Glee: "I Have Self-Diagnosed Aspergers So I Can Pretty Much Say Whatever I Want"
Glee has a new character, Sugar Motta, a ridiculous, talentless, villain with self-diagnosed Aspergers.
She really did say the line in the headline, and then did in fact use as Aspergers as an excuse for rudeness, actually exclaiming "Aspergers!" after saying especially nasty things.
Here's how Vanessa Lengies, the actress who plays Sugar, talks about the Aspergers issue:
Were you worried about the Asperger joke at all? That seemed to garner a strong reaction among some viewers.
No, I wasn’t. I think that’s something does very well. It talks about and addresses and touches on issues that are very sensitive to most people, but having the issues talked about on such a high-exposure show, it bring things to people’s conversation. I like that a lot about Glee.
Is that an aspect of the character we’re going to dig into deeper in the next few episodes?
Eric and I had this conversation where we weren’t sure if she has it or…I’m not sure to what degree it is until I see more [scripts]. But we definitely touch on it again. So far, to my knowledge, we don’t go into the depths of Sugar’s background yet, but it is part of her character.
This is not a good thing for "awareness." It's making fun of those of us who are self-indentified, saying that we are basically making excuses so thay we can be rude to people with impunity. It's the same joke Australian comedian Denise Hall made a few months ago. It's telling teachers and fellow students that it's okay to what they do anyway: treat people with legitimate disabilities like they are just jerks who want special treatment.
And Lengies' answer seems to indicate that there has been a lack of serious thought about how this might affect people who actually have Aspergers. Or the self-identified, like myself.
So why am I not that annoyed?
Because I have very low expectations for the writing on Glee. I do not share the perception of my friend Beth Arky, from whom I learned about Sugar, who said: "Surprised, given that Glee has been ultra-sensitive about gays, OCD, cognitive delays, etc."
Because Glee includes those things, but it hasn't been especially sensitive about them. The gay characters on Glee have been flaming queens, villains, or both. It's so great to see two sympathetically played guys as boyfriends in high school that I'm sure most straight people aren't aware that a lot of gay men don't like the fact that Kurt usually sings songs written for women.
And Emma's OCD has been the subject for a lot of ridicule. Yes, the "Born This Way" episode was pretty cool about it, but my friend who has OCD isn't really wild about all the the food-washing jokes.
And then there's Downs. I have loved many of the things that the show has done with Becky and Jean, but I've also been bothered. I don't like it when they make Becky an animal (dressing her a "reindog" at Christmas, comparing her to chimp in this episode). And I hated the way they played into the tendency to infantalize the developmentally disabled by making Jean's funeral a Wonka-fest.
Glee producer Ryan Murphy has done a wonderful job of making characters from many minority groups visible on television, but he has always made that palatable to a general audience by marginalizing them. The most extraordinary example of this was on his show Nip/Tuck, which included both the most senstive portrayal of a transsexual character I've ever seen on TV, and the most irresponsible. So I wasn't surprised when Glee's Rocky Horror episode was weirdly transphobic.
And I wasn't surprised to see Murphy add people with self-identified Aspergers to the groups he's decided to slap around on TV in the name of "awareness" and "humor."
It's sort of what he does.