Saturday, August 28, 2010

National Down Syndrome Congress blasts Emmy organizers for nominating Family Guy's "Down syndrome girl" song

From CBC News in Canada:

The National Down Syndrome Congress of the U.S. is taking Emmy organizers to task for nominating the song Down Syndrome Girl for an award for outstanding original music and lyrics.

The song was sung by baby Stewie on the satirical animated show Family Guy in an episode broadcast in February.

There was outrage when the episode was shown, and Down syndrome advocates became more concerned after the song picked up still more viewers on YouTube. The Emmy nomination added to the insult.

"It goes through a litany of stereotypes that people with Down syndrome have been fighting for years, and so self-advocates stood up and said 'we've had enough,'" Carol Bishop Mills, a member of the board of the National Down Syndrome Congress, said August 27 in an interview with CBC's Q cultural affairs show.

Bishop Mills said self-advocates — adults with Down syndrome who are spokesmen for her organization — are embarrassed and upset about the song.

"When you are talking about the audience for Family Guy you are talking about teenage and young adult men — that's the group it's targeted to," she said. "They found this material absolutely hilarious."

Viewers have taken to referring to the lyrics of the song in schools and the workplace, where they rub shoulders with people with Down syndrome, she said.

Certain subjects should be "off limits," even to a show like Family Guy that makes fun of everything, Bishop Mills said.

"With race, sexual orientation and disability, you are talking people's core identity — things that are unchangeable," she said. "What do we get out of making fun of things that people cannot change, other than degrading them and making them feel they are not part of society."

The National Down Syndrome Congress has written to the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences to protest against the Emmy nomination and to ask that the song not be performed during the Emmy Awards show August 29.

Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor who is mother to a Down syndrome child, objected to the song at the time it came out.

But opinion about Down Syndrome Girl is divided, even among people with a personal interest in the subject.

Andrea Fay Friedman, who has Down syndrome and who was the voice actor for the Family Guy character, has defended her role. She pointed out she played a strong, bossy girl who was capable of handling the character Chris, who has fallen for her.

Gail Williamson, a spokeswoman for the Down Syndrome Association of Los Angeles, told CBC some advocates are glad to be included in Family Guy's humour.

"By being included and, as everyone is in Family Guy, being made fun of, some people feel it's being inclusive," she said. "It's including people with Down syndrome in the programming."

But Bishop Mills said there are much better ways to include Down syndrome people on TV, citing Glee, which has two such characters.

"We live in America and we do have the right to say whatever we want to and I would never argue against First Amendment rights," she said. "But I think it's important when we are putting millions of dollars into entertainment, as responsible viewers we also have the ability to say 'where do we want those dollars to go.'"

Bishop Mills said she would be very disappointed if Down Syndrome Girl wins an Emmy on August 29.

Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane has defended the show as an "equal opportunity offender" and said the Down syndrome character may return in later episodes.