Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Disability in Breaking Bad

Don't forget to sign up for Blogging Against Disablism Day

It's a very rare thing where a television show or film handles disability in a way I cannot fault. It's also much easier to blog about what's wrong with something, than what's right, but here, I have to do it.

There are very many things to recommend Breaking Bad (at least in its first two seasons), an American television series charting the moral downfall of a indebted high school chemistry teacher, Walt, who is diagnosed with lung cancer. Wishing to leave his family something after his death, he decides to team up with a former student in the manufacture of Crystal Meth.

Walt's teenage son, Walter Junior, has Cerebral Palsy. The character is played by a gorgeous young man called R J Mitte who is not just cute, but proper teenage heart-throb material who has apparently been romantically linked with Miley Cyrus. And guess what? The guy actually has CP. He crips it up a wee bit, but his performance completely outshines attempts by the likes of Daniel Day-Lewis or those young men from Inside I'm Dancing to portray the condition. It's so realistic! It's almost as good as S. Robert Morgan's impression of being both blind and black as Butchie in The Wire. .

Walter Junior's CP is not entirely incidental to plot. When the senior Walt describes the dire situation his family is in, he does mention his son with Cerebral Palsy. When Walter Junior is mocked by young men in a clothes shop, Walt's response demonstrates his hidden capacity for aggression in protection of his family. But otherwise, his family attempt to ignore or even downplay his condition. At one point, his uncle explains the boy's crutches as being for a football injury. During a driving lesson, Walt senior pressures him into using one foot for the clutch and brake pedals, leading an exasperated Walter Junior to explain, "My legs just don't work that way."

However, the CP is incidental to character. Walter Junior is a loving but gently rebellious teenager. In fact, regardless of disability, this is an unusually realistic portrayal of the kind of teenage boys I grew up around - neither the non-communicative, sexually-frustrated creature, teetering on the edge of criminal aggression, nor the sweet, responsible and ever reliable young man of parents' dreams. Walter Junior tries to buy alcohol under age and rejects his father's name in preference for the handle Flynn, but he loves his parents, eventually setting up a website to raise money for his father's cancer treatment.

As I mentioned before, Walt (played by Bryan Cranston - the dad from Malcolm in the Middle) has lung cancer. I have no idea how realistically the cancer itself is portrayed - knowing the wide variety of ways and severity cancer manifests itself, I'm guessing it would fit someone's experience, although so far, he just coughs a lot when he gets upset. What I do know is the reactions of family and friends to his cancer are powerfully realistic - the way that a person who had received a diagnosis can be several steps of reasoning ahead of those who love him, with a completely different gauge of what might be worth gambling or sacrificing in the hope of more time or an improvement in health. The way that, depending on what decisions someone makes about treatment, they may be hailed as a hero or condemned as a coward - and often in the space of the same conversation.

Walt is not a sympathetic character. His family will be poorer once he dies, but you're not sure that they're going to be worse off in any other respects. Walt's motives for cooking meth are changeable and inconsistent and he allows his wife to worry about his absences and suspicious behaviour. Most of all, I think, Walt's response to his illness is one of cold constructive anger and that's something you rarely see in drama. You see sick people having a tantrum about it, but that's not really them, and it's entirely forgivable. You see sick people becoming bitter about their illness and pushing everyone away. But you don't often see sick people sustaining anger about their illness and using that anger constructively.

I'm not especially pleased with this post. I've hardly told you a thing about Breaking Bad, which is a fantastic show and one which I partly regret having begun to watch before I could access every season right up to the end. However, it's so rare that a show handles disability so well, on top of everything else, that it is worth singing its praises.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Blogging Against Disablism Day will be on 1st May, 2012

Blogging Against Disablism 2012 is now underway. Please click here for this year's event.

Blogging Against Disablism Day, May 1st 2012
The seventh annual Blogging Against Disablism day will be on Tuesday, 1st May. This is the day where all around the world, disabled and non-disabled people blog about their experiences, observations and thoughts about disability discrimination. In this way, we hope to raise awareness of inequality, promote equality and celebrate the progress we've made.

