[nabs-l] To Arielle: on spoofing meaning equality and acceptance and the importance of things as compared to the whole BLindness movie...

Arielle Silverman arielle71 at gmail.com
Tue Dec 30 00:48:59 UTC 2008

Hi Carrie and all,

The SNL sketch has certainly stirred a lot of healthy debate and
soul-searching in the blind community and has caused us to grapple
with some tough and important issues that don't have easy answers. A
big part of the problem is that we can't directly measure how much a
particular media portrayal affects or doesn't affect people's
attitudes and behavior toward the blind, especially because there
already is a lot of stereotyping and discrimination going on before
the media portrayal occurs. In fact, skits like this one are based
upon attitudes already held and so we can't necessarily determine
whether the sketch directly created negative attitudes or
discrimination toward the blind.

I agree that in general the media does influence people especially if
they don't have any other knowledge of blindness. My only argument is
that in some cases where the portrayal is obviously exaggerated and
satirical, people are less likely to interpret the portrayal as a true
depiction of the people in question. Certain kinds of entertainment
are designed to suspend people's ordinary perceptions of reality which
is why things that are generally considered socially unacceptable are
deemed acceptable for comedy.

One of my favorite TV shows is South Park where members of virtually
every religious, racial and cultural group are routinely made fun of
including Jews. I am Jewish and would normally be outraged by any
blatant labeling of  Jews as greedy or obnoxious. Yet the Jewish
characters on South Park constantly act this way and I think it is
funny. I feel confident that the people who watch South Park would
find the portrayal ridiculous and would never actually base their
opinions of Jews on this show's characters. In fact, the very appeal
of shows such as South Park is how exaggerated and unrealistic the
portrayals actually are.

On SNL depictions of political figures often start with a grain of
truth and then wildly exaggerate it. Unfortunately there is a grain of
truth in the bumbling portrayal of Patterson--not of blind people in
general, but of Patterson in particular. I don't think that viewers of
SNL would actually extend the portrayal so far as to apply to all
blind people, or even that they would treat it as a realistic
portrayal of Patterson himself.

I also feel, and I am confident that I am not the only Federationist
to feel, that part of true normality and acceptance is openness to
being mocked and made fun of just as the general population is in
today's entertainment culture. We as blind people are a cross-section
of society. As such, we cannot expect to only be portrayed in a
positive light all the time. I would argue that being treated with
false kindness is just as bad as being treated with undeserved
hostility. Just as we all hate being told we're amazing or
inspirational all the time, so too we wouldn't want to be portrayed in
the media as flawless saints--or not portrayed at all. A media
portrayal that shows us as normal people--even those of us who use
drugs, engage in infidelity or don't have the greatest skills--is what
I referred to as a gesture of inclusion.

I will close by saying I'm not thrilled by the sketch, and I
personally wish they had focused on Patterson's other weaknesses
besides his blindness. But it's done, and I think if we demand  to be
portrayed a certain way by the media, people may see us as sensitive
individuals--not capable of taking a joke and perhaps  not capable of
doing the "heavy lifting" in our society either. It'd be a better
tactic for us to quietly let people forget about SNL and counterattack
by doing the best we can to be as skilled, confident and integrated as
we can. As someone pointed out on another list, we can make a far
stronger impression by getting ourselves out into the working world
and into our universities than we will in our portrayal on  a
five-minute TV sketch.


On 12/30/08, Carrie Gilmer <carrie.gilmer at gmail.com> wrote:
> Dear Arielle,
> It escapes me how the oldest and most stereotypical and totally common
> portrayals of blindness as in the SNL skit played and pulled upon can now be
> viewed as an indication of a gesture of inclusion. This isn't teasing like
> everyone else at all in my mind. Also because someone sighted watches or
> takes in the stereotypes when they are in a "happy mood" has no less of a
> chance in internalizing it as fear and disgust than someone watching a tear
> jerker depiction or a repulsive of frightening depiction. Really, in my
> experience, in the end, whether it comes through laughter and as a joke or
> some other way the end result is the same, "thank god I am not blind" or
> "thank god my child is not blind" and some sense of inherent inferiority is
> placed on blindness and internalized or reinforced.
> I saw a Hallmark movie on their network last night. I had not expected it
> but one of the main characters was a blind child, perhaps about five or six.
> The portrayal of blindness was not horrible like in the Blindness movie, nor
> was it as a joke and she was not shown to be bumbling or completely unaware.
> However this very young child had a dog, and it wasn't even a totally "real"
> guide dog...no harness, but just a "good" super type dog. Whenever the child
> was alone she had the dog on leash. It was clear the child needed the dog to
> be a helper if no adult was right there. Otherwise if the child moved at all
> she was picked up and carried, yes carried, by an adult. She was cute as a
> button, bright and articulate. I don't recall any reference to Braille in
> the film. She runs her hand over a face of someone close who is leaving in
> one scene. The "mom" in the story spoke of some normal expectations
> minimally and the last scene in the movie was of her ice skating--albeit
> holding her grandfathers hand... Interestingly in one scene the mom says she
> adopted the girl as being given up and at nine months unwanted..."no one
> wants a blind baby I guess" was pretty close to the quote. This was not all
> bad, but it did little to give new or accurate ideas. I really think if you
> think that in the families and kids who watched this, they did not go away
> with some sense of mixed fear, inferiority, pity, or false inspiration about
> blindness you are naïve and mistaken. If things needed to be as blatant as
> the Blindness movie to harm us, we wouldn't be so harmed. Mr. Magoo was a
> common laugh when I was a kid, the same old lines and jokes...it had an
> impact and it did not help us.
> Indeed Arielle, for the greatest part throughout history, and even today,
> many are turned down for jobs or "helped" into dependency from "positive"
> not "negative" emotions. It has been said that our road to hell was paved
> with good intentions (for the most part)... and I think there is truth in
> that statement.
> Carrie Gilmer, President
> National Organization of Parents of Blind Children
> A Division of the National Federation of the Blind
> NFB National Center: 410-659-9314
> Home Phone: 763-784-8590
> carrie.gilmer at gmail.com
> www.nfb.org/nopbc
> Arielle Silverman wrote:
>> Hi all,
>> I do think there is a fundamental difference between  the SNL sketch
>> and the Blindness movie. In the Blindness movie, blindness is  used as
>> a means of depicting "the end of the world" or "the collapse of
>> humanity". The intent of the film is to shock, frighten, and disgust
>> viewers and so whether or not viewers actually believe that the
>> depiction of the blind is realistic, they will tend to experience
>> negative emotions while watching the blind characters. The SNL sketch,
>> on the other hand, is designed to make people laugh. Not only is humor
>> at the expense of minorities commonly accepted in our culture, so
>> people probably won't interpret these portrayals as being realistic,
>> but also when people watch the sketch they are in a happy mood and so
>> won't associate blindness with fear and disgust.
>> That said, I'm not thrilled about the way Gov. Paterson was portrayed
>> and I'm glad the NFB made a statement, but I don't think we should be
>> expending as much energy on this as we did with the Blindness film. I
>> also agree with the view that by using blindness as a characteristic
>> to spoof, we are being regarded as part of the mainstream. After all
>> many of us say we'd rather be teased like everyone else than treated
>> with extra kindness and compliments. Perhaps this is really a gesture
>> of inclusion.
>> Arielle
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