Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Controversy at the GIMP Media Image Awards

I had a very interesting night at the first annual Media Image Awards banquet sponsored by the Good Images in Media Project (GIMP). The purpose of the ceremony is to promote positive images of cripples in American pop culture by honoring the work of crippled actors who appeared in movies and on television in the previous year.

The atmosphere was quite festive in the Wolverine Room at the La Quinta Inn, where the GIMP gala was held. The cold cuts buffet was sumptuous. But apparently not a whole lot of crippled actors appeared in movies or on television last year because there were only two award categories: best actor in a lead role and best actress in a lead role. I was disappointed that there weren’t more categories but that’s okay. You have to start somewhere.

And the winner for best lead actor was the old guy who rides happily around in a three-wheeled scooter in that commercial for three-wheeled scooters. In fact, the old guy was the only nominee. But that’s okay. You have to start somewhere. But as the old guy gave his acceptance speech he was interrupted by a protester. The protester was a younger guy in a wheelchair who rolled up to the stage and read aloud from what sounded like some sort of manifesto. He was resoundingly booed and hotel security wrestled him away so I couldn’t make out what he was saying very well. But he must have been one of those crippled actors who has a hard time getting roles because it sounded like he was pissed off that an old guy with just a bum knee got cast instead of a younger genuine paraplegic like him. The disgruntled crippled actor had a point but hey, we’ve gotta face facts. Anyone trying to sell three-wheeled scooters on commercial television isn’t going to cast anybody under age 70 in the role of guy riding happily around in a three-wheeled scooter. Seeing a young person in a three-wheeled scooter scares the average viewers. It shoves their vulnerability in their faces. It reminds them that anything can happen to any sturdy young person at any moment that might suddenly turn them into a cripple in need of a three-wheeled scooter. But seeing an old person in a three-wheeled scooter isn’t as much of a shock to the system. There’s a reassuring detachment in that dynamic because nothing can happen to a sturdy young person that might suddenly make them 70 years old.

The award for best lead actress went to the blind woman in the commercial for a drug to treat Non-24, which is a trendy new disorder that supposedly keeps blind people awake at night. She also was the only nominee in the category. And as she delivered her speech some blind people who were sitting at a round table in the corner stood and heckled her. They called her a fraud. They said she was a sighted person pretending to be blind. The blind hecklers were also booed as they were wrestled away by hotel security.

But it turns out the angry blind mob was right. Because a few days later GIMP issued a statement confirming that the award-winning actress did indeed have 20/20 vision. However, the statement went on to say, the producers of the commercial, to their credit, tried their best to cast a blind person. They auditioned dozens of blind people for the role but couldn’t find one they felt convincingly portrayed a blind person.

I guess that’s okay. You have to start somewhere.