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Friday, 3 February 2012

Sit Down, Artie.

ON DAYS WHEN I am extremely bored and the usual fixes like reading post secret, stalking facebook, or watching horrible clips of covers to songs I don't even know aren't doing it, I sit down and watch Glee. Go ahead, judge away, it's probably better than some of the crapshoot music videos you pretend not to watch anyway. Also, what I am about to say really has nothing to do with whether or not Glee is a good show. It's not. Pretty undoubtedly, the plot is non existent, the actors are way too into their cheesy characters and the accapella-subbing for real instruments got old half way through the first season. It sucks, hands down.
Despite the show's poor quality, it has a fairly loyal viewership, and an even more loyal cast. Apparently Leah Michelle (Rachel Berry) got two tattoos in honor of the show and what it stands for. Which, brings me to my real topic: What the fuck does Glee represent?
When the show first came out, the majority was excited because it combined musical numbers (everyone's secret favourite thing) with diversity and acceptance, while challenging ideas of political correctness and categorization. The main characters included: Two white people, two Jews, two Asians one black person, one wheelie, and one homosexual. That's right, I said main. All of these characters were supposed to dance and jive until we forgot their differences, or at least until we no longer cared. It was a quirky fun show with just enough of the tragic element to add depth.
As the season unfolded, each character developed and, in their own ways, embraced their so-called differences. They even did a whole episode on difference, where The Female Jew (Rachel Berry) comes to love her big nose, on the grounds that it is resembling of Barbra Streisand's, and, well, she's famous. In other episodes, we see Tina and Mike referring to themselves as 'Asian' and 'Other Asian' to make light of their race. The character Kurt is openly gay and, after quite a struggle, becomes accepted by those whom he encounters on a daily basis.This is all warm-fuzzies, flowers, rainbows and honeybees, until it's Artie's turn to be empowered by his circumstance.
Artie is a rather two dimensional character: nerdy, with annoyingly straight teeth and glasses squarer than my nun aunt. If it wasn't for his paraplegia, caused (yes, you guessed it!) by an accident at age 7, he would not even be worth air time. But, for the sake of diversity, Artie is paralyzed, serving the wheelie quota for the shows' modern, liberal look at 'all walks of life'. This seems totally okay for a while, as Artie floats through each epi doing a series of hand-motions and cat-walks where appropriate, but trouble soon rolls in, as Artie starts to truly realize, at the age of 17, that his disability is part of him.
The problem here is not that Artie must come to terms with being in a wheelchair, but more with the fact that such acceptance isn't happening. This is particularly obvious in the latest episode, where he claims, he "doesn't want to hear that it gets better. He wants to hurt them...he wants them to feel his pain, because lately, that's all he has to give." That's not even the kicker. As if it's not enough that Artie is having a seemingly unprovoked emotional breakdown, the show deals with it by having him break out of his chair and do a whole dance and vocal duet to an MJ track. As is keeping in line with the shows sweep-it-under-the rug approach to Artie's disability, his breakdown/daydream is never brought up or mentioned again, and viewers are left to think that it is 'normal' to wish Artie could walk, because his dance moves are sooo much better when he can add footwork.
In my opinion, this sends a mix message of acceptance of limits and denial of circumstance. Wile Kurt is off applying to Performing Arts school and being the best version of his gay-self he can be, and Tina and Mike are proud of the "honor" associated with their Asain roots, Artie can't decide whether he is frustrated with or advocating for disability. Subliminally, these conflicting messages might lead watchers to think all wheelies are uncomfortable with their disabilities, that they daydream of getting up just to pull off the moonwalk, which is something that I would readily dispute.
If Glee isn't going off the air anytime soon, I at least hope that Artie will do the rest of his musical numbers as a true wheelie. The writers would never ask their black character to paint her face white for a scene, or tell Kurt to explore the possibility of dating Britney. So why doesn't Artie just stay sitting?

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