I really thought I did this one already. I can’t believe I didn’t blog about this months ago…

Timmy!

Timmy debuted in season 4 of South Park. He has become a fairly popular regular character and some of the funniest episodes have centered around him. Timmy has a developmental disability. He uses a motorized wheelchair for mobility, appears to have moderate mental retardation, and a pretty severe communication impairment (his only speech is “Timmy!”).

Timmy

Timmy

Let’s get this out of the way now– they play Timmy’s disability for laughs. However, I don’t find his character offensive, and let me tell you why.

First, being offended by South Park is utterly stupid and pointless. The show is intentionally offensive, and goes out of its way to offend you. Everyone gets their turn on this show.

Second, the characters’ reactions to Timmy are universally accepting. While the writers make fun of Timmy by putting him into all sorts of plot situations that emphasize his disability, no character ever discriminates against Timmy (sometimes this is played to humorous effect).

But mostly I’m not offended because South Park is at its best when it takes the elephant in the room that no one acknowledges and instead of just pointing it out, sits it in your lap. Timmy as a character serves an important purpose on the show that no other character possibly can.

In fact, South Park, through satire, has explored aspects of disability in American society more often and with more honesty than any other show on television. That offends me. Where are the rest of the characters with developmental disabilities on TV?

At some point in the future, I’ll do a critical review the Timmy episodes to see what they have to say about society (that is, I’m going to intellectualize them and completely ruin all the comedy). I found them to be surprisingly perceptive and meaningful (for a show about fart jokes).

Things to consider: What are the elephants in the room that no one wants to point out with regards to disability? Whose responsibility is it to point these out? What are the ongoing obstacles to confronting these things?

Disability in pop culture 2

September 20, 2008

Snake-Eyes

Keeping with the Marvel Comics theme, Snake-Eyes is a ninja commando for the anti-terrorist strike force G.I. Joe. His first appearance was in G.I. Joe #1 in 1982.

Snake-Eyes with sword

Snake-Eyes with sword

Snake-Eyes was injured in a helicopter crash that severely burned his face and destroyed his vocal cords. Throughout the series, Snake-Eyes never speaks (his injuries made him unable to phonate), and his face is always hidden behind a mask.

Several issues play up how repulsive his face is under the mask, and he seems to be sensitive about it. It is apparently so ugly that it makes elite special ops soldiers cringe. (In issue #96 his face is revealed and it was really underwhelming. It wasn’t really that bad.)

At no point in 155 issues of the comic, do I remember Snake-Eyes using any sort of augmentative alternative communication, either aided or a formal sign language. Only gestures. The implication seemed to be that the rest of the team knew him so well (many of them served with him in Vietnam before they formed the G.I. Joe unit) that they could just naturally understand him.

Again, as with Professor X, his disabilities serve to exaggerate and emphasize some other positive quality.

He is secretive– the government has made his name a Classified secret. (He literally doesn’t have a face.)

He is silent– he’s a skilled ninja master. (He cannot speak. )