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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

SNL & The Governor

I’ve written previously about New York Governor David Patterson and congratulated him on becoming the first legally blind governor in the nation. ( He’s back in the news again, and I’m considering my reaction.

Seems that Saturday Night Live (SNL) has elevated Patterson’s status by including him in their crew of satirized politicians. So what characteristic did they lampoon? His lack of sight, of course.

That’s what satirists do. They take a particular bodily feature, manner of speech or other identifying characteristic, exaggerate that feature, then throw some jokes at it. Tina Fey used Sarah Palin’s wink, speech pattern and pageant contestant history in her Palin take-offs. For Bill Clinton, they put on a larger nose, gray wig and made sex scandal jokes. For George Bush -- -- well, take your pick.

So SNL made fun of Patterson’s low vision and depicted him bungling into things. Patterson ignored the first skit. SNL did it again. They must have had fun the first time. This time Patterson fired back with a small rocket across the bow. Patterson said in the Daily News, "I can take a joke. But only 37 percent of disabled people are working and I'm afraid that that kind of third-grade humor certainly adds to this atmosphere. Let's just say I don't think it helped."

The National Federation of the Blind also responded: “Saturday Night Live was reaching for a cheap laugh at the expense of a whole class of people."

So, who’s right and who’s wrong?

I admit that when I first heard about the spoof, my stomach clenched. I’m low vision, and I frequently laugh at my visual blunders. Mike and I make jokes. Mostly, I laugh when friends make funnies. But there are times when I don’t laugh.

After examining my own feelings and considering that SNL makes fun of everyone, I decided that David Patterson just needs to grow a thicker layer of skin. He’s a politician. He’s in the public eye, so to speak. Sarah Palin got tired of SNL mocking her, and she looked petty when she lashed back. Didn’t she know that this comes with the territory?

Maybe the same goes for Patterson.

Before I took early retirement, I recall saying (more than once) that my eyes might be bad, but my brain still works. Those of us who are visually disabled or who have other physical impediments to overcome want to be accepted and employed for who we are and what we can contribute. We may need certain equipment or minor accommodations to do our jobs, but I can tell you this for sure -- -- we don’t want your pity and we don’t want to be treated with kid gloves.

Just perhaps, if disabled people want to be fully included in the non-disabled world, we might need to put on a happy face and decline to be coddled.

FDR spent his presidency in a wheelchair. John Kennedy suffered almost constant back pain. Helen Keller, both blind and deaf, made great contributions to the world around her.

They weren’t whiners. They accomplished great things. Therein lies our answer.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well said lil' sis. I enjoy your blog.....