How to take part.

1. Post a comment below to say you intend to join in. I will then add you to the list of participants on the sidebar of this blog. Everyone is welcome.

2. Spread the word by linking to this site, displaying our banner and/ or telling everyone about it on blogs, newsgroups, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and so on. The entire success of Blogging Against Disablism Day depends entirely on bloggers and readers telling other bloggers and readers in advance.

3. Write a post on the subject of disability discrimination, disablism or ableism and publish it on May 1st - or as close as you are able. Podcasts, videocasts and on-line art are also welcome. You can cover any subject, specific or general, personal, social or political. In the previous six BADD, folks have written about all manner of subjects, from discrimination in education and employment, through health care, parenting, family life and relationships, as well as the interaction of disablism with racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination. Every year I have been asked, so it's worth saying; the discrimination experienced by people with mental ill health is disablism, so naturally posts about that are welcome too.

You can see the archives for previous years here: 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011.

Blogging Against Disablism Day is not a carnival of previously published material. The point about doing this around one day (or there abouts) is that it is a communal effort and all the posts connect to one another. You can of course use your own post to promote other things you've written in the past as you wish.

4. Come back here to Diary of a Goldfish on the day to let everyone know that you've posted and to check out what other people have written. I shall post links to everyone's posts (slowly) throughout the day, creating an archive. However, I do need you to comment and leave the URL of your post or else I shan't find your post and won't be able to link to it.

This year, we have a Twitter account @BADDtweets, where there will be tweets about posts and updates to the archive during the day.


Naturally, Blogging Against Disablism Day invites contributions from people with all variety of impairments and none at all. You are welcome to contribute with podcasts, video-blogging or anything else that allows you to take part. And whilst May 1st is when this all takes place, nobody who happens to have a bad day that Tuesday is going to be left out of the archive.

If anyone has any questions about web accessibility, I recommend the Accessify Forum. I am not an expert on web accessibility myself, so if there are any suggestions about how I can make this day more accessible, please e-mail me at diaryofagoldfish at

The Linguistic Amnesty

Whilst discussions about language and the way it can be used to oppress or empower us are more than welcome, please respect the language that people use, particularly to describe themselves in their own contributions. We all have personal preferences, there are cultural variations and different political positions which affect the language we use. Meanwhile, non-disabled contributors can become nervous about using the most appropriate language to use, so please cut everyone as much slack as possible on the day.

At the same time, do not feel you have to use the same language that I do, even to talk about "disablism". If you prefer to blog against disability discrimination, ableism or blog for disability equality, then feel free to do so.

In 2008 I wrote a basic guide to the Language of Disability which I hope might explain some of the thinking behind the different language disabled people prefer to use about themselves.

Links & Banners

To link back to this post, simply copy and paste the following code:

These banners have seemed popular over the last couple of years and I am yet to think of anything better. If anyone fancies editing these images or coming up with something new, then please do so. You are free to use and mess with these as you like, so long as you use them in support of Blogging Against Disablism Day. If you already have the banner, you just need to change the URL that it links to from last year's BADD. Otherwise, you simply need to copy the contents of one of these boxes and paste it on your blog, in a post or on the sidebar as you like. The banners come in two colour combinations and two sizes. The sizes are a 206 pixels square or 150 x 200 pixels.

Blogging Against Disablism Day, May 1st 2012This is the black and white banner which reads "Blogging Against Disablism". Here's the code for the square one:

And here's the code for the narrower one (which can be seen here):

Blogging Against Disablism Day, May 1st 2012This is the colourful banner which reads "Blogging Against Disablism". This is the code for the square one:

And here's the code for the narrower one (which can be seen here):

Please leave a (comment including the URL of your blog) to let everyone know you are joining in and I shall add a link to you on the sidebar. Also, if you have any questions, please ask.