I’ve written a post with my PR cap on. This time, I’m writing it with my media cap on since I have a ridiculous amount of media education.
I find it interesting whenever I see a character on television or in the movies who has an allergy, asthma or more rarely eczema. So, I’ve taken a quick look at some television allergics and atopics. I can’t say that I like what I see.
1. Being Erica – This show, about a time-travelling Toronto girl (in a very un-multicultural Toronto, might I add), had a lead character with a hazelnut allergy. She ends up in the ER in the first episode because she accepts a sample of coffee which turns out to have hazelnuts in it. Erica ate out, but never mentioned her allergy and she certainly didn’t carry an auto-injector around with her. It was just a lazy, plot device to make her life seem even worse. At least she wasn’t a stereotype like the following examples.
2. Big Bang Theory – I enjoy this show, though I don’t go out of my way to watch it. I get the shirts that Sheldon wears and I giggled girlishly when Neil deGrasse-Tyson made a guest appearance. What bugs me about this show is that allergies and eczema are seen as part and parcel of being a geek or nerd. Leonard has lactose-intolerance which makes for some boring fart jokes. Sheldon has eczema which is seen as part of his anal attitude. Wolowitz has a severe peanut allergy (and yet no auto-injector), which resulted in a very disturbing ER scene which was meant as a joke.
3. The Simpsons – Poor, gawky, geeky Milhouse carries around his blue puffer like an addict. Any little thing could set him off and he has to take a dose. On one episode, Bart steals Milhouse’s puffer to use like an oxygen tank. I won’t even bother trying to critique that one. On another episode, Bart develops a temporary eczema-like condition on his scalp and it just contributes to his transformation into a geek.
4. Buffy the Vampire Slayer – Geeky and a member of the wanna-be villainous Trio in the latter seasons, Jonathan is allergic to methane. My unscientific guess is that you can’t be allergic to methane, but a hyper-sensitive geek has to be allergic to something. I can’t even imagine how you’d test for that. Plus, depending on the parts per million, methane is a toxic gas. Therefore, it will kill anyone. Sorry Joss Whedon! I mostly love your stuff, but try again.
5. VEEP – White House employee and impossible to like Jonah is fructose-intolerant. No, it’s not an allergy and yes, the condition does exist. Funny that the most annoying character has it. Not funny that the reaction from his co-workers is “Just when you thought he couldn’t get any weirder, he did” since allergic and atopic conditions don’t make one weird.
Whether or not you watch a lot of television everyone has an image of the coke-bottled little geek puffing away from his blue inhaler or a nasally-voiced child whining that he can’t eat peanuts, shellfish and a million other things that make him sound like the last person you’d want at your party. The kid with eczema is always just kinda gross.
Allergies and atopic conditions are becoming increasingly common and it would be nice if television writers could do their jobs and be creative and funny. Out-dated stereotypes as fodder for “humour” are boring and cheap. If writers can’t use their imagination to write funny yet responsible portrayals of people with allergies and atopy, best not to write them at all.
While my examples are shows geared towards older teens and adults, I don’t think it’s fair for this kind of ill-informed stigma to be placed on young children. These aren’t choices made in order to be difficult or to annoy people. No one would choose to have a life-threatening reaction to a Montreal-style bagel with cream cheese and lox; so, I cannot fathom how writers and some viewers are able to find humour in something that can cause pain, suffering and death.