I was not going to spend my Friday night thinking about the scariest moments of my life. But this is what happened when I turned on my TV and played on a Netflix episode Ginny & Georgia and heard a ‘joke’ about attacks.
In the third installment of the new program, Ginny’s friend Max Baker (played by Sara Waisglass) recounts her crush after an awkward moment: ‘Seriously, don’ t worry about this. I’m probably just drunk, or sour, or an attack or something. Seriously, this is not a big deal. ‘
I was immediately incensed about this line. Just a few moments before, I was in a relaxed mood, a glass of wine in hand and cozy under a blanket. But now my blood was boiling, and my mind was turning to the feelings of horror I was experiencing after having seizures. For as someone who has ever had an attack will tell you: it is no laughing matter.
I have epilepsy and have been living with the condition since I was 16 years old. Since the diagnosis so many years ago, it is very frustrating and disturbing that we still get ‘jokes’ about attacks on the screen. Ablastic jokes on TV and movies are absolutely not without consequences, and they are not harmless – they feed into a culture of dehumanization that portrays people with disabilities and neurodivergent people as less than human and who deserve less respect.
Ableistic jokes on TV and movies are absolutely not without consequences.
What amazes me about these so-called ‘jokes’ is just how funny attacks are. The onset of seizures is painful and traumatic. When I wake up after one, my tongue is cut, bleeding and bruising after my teeth are clenched on it. For a week after that, it feels like every muscle in my body is sore and like I have a marathon. In the immediate aftermath, I am panicking and confused with no short-term memory and no recollection of the events that preceded my loss of consciousness.
There is a humiliation that accompanies the loss of consciousness in public places and that hordes of staring strangers gather around you and pronounce your name as if you have to recognize the face of the person saying it. At university, I lost consciousness at the most unfavorable moments. I once fell down stairs in the middle of my residence’s dining hall and had an attack when I reached the bottom. When I was about to have sex with someone, I walked dead and ended up naked on his bathroom floor with paramedics around me. I broke my nose in a strange land that got an attack in a hotel bathroom. I woke up in a pool of blood, not knowing where it was coming from or what had happened to me. So, when I hear someone bring this neurological event to light, do I struggle to see what can be so hilarious about being in pain, feeling scared and afraid that you are going to die? If this is your idea of a joke, God help you.
Ginny & Georgia has been criticized for other reasons, except for this capable ‘joke’. One scene in which Ginny and Hunter argued over their racial identity was criticized for perpetuating racial stereotypes. Taylor Swift and her fans recently made the program a ‘lazy, deeply sexist joke’ about the music star. ‘Shark Ginny & Georgia, 2010 and he wants his lazy, deeply sexist joke back. How about we stop humiliating hardworking women by defining this horse shit as FuNnY, ” with a screenshot of the offending line.
Hey Ginny & Georgia, 2010 and he wants to give back his lazy, deeply sexist joke. How are we going to stop humiliating hardworking women by defining this horse shit as FuNnY? Also, @netflix to Miss Americana this outfit does not look cute to you 💔 Happy Women’s History Month I think pic.twitter.com/2X0jEOXIWp
Taylor Swift (@ taylorswift13) March 1, 2021
I’m not saying that teenage characters in TV shows and movies may allow faint, ill-informed jokes. There are many examples in this show and in others where an ignorant comment becomes a teachable moment for the character – and the viewers – when another character corrects it. Yes, we can warn that Max is a character who apparently says the first thing in her head without fully thinking it through, but equating a seizure with drunkenness or acid is simply insulting, not to mention of inaccurate. I truly believe that TV writers have a responsibility to weigh the broader implications of commentary like this – does this line feed on harmful stereotypes about a neurological condition that has been mocked and vilified for centuries? Does the commentary serve meaningfully on the narrative, perhaps by providing the opportunity to educate a character and the audience at home?
OilGasJobz has reached out to Netflix for comment and will update this piece when we hear it.
TV and movie footage people with disabilities and neurodivergent people still have a long way to go when it comes to tackling harmful stereotypes and competent ideas. It would be great to see TV writers consider how ways of people with disabilities on screen can have a greater impact on society. It would also be great to see more TV shows and movies that show the positive aspects of people with disabilities, whether it means showing these characters in romantic and sexual relationships, which the desexualization of people with disabilities – or simply do not portray people with epilepsy as comic devices in a sentence. (While I’m here, the word ‘epileptic’ is good to use before the word ‘seizure’, but inappropriate when referring to people with epilepsy. The proper term is “person with epilepsy.”) It is noteworthy that seizures affect not only people with epilepsy but also people with diabetes, people with autoimmune disorders, as well as people with brain infections or head injuries.
These jokes drive the stigma of epilepsy that continues today. Chantal Spittles, from charity Epilepsy action, commented on the Ginny & Georgia episode in a statement emailed to OilGasJobz. ‘We were shocked when we heard the insensitive language after attacks in an episode of Ginny & Georgia“said Spittles.” For people with epilepsy, it is not a lifestyle choice. They can often deal with the physical and emotional challenge of attacks, as well as fight the negative attitude of the public about their condition. By relieving seizures, this show feeds harmful stigma that people with epilepsy experience daily. Spittles added that many people with epilepsy are afraid to talk about it with employers, colleagues, family and even friends for fear of shame or discrimination. ‘Epilepsy Action works hard to challenge the prejudices and misconceptions surrounding epilepsy and help more people understand it. Epilepsy is not a laughing matter for people with the condition. They deserve to be treated with respect and understanding, ‘Spittles added.
A 2019 study conducted by Epilepsy Action and Bangor University found that stigma and stereotypes surrounding the condition persist. 10 percent of the people surveyed had a negative attitude toward people with epilepsy, and 1 percent had a very negative attitude. A quarter of the people surveyed said they would be afraid to be alone with someone with epilepsy, while just under a quarter said they would feel nervous because they were alone with them and that the person can get an attack.
I’m not asking that TV shows are perfect, but language really does matter …
The stigma of epilepsy and ability in which I grew up scared me into openly acknowledging my own condition. When I was first diagnosed after having an unexplained attack, I angrily refused to accept the diagnosis. As I sat in the neurologist’s office, tears streaming down my face, my first response was not “how will my life change now that I have this condition?” but instead, “people are going to mock me at school.” I had an integrated ability to grow up in a culture that constantly degrades and degrades people with disabilities and neurodiverse people. I went to school to make jokes at the expense of people with epilepsy. When I grow up, I hear things like, ‘Mate, you look like a fucker’eppy” or ‘What are you doing? It looks like you have some kind of fit. ‘But this denial has had consequences for me in the real world. When I turned down the diagnosis, I turned down medication that would keep my condition under control, and for the next few years my life had many seizures – many of which resulted in hospital stays and my stress. caused anxiety and pain.
Off-screen, these comments are also fairly common. Friends who are aware of my condition have made comfortable remarks about attacks in front of me, and sometimes a few seconds too late to realize that they have just cracked a scratch joke in front of someone that will undoubtedly offend them. In the past, I minimized my own annoyance at that moment by prioritizing others’ feelings over my own and laughing it off because I did not want to be difficult. The truth is that it really hurts.
I’m not asking that TV shows have to be perfect, but language really does matter, especially when it’s marginalized communities. Ginny & GeorgiaThe written remark is not harmless – it stimulates the stigmatization of people with epilepsy, which can make life with this condition so much more difficult.
Next time you want to make a joke about an attack, just think for a moment about the reality of it. Because I can assure you, this is the least funny thing I’ve ever experienced.