This has be very hard to write; maybe the tone will feel to waver or change. This is a flashpoint topic for a number of things for me, as you will see toward the end. I am still not sure exactly where I stand – as co-dependents often affirm, I reserve the right to change my mind, at any time, without having to give an explanation.
Something funny happened on the way to how Family Guy presented Ellen, the teenage girl with Down Syndrome featured in its Valentines Day episode.
She’s not retarded.
Despite Stewie’s insults about her – some of which were indeed crude and mean-spirited – that word is never said or even caught in someone’s mouth. Stewie makes crude comments on her appearance and motor skills – which since it is something she has no control over, is just the lowest form of humor. Too cheap.
But Chris – the hapless chubby teen – has had crush on her. He thinks she’s beautiful and sexy. Despite his own denigration of her, Stewie dedicates himself to helping Chris ask her out, then helps him clean and dress for his date with her.
Ellen turns out to be beyond prepossessed – she turns out to be a Queen Bitch.
Chris does all he can think of on their date to please her, but it’s not enough. He ends up yelling at her: “All right, that is it! I don’t care how hot you are! I don’t much like being treated this way, Y’know, I used to hear that people with Down Syndrome were different than the rest of us, but you’re not! You’re no different at all! You’re just a bunch of assholes like everyone else!”
Ellen’s Downs Syndrome has nothing to do with her as a person.
It certainly does not define her, and she is not the perpetual child that so many people – especially well meaning people – think all the DS population is. She is a fully sexual young woman, both in Chris’s eyes and her own. She goes to the same school as Chris. She is capable of maintaining a multiple-sentence metaphor about Chris’s (minimal) chances of getting with her.
She was actually voiced by part-time actress Andrea Fay Friedman. Her fulltime job is with a law firm which has employed her for 20 years. She lives on her own. She drives a car. She’s a globetrotting motivational speaker. She speaks Japanese. And she beats me out on three of those five things.
When Sarah Palin said on her million-friend Facebook account and on The O’Reilly Factor, that she felt she had been “punched in the gut” from a joke made about her through the character of Ellen (when Chris asks her about her family, she says her father is an accountant, and her mother is a former governor of Alaska – I do think that creator Seth MacFarlane’s defense that it was directed at Palin only and not at Trig is disingenuous, at the least…)
Well, Ms. Friedman sent an email response to The New York Times. Including:
I guess former Governor Palin does not have a sense of humor. I thought the line “I am the daughter of the former governor of Alaska” was very funny. I think the word is “sarcasm.” In my family we think laughing is good. My parents raised me to have a sense of humor and to live a normal life.
The Times expanded on it with a brief interview.
The comments on Palin’s Facebook page and elsewhere are peppered with her supporters claiming someone with Down Syndrome could not form and maintain her own opinion. For example “How sad that Andrea is allowing herself to be used by the left to continue bashing Trig Palin.” This is from Mediaite.com, in comments to an article which itself doubts Ms. Friedman wrote her email to The New York Times herself.
Apparently, the commentators on the right who scream about self determination – and Ms. Palin is a paid commentator now for the same Fox Entertainment Group that produced and broadcast that Family Guy episode – do not think challenged people are capable of self determination. This week, Rush Limbaugh drew our attention to threatened school in New Jersey – he played a clip of a 13 year old with visually impairment speaking out against cuts to his education and life skills support; Mr. Limbaugh insisted, and he then put on a caller who agreed, that this teenager was certainly being manipulated and used by his parents and liberals to push their own agenda. That by some warped perception of human nature, his being worried about cuts to his school programs had to ring false.
My sister Eileen has Down Syndrome. She deserves – and in many respects, needs – particular and focused protection granted by our society, yes. She does not deserve to be made fun of because of things she has had no control over, like her physical shortcomings. No one does. Not even Michael J. Fox, despite Mr. Limbaugh’s protestations. Such base humor coming from Family Guy‘s attractive, bright Seth McFarlane – towards anyone – is unconscionable.
But even though it is so hard to see, like Andrea Fay Friedman, Eileen’s Down Syndrome has nothing to do with her as a person. And like Ms. Friedman, she determines her own life, as much as any of us do.