Allen Rucker's Archive - Columnist Extraordinaire (Allen's words)
Allen is a regular contributor to ABILITY Magazine and we thought it was a good idea to archive his articles for easy reference.
Just about the
time that this arrives in your mailbox, the Los Angeles-based Media Access
Awards will be presenting its silver anniversary show. At the annual event,
trophies are handed out for outstanding performances by actors with disabilities,
or for TV and film work that portrays the disability community powerfully
What? Youve never heard of the Media Access Awards? Youve
heard of the Oscars, the Emmys, the Golden Globes, the Peoples Choice
Awards, the Latin Grammys, the NAACP Image Awards, the GLAAD Media Awards
and the Razzies (Golden Raspberrys), but the MAAs dont ring
a bell? Twenty-five years and youve never seen one gushy backstage
story about them on Entertainment Tonight?
Therein lies a huge problem about the visibility of those with disabilities,
not just in Hollywood, but in life. In fact, America, Hollywood and real
life have a lot in common. Why do you think all of those people are lined
up to get on American Idol or The Biggest Loser? Because, in this country,
if youre not on TV, you may not exist. Or, conversely, if you are
on TV, your life has meaning and your friends will have something to say
at your funeral. Bill was a wonderful bowler. Who can ever forget
the time he didnt win a dime on Wheel of Fortune? He was sure Mr.
Big Head after that. He often said that high-fiving Pat Sajak was his
Well, if media acknowledgment is the way that you gauge your worth as
a human being, then the disabled are screwed. Theyor should I say
weare barely a blip on the big, flat screen of American reality.
We are invisible. In gross media terms, we dont exist. Hell, guys
with three wives get more love on TV than the disability community, and
though we can all admire, if not envy, a man with that kind of erectile
function, there certainly arent 50-plus million of them to draw
upon for story material. Who knows if there are even 50, and yet theyve
got their own show on HBO.
Hard, cold statistics underscore how few fictional characters with disabilities
actually show up in American TV and film. Among the people in Hollywood
who care, these pathetic stats are scripture by now. The Screen Actors
Guild (SAG) commissioned a study in 2004 to see exactly how many characters
with disabilities popped up on any screen in that year. The indefensible
bottom line: less that one-half of one percent (.005) of all speaking
characters in American film and TV were disabled. In other words, roughly
one-sixth of the American public is portrayed .006th of the time.
These are not the high-profile celebrities such as Michael J. Fox, who
has Parkinsons or Teri Garr, who has MS. These are fictional characters,
made up by writers and producers who have a lot of leeway to make up whatever
they want. Why dont they make up more characters with disabilities?
Most likely because it doesnt cross their minds, and because the
people that they might pattern these characters after areyou got
Its probably not a grand conspiracy of bigotry and crip-hating at
work here. Its more likely a conspiracy of laziness and force of
habit. Even for those creators who think to include a character with a
disability in their soap opera or buddy movie, its a big damn deal.
Its a lot like what writing in an African-American next-door neighbor
must have been like in the 50sa bold, courageous statement
to the world that you cared.
Almost every time a central character is disabled in a major film or TV
show, it gets a big award. Rain Man. Born on the Fourth of July. My Left
Foot. All well-deserved, of course, but the storys focus on the
impaired and damaged certainly didnt hurt, if only for the novelty
The disability community is so invisible in Hollywood, Ive come
to discover, that it doesnt even count among the people who feel
left out of the system aka the diversity crowd. Last May, at a press conference,
the Writers Guild presented the Hollywood Writers Report, its latest survey
of who gets all the writing jobs in Hollywood. I was there, along with
my writer friend, Ronnie Konner, waiting to hear how writers like us have
been criminally ignored and marginalized, so I could spend the rest of
the day pumped with righteous indignation. Unfortunately, I never got
the chance to get my juices flowing because, in an exhaustive rundown
of 50 pages of findings, writers with disabilities were never mentioned.
Over-40 writers, women writers, black writers, Hispanic writers, Asian
writers, gay and lesbian writersthey were all present and accounted
for, and had been since the first such report seven or eight years ago.
But only in 2007, at the end of this press conference, did they announce
thatnext yearwriters with disabilities will be added to this
underrepresented universe. Next year, it seems, 18 years after the Americans
with Disabilities Act, we will finally make it to the starting line.
Why are things this way? Hell if I know. It probably has something to
do with long lingering superstitions about the vitality and reliability
of the disability community. Or maybe because Hollywood is essentially
a high school for grown-ups where friends hire friends, and the posse
of actors and writers with disabilities has yet to be admitted into the
clique. Or maybe its because most Hollywood product is fluffy, fantasy
crap, made for teenagers and adult teenagers to escape into a Paris Hilton
wet dream, and who wants some guy with a prosthetic leg, lets say,
hobbling through their wet dream?
