Friday, September 4, 2009

Jerry's Angry Kids

We're coming up on another Labor Day, and another chance for Jerry Lewis to trot out his wheelchair-bound kids and put on his annual pity party.

And I have just put the feelings, into words, of those who aren't enamored with Lewis's annual telethons---which includes those afflicted with the very disease that Lewis aims to fund every September.

It came to light about a decade or so ago, when the folks who were advocates for those with Muscular Dystrophy began to look cross-eyed at Lewis and his telethons. He may have been well-meaning, they said, but his presentation ran counter-productive to what those advocates believed in---namely, that people with MD can lead lives with impact.

But Lewis didn't seem to understand that notion. Never one to be accused of subtlety, Jerry Lewis unsurprisingly went the maudlin route, and portrayed the kids with MD as being "half" of everyone else, due to their disability.


Jerry Lewis, with one of those whose type he's described as being "half a person"


That approach may have been better accepted in the 1970s and '80s, but as years went on and attitudes changed about people with disabilities and with debilitating illnesses---not the least of which involved focusing on what they could do instead of what they couldn't do---Lewis's annual TV show became more of an albatross for the MD advocates than a shot in the arm.

"Jerry's Kids" was what those afflicted were called, and that was fine, until the term became simply a metaphor for "screwed."

No one says that having MD is one of the better hands that you could be dealt. But Lewis, according to the people charged with bringing a positive outlook to the party, went above and beyond in drilling into our skulls that those with the disease were to be pitied, instead of boosted.

It made for a strange dynamic---because the people who took issue with Lewis nonetheless were appreciative of the money he was able to raise via the telethon. So they kind of felt stuck between a rock and a hard place.

But as the 21st century dawned, more and more advocates of MD victims became less and less shy to state their displeasure with Mr. Lewis and his archaic portrayal of those afflicted.

It was embarrassing to them. Made them uncomfortable. They feared it made the entire movement look pathetic.

Of course, none of that stopped Lewis from trotting on to the stage every Labor Day, shepherding the call for pledges.

Even Lewis's refusal to fully disclose why he chose MD as his cause, and why he put on the telethons to begin with---which was for a time looked at as being rather charming---became another sore point.

The bottom line: people with MD are sick of the way Jerry Lewis has been portraying them on TV every Labor Day. Yet they take the money he raises.

It's a strange dynamic, indeed.

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