Disclaimer: I am not representative of those who are or are allies for Down’s Syndrome persons. This is mostly the opinion of a Family Guy viewer who saw a lack of coverage on the Internet about something that is important to me, which is: equal opportunities for everyone, and support for those who are not given such opportunities.
So, there’s been a lot of controversy (if that is how we describe wounded shouting these days) about Family Guy’s Season 8, Episode 12 musical number “Down’s Syndrome Girl.” For the uninitiated:
Is your toe tapping? Good! Do you feel your cheeks burning a little? Why is that? Do you feel like there is something to be ashamed about when making a comedic song about getting ready for a date with a girl who happens to have Down’s Syndrome? I don’t think you need to be embarrassed about it. Why?
Well, for a multitude of reasons.
Let’s start with everyone’s favorite reason: Andrea Fay Friedman, the voice actress for Ellen in this episode of Family Guy, specifically stated her support for the show’s portrayal of her character. Her response to Sarah Palin’s poor reaction was quite igniting in the news and blogging world. My favorite line from the HuffPost article? “My mother did not carry me around under her arm like a loaf of French bread the way former Governor Palin carries her son Trig around looking for sympathy and votes.” And…ouch!
Reason two: have you listened to the lyrics for the song? Nothing in them makes Down’s Syndrome itself a joke. It pokes fun at particular traits that might be exhibited by a person with Down’s Syndrome. It’s a fine line, but Family Guy treaded it thoughtfully. And it’s a line that not everyone can see. It’s like the difference between telling someone They Are funny, and Things They Do are funny. Sloppily handling the Line makes the difference between a thought-provoking and enjoyable discussion and a cringeworthy, poorly executed excuse for comedic commentary. It also makes the difference between an observation and an attack. Family Guy, to my personal understanding, has made an opening for critical and open-minded discussion with the production of this episode. They did not simply use Down’s Syndrome as a launch-point for some painful “comedy.”
So, what sort of Down’s Syndrome-themed news should make us feel crappy? Try this: Down’s Syndrome Pakistani Girl Accused of Blasphemy. Want to know why? Because she is a victim of an unfair patriarchal theocracy. It doesn’t innately matter that she has Down’s Syndrome. What does matter is the likelihood that her physical appearance and cognitive ability may have painted her as a target for religious and political persecution. This is wrong. This is sickening. This is inhumane.
On the flip-side: how are people helping our fellow humans? Well, we’ve got a company called Downs Designs, which makes clothing specifically sized and cut with the more typical body shapes of Down’s Syndrome persons. The concept of specialty stores making appropriately tailored items is not new. Tying back to the community I am more familiar with: many transgender persons have notable difficulty finding clothing that looks good and fits flatteringly on a body shape that was not necessarily in mind. F-to-M dudes usually have trouble finding pants that don’t slip down, and that don’t accentuate the hips in a counter-productive manner. M-to-F ladies often have the MOST HELLISH time finding cute, feminine shoes that come in sizes big enough. It’s not so different that Down’s Syndrome persons have their own needs for looser-fitting necklines and specifically tapered jeans.
To go an even more fashionable route, we’ve got 10-month-old Valentina modelling Spanish designer Dolores Cortez’s 2013 kids’ collection. AND, Cortez is donate 10% of profits from the fashion line to the Down Syndrome Association of Miami. Here’s a photo of the cutie, to send you on your way: