08 February, 2011

Oh wow US Skins, but...fuck you!

Cassie from UK Skins sitting outside wearing an awesome jacket
WE LOSE. (Actually I lose every time I remember that I don't look like Hannah Murray.)

The American Skins remake is pretty bad, but the last episode was all right. If I saw it on its own I probably wouldn't think it was that bad. However, since I'm familiar with the original Skins the episode illustrated something that I think is problematic about portrayals of the less visible mind disabilities (say psychiatric disabilities, learning disabilities, and verbal autism) on TV and in movies. As I see it, it can go two ways.

1. the person has a very obvious disability, correctly diagnosed by professionals who give the person exactly the right kind of help. Very medical model--the disability is the problem. Everyone else (parents, friends, etc.) wants to help and is super helpful all the time. Usually this character appears in a Lifetime movie or is a minor/guest character.

2. the person is diagnosed with a disability and given treatment by professionals who seem kind of incompetent. It seems like parents, friends, etc. are treating the person in an overprotective or disrespectful way because of the diagnosis. Maybe the person gets put on meds that have some bad effects. Amanda gets excited--is this a three-dimensional, realistic portrayal of disability? Probably not. The person, it's implied, doesn't really have a disability at all. Their parents are just overprotective.

(I won't go into the implications of this dichotomy but I think something similar is explored in the FWD/Forward posts about TV shows, movies, and books, where people without psychiatric disabilities end up in institutions.)

This ubiquity of these two portrayals can be observed by reading recaps and discussion threads about my beloved Skins 3x07. To me, the issues in the episode are twofold: a)JJ has autism and can't handle some stuff that's going on, b)his mom, friends, and psychiatrist are all dicks. But I always see people talking about the episode this way:

"I feel so bad for JJ's mom, his condition has had a big effect on her. It's so sad that he has to take so much medication to control it. He's so lucky he has such nice friends! Emily was so nice to help JJ! It was great at the end of the episode when JJ's mom was happy because she saw how Emily was helping JJ become more normal and get better at socializing."

Or this way:

"JJ is starting to realize that he was misdiagnosed and shouldn't freak out about things because he's normal."

In Generation One, the one that's currently being remade in the US, there was a disabled main character too. Her name was Cassie and I have to make a Bad Brains Wearing Clothes post about her because she basically got me started wearing lipstick for the first time and she has perfect sunglasses and a perfect jacket and perfect hair. Cassie had anorexia and was suicidal, but she was also super cool and funny; and, as with JJ, she was surrounded by douchebags but this wasn't set up as being the reason she seemed disabled.

Cadie, the Cassie character in the American Skins remake, is probably the only character in the remake I especially like. Her episode wasn't that bad. But listen to this! She's not anorexic anymore. She's just on a bunch of medication and one of her doctors said she has OCD but it kind of seems like Cadie is faking it to get pills? And her mom is also a huge bitch who doesn't think anything Cadie does is okay, which could be how she ended up going to doctors in the first place. Basically, in the transfer from UK to US, Cassie has changed from a character who was actually disabled, but wasn't just disabled, to a character who might not be disabled at all.

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