I watched the new A & E show, “Born This Way” the other night. Since this blog is about creativity and disability, I thought I’d share just a couple of thoughts about it.
I don’t want to make any hasty judgments about the show since it has only aired one episode, but I was somewhat surprised at what they showed us about the lives of the young people featured. Obviously I don’t have Down syndrome, and I don’t know many people with it. I did support a young man with the disability for a short time, but of course, knowing one person with Down syndrome is not knowing all people with it.
I read this article and was surprised to learn that Bunim-Murray Productions was responsible for this show. I remember them first of all for The Simple Life with Nicole Richie and Paris Hilton. The article informed me that the company also produced MTV’s The Real World. I thought through the whole episode that it definitely had an MTV “feel,” so that made sense. (I actually had to check several times to make sure I was watching A & E.)
The abovementioned article made the comment that the young people in the show were treated much the same as other reality show participants, implying that this was a good thing. I agree that there seemed to be a lack of condescension and sentimentality that you normally find in shows that feature people with disabilities. These young people are no “inspiration porn.” In fact, some of them seem pretty kickass. My particular favorite out of the gate was Megan, who wants to move to Los Angeles to become a film producer.
One way this show was different from standard reality fare is that the parents were a focal point of the first episode. I think people could view this negatively, but when I saw someone make the point that parents of Down syndrome are typically very active in the community, I understood their inclusion more than I did when I first watched. (I know that when I supported the young man on his job and in certain activities, his parents were much more involved than I would normally expect parents of young adults with disabilities to be. It was an adjustment.) I’m really curious about whether the parents will continue to be that involved in the show in later episodes. At this point, there was a pretty decent mix of parents and adults featured.
I do agree that these young adults are “cream of the crop.” They don’t represent the entire Down syndrome community, anymore than shows like Push Girls represented the average young woman who used a wheelchair. I wonder how the viewing public would have viewed lower-functioning individuals that struggle to do menial jobs like stocking shelves without supervision. It would have been a totally different show, that’s for sure.
I did learn something new and interesting. I had never heard of mosaic Down syndrome. It gave me something to Google and read more about, which is always good. I hope that this show leads to greater awareness and greater acceptance for people with disabilities. One day I hope that we’ll learn to be less afraid of the ones that we didn’t see on the show because they are out there too. Not on this show, but they are out there. They deserve awareness and acceptance too.