Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Gluten in the News: Disney's Jessie

Disney messed up. They messed up big time in my opinion. At this point, this story is old news, but if you haven't heard, Disney airs a show called Jessie where they included a few scenes of a child who was on a gluten-free diet being bullied. There has been outrage from both sides. The parents of children with Celiac Disease are outraged that Disney would condone bullying of someone who essentially has a food allergy, and those unfamiliar with the gluten-free diet say that parents are being to thin skinned, and it was just a joke.

I get jokes. I like jokes. I understand when jokes are appropriate. I've been searching my brain for the best example that would help those unfamiliar with the gluten-free diet understand why people are upset. What I came up with would be a paraplegic child in a wheelchair who does not have use of their legs. It's not the perfect example, but it makes sense to me.

In my metaphor, the legs are the reaction to gluten, and the wheelchair is the gluten-free diet. There were two scenes that I saw where the child was being teased. First some background on the show from someone who has seen only a few episodes (not by choice) and done minimal research about the show. The show revolves around Jessie who is a young adult who moved from Texas to New York to pursue her dream of being a singer. She somehow ended up being a nanny for four very well-to-do children (some are adopted). The parents are rarely present, so she is their main care-taker as far as I understand. They live in what seemed to me to be a hotel, but it may have been an apartment building.

In the first scene, there is another child named Stuart who was there to eat breakfast. When their butler offers him the pancakes, he asks if they are gluten-free. The butler responds with a snide response (I think he said "They're glue-free, isn't that close enough?") which everyone laughs at. Jessie explains that Stuart has a few minor dietary requirements, and the list is five pages long.

In the second scene, one of the children throws pancakes at Stuart, so he yells out "aaaaah! Gluten!" Of course everyone laughs.

Back to my metaphor. How would people respond if Stuart were in a wheelchair and he needed to use that wheelchair to get someplace that was not wheelchair accessible and all of the children laughed at him? How would people respond if later on, those same children dumped Stuart out of his wheelchair and everyone laughed? Not the same thing? I think it is.

In the first scene, the children laugh at him because he can't do what they are doing--eating pancakes. He cannot eat pancakes because he will likely suffer from horrible gastrointestinal distress. It's unknown if he actually has Celiac Disease, but it is my opinion that those who have Celiac Disease do not have the choice as to whether or not they will eat gluten. They simply can't do it just like someone in a wheelchair cannot walk. I'll admit that is where my metaphor is the most imperfect, but I'm sure you're following what I mean by it. Bottom line: the children laughed at him because he is different and has a condition that cannot be changed by choice, nor did he choose that condition

In the second scene, they throw pancakes at him. I'm fully aware that in most cases, gluten needs to be ingested to cause a easy would it be to get crumbs from the pancake in your mouth as they are throwing them at your face? Also, some people do have skin reactions although I'm unfamiliar as to how exactly it works as I do not have topical reactions. The example of someone throwing peanuts at someone with a peanut allergy has been used multiple times, but the issue with that is many people still don't understand the severity of a peanut allergy. Hence my wheelchair example. Would the writers from that show have ever even considered writing a scene where the children dump a child out of a wheelchair?

I really hope not.

I'm really glad Disney chose to pull the episode before it actually aired. From what I read, they generally put new episodes on Video On Demand the week before the show is set to air on the Disney Channel. A mother of two children with Celiac Disease, Amy Raslevich, started a petition at after her children viewed the episode and became very upset. It is unknown if it was specifically the petition or the reaction overall that caused the show to be pulled, but they pulled it, choosing to air a re-run in it's place.

I don't know that I would be having the same reaction if this were a show centered around adult. I personally think we have a large enough bullying problem, that we don't need kids channels showing children that it's ok and funny to bully someone. Disagree with me if you choose, I firmly believe this is bullying rather than simple teasing.

It proves how self-centered people are if I'm right, but I'm hoping that some of the reaction from the other side of this issue stems from people being upset that they didn't get to see a new episode of their favorite show when they were expecting to see one. Now, rather than learning something positive about the gluten-free diet, they are condemning all those that are on it because they lost something so incredibly important as a new episode of a show because all of us gluten-free folks are being ridiculously insensitive (please note my sarcasm).

I love that the gluten-free community is so strong that we are able to right some wrongs when we come together (as in the show was pulled). I hope that something good comes out of this, but I'm not quite sure what that is yet. My fear is that this situation has further divided the gluten-free community from everyone else due to additional misinformation being spread.

If you would like to read more about this than my opinions, here are some links:

Gluten Dude (includes video of the two scenes)

CBS News:

Huffington Post:

Google is your friend if you want additional info and don't like these news sources. I apologize I did not have time to find better ones.

And just so you have an idea of why this is such a two-sided issue, here are two comments found on an article about this topic:

  • Seriously, are we so PC now we can’t even make an effing joke about gluten intolerance on a Dinsey channel show? This is unbelievable. People need to lighten up, for chrissakes. It’s a JOKE. Who cares?!
    Comment by Jack Tor s
  • Jack Tor, I would think the kid who is gluten intolerant or celiac and feels belittled and marginalized would care.

    One more thing. This isn't something that has never happened with Disney before. I don't have a lot of details, but there was supposed to be an episode of Hannah Montana where a diabetic child was being made fun of for not being able to consume sugar. The exact same thing happened with the show being pulled before it actually aired. In that situation, they reshot some of the scenes and changed the title of the show because it specifically referred to "sugar."

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