Spurlock’s “30 Days in a Wheelchair”: A curmudgeonly synopsis (or two)

Healthy former quarterback Ray Crockett spends 30 days playing a can’t-walk game. Morgan Spurlock doesn’t put it that way, however. He asks, “Will he be able to convert from quarterback to handicapped?”

“Even though it’s in our headlines, how much do us able-bodied people really know about the day-to-day lives of those in wheelchairs? We’ll find out when an NFL star gets a first-hand look at an athlete’s worst fear: by living in a wheelchair for the next 30 days.”

You may be able to access the show here, if you’re in the USA.

The rules are outlined:

“For the next 30 days, Ray will have to roll with these three rules:

First, he’ll be confined to a wheelchair. He won’t be using his legs at all. To avoid permanent side effects, he’ll get to stretch them once a day.

Second: Ray might have endured 14 punishing years in the NFL, but that’s nothing compared to 30 days in a wheelchair rugby game.

And third: Ray will be tagging along with patients at a local spinal cord rehabilitation programme.”

Ray visits a spinal surgeon, chats with a woman 2 months after her cervical cord injury, then they present him with a manual wheelchair. An OT shows him how to transfer to a bed or car, and out of the hospital he rolls.

No effort is made to simulate spinal surgery, urinary catheterisation, bowel management, incontinence, spasms, bedsores, recurrent infections, chronic pain, thromboembolism, autonomic dysreflexia, sexual dysfunction, osteoporosis, or pneumonia. The Chair is the iconic symbol of disability. If you’re In A Chair, you are “experiencing” what it’s like to have a disability.

Throughout the show, Ray meets with people with spinal injuries in a support group, and Ray muses about whether or not he “could do that”. (Later in the show, he has the startling insight that in their position he “wouldn’t have a choice”.) He spends a lot of time staring at PWD with a fixed, grave look that seems to be designed to blankly conceal his horror. Or maybe it’s supposed to be sympathy. I can’t tell.

They show him struggling to get into his home and being unable to access his toilet. His kids complain about not being able to play catch with him.

He has a large, luxurious house in an estate, and the first thing he says is that they’re going to have to make modifications. “I’ll be glad when you get your car retrofitted”, says his wife, exasperated by day three when she has to position the car such that the wheelchair can pull alongside it.

On day four, Ray spends fifty thousand dollars on widening doorways and installing ramps in his home. Ray nods to the fact that most people can’t afford this. Ten days in, he is learning how to drive with hand controls; the next shot cuts to his huge, magically-retrofitted SUV.

Throughout the show, they show him parking in disabled-permit parking. I really hope these were brief publicity shots only.

About halfway through, the show takes a turn into shallow supercrip optimism, as Ray has his predictable epiphanies.

Ray dabbles in wheelchair rugby. Of course, he gets his arse kicked. Those guys are hard. Ray gushes that this is the moment that he started to realise that people with spinal injuries might have some possibilities in their life. Throughout the show, he refers to people with disabilities as “these people”.

The Ray-show cuts incongruously to Morgan Spurlock challenging an Olympian athlete with one leg to a 100 m run, saying that he “ran a little track” in school. Spurlock loses, of course. What was the point of this segment? Spurlock screen time? A patronising lecture on how athletes with disabilities are really real athletes?

Matt, Ray’s new Quad Friend (shades of Colbert), who is pretty cool, takes him to a firing range. Ray’s response:

“I would never have imagined a quad going to a gun range. But just seeing Matt actually handle a gun and start shooting is another example of Matt saying, ‘I can do anything I want to do.’ “

Boggle.

Ray goes out to lunch with a couple of people with quadriplegia, and they talk about how most of their friends dropped them when they were injured. There is the obligatory sex conversation, wound up with an allusion to “little blue pills”.

On day 30, he leaps out of the chair and has a debriefing conversation with Matt, who talks about how important it is for PWD to think positive. “If you want to succeed, you cannot be a negative influence on anyone, or be depressed”, Matt tells him.

Ray shares with us his feelings about his emotional growth and how much the 30 days personally helped him. The biggest plus, for Ray? Suddenly, his life looks rosy in comparison.

Tl;dr:

“At first, I thought that if I ever had a spinal injury, I’d kill myself!

Then, I realised that people with disabilities are human after all.

Shit, am I glad to be out of that chair!”

Yeah, I really shouldn’t have expected “insightful” from Morgan Spurlock.



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10 replies

  1. Too bad if you’re not a supercrip, I guess. You might as well kill yourself now.
    Grrrrrrrr.

  2. Bugger me, they managed to make NZ reality TV look *decent*. Basically, there was a series on (Sunday afternoons, no less) where people had to spend a day (so, not a huge immersion, but still) living life as a person of another ethnicity/gender/age/with a disability.
    The “wheelchair episode”? Was a normal guy without the ability to renovate his entire house. And a random-timer-operated colostomy bag. It was not a bloody picnic.

  3. Mmm, Morgan Spurlock true to form.

  4. QoT: I think that’s the first time I’ve heard of such a program attempting in any way to simulate anything other than The Chair. I don’t suppose there’s a copy of it anywhere?
    Laura: There I was wondering if I was the only one. I did a websearch on this show after writing my review, and all I found was fawning “Spurlock is soooooo amaaaaaazing and groundbreaking” reviews.

  5. Too bad if you’re not a supercrip, I guess.

    Yes – with “supercrip” essentially defined as being able to fight and fuck (FVVO “fight”). There are a whole lot of unexplored masculinity issues in there.

  6. I would never have imagined a quad going to a gun range. But just seeing Matt actually handle a gun and start shooting is another example of Matt saying, ‘I can do anything I want to do.’

    Obviously we need more wheelchair-users to go on killing sprees.

  7. “If you want to succeed, you cannot be a negative influence on anyone, or be depressed”
    Well, I suppose that those of us who aren’t superhuman and feel things such as depression, negativity, et al don’t count, then.
    I’d like to watch this episode, but for some reason, I suspect that it will make me angry.

  8. Obviously we need more wheelchair-users to go on killing sprees.

    That’s the problem with laptops – you don’t owe me a new monitor, you owe me a whole new MacBook Pro.

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