Its depressing, actually, but as Tony Soprano would say, Hey,
whadda ya gonna do? In the grand Hollywood entrepreneurial tradition,
you just keep pitching ideas, schmoozing with power brokers, and searching
for a small crack in the monolith. Or maybe the more than 50 million disabled
Americans will rise up spontaneously, storm Fox Studios, kidnap Bill OReilly
(just for kicks), and demand that for every five characters in a movie
or TV show, at least one of them must be disabled. Also no one in the
room can call that character a hero or a victim.
Hey, dream on, brother.
A very funny episode
of HBOs Curb Your Enthusiasmone of manyhad hangdog comedian
Richard Lewis complaining bitterly about not getting creative credit for
the ubiquitous phrase, The (Blank) From Hell. He thought he
should get a royalty check, or at least a as Richard Lewis once
famously said..., every time some barfly in Cleveland announced
that he had the wife or the propane tank or the pit bull from hell.
This would be like copyrighting Have a good one,Been
there, done that, Forgetaboutit, or Duh.
Not that anyone would ever claim authorship of these grating clichés.
Which brings me to the subject at hand: the faddish phrase, (Blank)
is the new (Blank). Its all the rage as in50 is the
new 40popular among aging Hollywood sexpots. Or Biloxi
is the new Vegascurrently in style among degenerate Southern
gamblers who cant afford the bus fare to Nevada. The new
or Is the new is a shibboleth of our times, maybe the shibboleth
of our times, if you discount, of course, the dozens of mind-numbing banalities
that ooze out of Washington daily to gum up the public dialogue. Is
the new cant really compete with They hate freedom,
Its your money, not the governments, or one of
my favorites, Just a few rotten apples. Abu Ghraib was just
a few rotten apples. Corporate fraud and thievery was just a few rotten
apples. Hell, the entire Iraq insurgency is, yip, just a few Christian-hating,
freedom-hating, death-loving rotten apples.
A famous commercial-maker once defined pure advertising as
simply renaming or repurposing something to attract a different
audience. For instance, if you took Johnsons Baby Shampoowhich
is, duh, shampoo for babiesand repitched it as a gentle shampoo
that adults can use everyday, you might hook in adults obsessed about
clean hair. And it worked. Thats what is the new is
all about: relabeling. And except for the occasional misguided analogy
between Biloxi and Las Vegas, it is mostly a relabeling that excludes
a vast majority of people from the new label. It is snob talk.
Take 50 is the new 40. Who really thinks being 50 today is
just like being 40 was a generation ago? Do you think any of the 50-year-old
women who punch in every day at the Wal-Mart Superstore in Marietta, Georgia
feel 40? What about the paunchy, 50-year-old Xerox salesman huffing and
puffing his way around Northern Ohio trying to make his sales quota for
the month? Think hes waking up, saying, Man, 500 sit-ups and
Im out of here! Actually, for most people, the calculation
runs the other way. Fifty is the new 60, not the new 40. Theyre
tired. Theyre under constant stress from an economy that demands
that most middle-class people work 50 to 60 hours a week just to get by.
By the age of 50, the world has pretty much beaten these people into an
Of course, if you have plenty of money, work out everyday, stick closely
to the South Beach Diet, maybe splurge for a little nip/tuck and are always
ready with the right pill for the right moment, you probably do look and
feel younger than your mom or dad did in the 50s or 60s. But
by and large, thats the stuff of ads, whether they are ads for celebrities,
called Access Hollywood and People magazine, or ads for youth-enhancing
products, called ads. By this point in American consumer culture, if youre
50 and dont feel 40, youre a loser. The worst thing that could
happen to a post-menopausal Boomer is to announce your ageIm
53and have someone reply, You know, you look exactly
The most egregious use of the is the new cliché was
an article in the LA Times about the insanely inflated housing prices
in Southern California. The headline was Ten Million Is The New Million.
Meaning the million-dollar house, a far-flung fantasy for virtually everyone
alive in Southern California, not to mention the whole world, will now
cost you 10 million dollars. Who did they write this article for? The
four people in the market for a $10 million fixer-upper? Or the eight
million salaried breadwinners who know that if they scrimp and save for
decades and maybe, just maybe, become the millionaire next door, theyll
still be nine million short.
What about a new is the new adage, one that demeans status,
privilege, and money? Modesty is the new vanity.
Don't forget to read Road to Qatar
by Allen Rucker
.... ABILITY Magazine