Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Family Guy: Sarah Palin "chooses" outrage, but fails to see that Trig is so much more than his disability... UPDATED

Much has been said about the Family Guy episode depicting a character who has Down Syndrome. The young woman in question is not portrayed as a "poor me" type. She's quite assertive and capable. The writers didn't make her a sympathetic character, she's just another young person who happens to have Down Syndrome, but with flaws, like any other young person.

Does disability make a person not have any of the flaws "normal" people have? The show didn't mock disability. If anything, it avoided being patronizing. What's worse, a person being defined by their shortcomings or by their abilities, even if it's the ability to be just as obnoxious as anybody else?

Family Guy doesn't discriminate about who they're going to offend. Their taste in story lines and jokes is debatable, but in this case, the person with Down Syndrome was not the butt of the joke.

The young woman in the show made reference to the governor of Alaska - that was the joke - and we had the inevitable Facebook rant, this time signed (but not written) by Bristol Palin, with an introduction by her mother:

"People are asking me to comment on yesterday’s Fox show that felt like another kick in the gut. Bristol was one who asked what I thought of the show that mocked her baby brother, Trig (and/or others with special needs), in an episode yesterday. Instead of answering, I asked her what she thought. Here is her conscientious reply, which is a much more restrained and gracious statement than I want to make about an issue that begs the question, “when is enough, enough?”

“When you’re the son or daughter of a public figure, you have to develop thick skin. My siblings and I all have that, but insults directed at our youngest brother hurt too much for us to remain silent. People with special needs face challenges that many of us will never confront, and yet they are some of the kindest and most loving people you’ll ever meet. Their lives are difficult enough as it is, so why would anyone want to make their lives more difficult by mocking them? As a culture, shouldn’t we be more compassionate to innocent people – especially those who are less fortunate? Shouldn’t we be willing to say that some things just are not funny? Are there any limits to what some people will do or say in regards to my little brother or others in the special needs community? If the writers of a particularly pathetic cartoon show thought they were being clever in mocking my brother and my family yesterday, they failed. All they proved is that they’re heartless jerks. - Bristol Palin”

Trig may have extra challenges, but with proper support he needs not be described as less fortunate. Trig is a human being first and foremost. He has a personality that is not limited to his disability. When Bristol describes Trig as she did above, she's limiting him to his shortcomings.

The Palins never had very high expectations of Trig. In "Going Rogue", Sarah Palin describes her conversation with Todd when they found out Trig was going to be born with Down Syndrome. The focus was purely on his future physical achiements, on whether he could play sports or tinker in the garage. She talks about her sister's nephew who played Little League baseball on a "regular" team and about Todd's cousin, aged thirty two, loving life and cheering his team at hockey games. That's it.

In August 2009 I wrote a post about Trig and other young people with Down Syndrome. I found a number of very talented people with Down Syndrome who achieved a lot more than many "normal" people. They did more than play baseball in a "regular" team or cheer their hockey heroes. Music, acting and painting were some fields in which they excelled. I'm sure they would hate to be patronized and have their achievements diminished when compared to those of "normal" people. I also believe that they wouldn't like to be portrayed as some pliant push-overs, incapable of behaving like any of their "normal" counterparts, sometimes not so lovable.

We all have limitations and I can't imagine that we would like to be defined by them.

Wouldn't children with special needs have an extra deficit on top of their challenges if their own families didn't believe in them? Would any child with Down Syndrome benefit from being considered a mere political prop?

Trig's main shortcoming is not Down Syndrome. It is his own family and their low expectations. In fact, the same goes for all his siblings...


I have discovered (in an excellent post by our friend OzMud) that the character with Down Syndrome in the Family Guy episode was voiced by an actress called Andrea Friedman, who has Down Syndrome herself. Andrea is one of the talented people I wrote about in the August post. If Andrea doesn't see a problem with the episode in question, why should Sarah Palin see anything wrong with it? Of course, she couldn't miss the opportunity to use Trig as a prop yet again.

Sarah Palin doesn't have a clue about special needs, apart from using it to promote herself and sell books. Trig deserves better.

(H/T to Ripley in CT and Ella)


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