This thought occurred to me last week out of nowhere: “Unsolicited mental image: Backed by the full cast, Artie on Glee performs ‘Rhythm Is a Dancer.’ ” Days later, it almost happened for real.

While the producers of Glee were happy to hire a gay actor for a gay role, we now know why they also hired a nondisabled actor for a disabled role: So he could hate himself and dream of not being crippled someday. Almost like how the producers felt growing up gay.

Mass of dancers in mall food court. Caption: ♪ Everything’s out of control ♪

We were endlessly told by the gay braintrust behind Glee (I mean Ryan Murphy, but in truth the quotes come from his casting director) that the show turned over every rock to fill the role of Artie, the guitarist/crooner/filmmaker in a wheelchair. Kevin McHale was simply the best actor they could find.

After the episode from last week (2010.05.18), we now know this was false all along, or the writers and producers used the fact that McHale can actually walk to alter the story of Artie in a way they’d already tried and discarded with Kurt.

Extended revenge fantasia

You have to look at Glee as an extended revenge fantasy carried out by now-powerful Hollywood gays of middle age. It is a gay fantasia on teenage themes. In this idealized variant of their own high-school experience:

  • You know you’re gay and by God, you’re fabulous.
  • Everyone else, really everybody, also knows you’re gay and doesn’t have a problem with it.
  • You’ve got the perfect dad, who gives you your own industrial-décor basement, Marc Jacobs wardrobe, and, for your “Sweet 16,” an ultra-pimped pickup truck.
  • You have a crush on a football player that he more or less knows about and can handle.

Better still, to play that football player the gay braintrust chose the prettiest actor they could find. (A CBC Radio interview with Cory Monteith explained that he taught himself to sing driving down to L.A. for the audition. He implied the producers picked through a crowd of callbacks – who all looked like what they thought football players look like, but couldn’t necessarily sing or dance – and chose the one they’d have the most fun gawking at all week.)


Had Glee hired a real disabled actor, it would have precluded last week’s dream sequence in which Artie rises, as if healed, from the “confinement” of his wheelchair and busts various moves.

Artie leads the dancers, standing up with arms in two directions

When gay Kurt (played by gay Chris Colfer) absently toyed with the idea it might be better not to be queer, the writers wasted no time showing Kurt how wrong he was. He abandoned that idea pronto. Anyway, who are we kidding? We know Kurt is gay. We can see that! We aren’t stupid. Next!

We know Artie’s in a wheelchair! We can see that! We aren’t stupid. Next!

Dancers doing leg moves on floor. Caption: (clap once)

Ah, but no: Instead of just being a reasonably happy teenager (with a gf, no less), Artie has to reënact the personal fears of Hollywood screenwriters and manfully struggle against his burden. Because the audience, whom teleplay writers have patronized or to whom they have pandered for generations, would find paraplegia a fate worse than death. (Really, who wouldn’t?)

Kurt quit lying to himself and everybody else about his true nature – as recently as the previous episode, in fact. Artie still thinks he’s gonna walk someday. Well, he isn’t.

Old wine in pink bottles

I may be the only person in town with a copy of the Screen Actors Guild report (PDF) on actors with disabilities. (In a parallel universe, I would actually work in that field.) I also own and refer to Disability Drama in Television and Film. Every single time there’s been a career fair for disabled actors and casting directors, somebody got hired. There is always a role for actors with a disability if a casting agent actually knows they exist.

From simply following the subject for 30 years I can tell you Artie on Glee is especially infuriating because he follows in the wheeltracks of Marty on TV 101, a structurally interchangeable series from the 1980s about a group of plucky schoolkids who put out their production – here, a TV show instead of musicals. That show had no trouble casting a real cripple, Stewart Goddard, who is probably all grown up now.

So it could have been done, had the producers been honest. They’ve been in Hollywood long enough to be in a position to enact a gay revenge fantasia, but also long enough to absorb the trite, fallacious Hollywood narrative of disability – as a despised personal defect to be overcome.

Sad Artie. Caption: (song ends)

When gays on TV act that way, we call the show homophobic.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2010.05.24 15:27. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

(Values you enter are stored and may be published)



None. I quit.

Copyright © 2004–2024