why can’t she be sleek and cute like the white and asian girls? Is it too threatening? That’s the question you must ask yourself. I have noticed that most of the prime time shows, if the feature black women, they are almost NEVER the hot, sexy romantic lead. It’s almost always a big fat sassy girl or a big fat older woman. This is racist bullsh* As a black women I can tell you this: we don’t NEED any more fat black actresses. Being fat is killing black women; we need sleek pretty healthy role models.

  57. 54
    Ampersand says:

    Elle, I partly agree with you. I’d be happy to see more black women, of all shapes, getting good roles. And I want to see more fat black girls and women getting parts other than the stereotypical sassy roles, like Raven Goodwin’s character in the fat-camp drama Huge. (And by the way, Raven Goodwin is very pretty, and so are many other fat actresses — setting up “fat” and “pretty” as opposites, as your comment does, is wrong).

    But I don’t think resenting that fat actresses are working at all, which seems to be where you’re at, is good. Fat actresses face enough bigotry already, without more being added on in the name of anti-racism.