Lisy's Thoughts on Disability in Film & TV
American Horror Story: Freak Show

I’ve long since noticed that “documentaries” about unusual anatomies are the freak shows of the televisual era. Half Body, Whole Life, The Man With The 10 Stone Testicles, The Smallest Girl in the World, The Girl Without A Face, etc, etc, are all about getting to gawp at those who are different.

This year’s American Horror Story is set in 1952, when people actually had to go to the circus to see freaks, rather than being able to watch “documentaries” about us on Channel 5. And what makes it interesting is that they’ve cast people from these modern day freak shows to appear in a 1952 freak show. I immediately recognised “Half body” Rose Siggins and “Smallest Girl” Jyoti Amge. (Yes, I’ve watched the TV shows, I’m a terrible person.)

(From her delivery it’s really obvious that Amge doesn’t understand a word of English and has learned her lines by rote memory.)

Typically in Ryan Murphy shows, it’s only characters with Down’s Syndrome that are played by actors with the impairment. All other disabled characters are played by non-disabled actors. Think Artie in Glee, Julia Roberts’s character in The Normal Heart etc. So it’s refreshing to see he’s cast a few actual disabled people like Siggins, Amge, Mat Fraser, etc.

But, this is a Ryan Murphy show. So you’ve got several non-disabled actors spacking up. Jessica Lange and Evan Peters - who are in every season - are both playing disabled characters this year. Peters’s impairment is easily created with simple prosthetics, Lange’s impairment is mostly hidden by her clothing. Naomi Grossman has reprised her role of Pepper - a woman with microcephaly - from season 2. But the CGI to turn one woman into conjoined twins is truly awful. Have you noticed how the width of their shoulders is constantly changing? Given that Abbi and Brittany Hensel are no strangers to the documentary circuit; I’m kinda surprised to see they’re not playing the twins. Although from their last documentary series; I know they’re working as teachers now. (But in his interview, Ben Woolf says he’s a teacher when he’s not acting.)

It’s also interesting to note that Murphy was only interested in casting a cis man to play the role of a trans woman, and a trans woman only managed to land the part by binding her breasts, dropping her voice, and pretending to be a man for the audition.

The thing that’s interesting me most right now is the billing. All the non-disabled cisgender actors are billed as main cast members. Despite the fact that we’re 2 episodes in to a 13 episode season and Emma Roberts hasn’t appeared yet; she’s still billed as main cast. The disabled and transgender actors are only recurring guest stars; despite having been in every episode so far. Recurring guest stars typically get a smaller pay packet than main cast members.

“Big issues” my arse. No-one’s asking the big one: “Why in 2014 is the insulting mimicry by non-disabled actors still considered acceptable?”

2 Cheerios adverts.

About 5 minutes before stumbling across this I was thinking “you never see disabled people in adverts. Sometimes in film or on TV. But never selling tampons.”

OK, they’re not flogging tampons. I wouldn’t trust the absorbency of Cheerios, anyway.

*Faints from the shock.*

(Yeah, OK, he casts people with Down’s a lot. But of the plethora of other disabled characters he’s created; I don’t think a single one with something other than Down’s has been played by a disabled actor: Artie in Glee, Julia Roberts’s character in The Normal Heart, etc.)

Although, from the trailers it appears that the non-disabled Naomi Grossman is reprising her role from season 2 as a woman with microcephaly; so it’s not free from spacking up. Still; 1 disabled actor with something other than Down’s is a step-up for Murphy.

In-Group Laughs, Punching Up, and Disability Humour on TV


In-Group Laughs, Punching Up, and Disability Humour on TV

When television dares to deal with disability, it often takes on an extremely hesitant, worried approach — disability is there to provide a very special lesson, or to offer inspiration to other characters on the show, not to offer a character a chance to exist and be a part of the drama in her own right. Or it’s played for crass, crude, disgusting humour that punches down at disabled people,…

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Can we talk about mechanical augmentation = evil again?