Thursday, June 2, 2011

Glee PSA Misses the Mark

I know that I am late to this, but I think that it is worth the conversation.  Glee actress Jane Lynch  appeared with disabled activist Lauren Potter in a PSA, which attempted to explain why the R word needs to disappear from our popular lexicon. I absolutely agree with this, though I take issue with the way that the message was expressed.  The following is the PSA in question.

(Note: The video comes with a transcript but please be aware that slurs are used if you are playing it at work or in mixed company)


At the end Lynch says, "The R word is the same as any minority slur, treat it that way and don't use it." I can get behind that statement; however, by having people of different marginalizations state emphatically the slurs that they find offensive, it sets up the idea of comparing oppressions. It is enough to say that this word is a slur and is absolutely inappropriate, without juxtaposing it to words like, fag, kike, nigger and spik. As a viewer, it felt very much to me like Lynch and Potter were justifying why this word is offensive, rather than just saying that a word is offensive.  How does this promote tolerance and respect?
When PSA's are made, a good intention is not all one must consider.  Wanda Sykes did a PSA awhile ago about people using the phrase that's so gay, to denote something that they thought was bad or weird. Where this PSA differed from that of the Glee PSA, is that it felt no need for comparison and simply stated that the language was wrong and why.  It is absolutely enough to say that a word or phrase rises to the level of a slur and constitutes oppressive language, without trying to prove this by comparing it to other slurs.   To me, it almost suggests that the R word in and of itself is not defamatory enough to stand on its own.

My other issue with this PSA is that it focuses solely on the R word, as the singular disableist word that the able bodied should avoid.  I won't deny that the R word is horrendous, but is it anymore harmful than the words crazy, or lame, which are equally ubiquitous?  My skin absolutely crawls when lame is used as a negative descriptor, and yet there is no push to point out to the public that this word is offensive to disabled people.  In political circles, it has been deemed to acceptable to call the hateful tea party crazy, as though their position stems from being neurologically atypical, instead of an absolute desire to maintain the status quo.  In the media, people that are neurologically atypical are often presented as extremely violent, and few bother to comment how disableist this is.  If there is going to be a conversation about disableist language, the conversation must extend beyond the R word and yet, somehow I do not envision that this is a goal. 

I wish I could be thankful that the R word is being taken on so strongly, but the fact that it is not nearly enough ways heavily upon me.  There needs to be a conversation about disability and poverty, disability and sexual assault, disability and race etc., because everything that intersects with disability is an issue and has too long been ignored. I worry that people will see this PSA, and believe that eliminating their usage of the R word is all that is required, when in fact that is not even the tip of the iceberg. 

What issues that intersect with disability do you believe to be a priority, and how can we best attack disableism in our society?