I Wish Bones had Killed Off Dr. Jack Hodgins

This post contains spoilers for this season of the FOX series Bones, it also discusses plot points from past seasons.

 

In the last episode of Bones before the series went on an extended midseason (The Doom in the Boom) hiatus Dr. Jack Hodgins and FBI Special Agent James Aubrey were caught in an explosion leaving Aubrey (who shielded Hodgins from the explosion) seriously wounded and Hodgins apparently unscathed.

In what I’m sure the writers saw as a twist but I saw coming immediately Aubrey makes a full recovery, to the point of fulfilling that overdone macho trope of returning to work well before anyone who had actually survive an explosion and hours of life saving surgery would have been able to. As the episode appeared to be winding down Hodgins collapses and is hospitalized in critical condition from an unnoticed complication from the explosion. It is left unclear whether he will die or be left paralyzed.

I saw this coming a mile off and was left hoping that Jack Hodgins would die. Not because I dislike the character but because I knew that the alternative would inevitably lead to cripicature. Where nondisabled actors (like Hodgins actor TJ Thyne) pretend to be disabled. This tends to come along with deeply inaccurate portrayals of disability and a reliance on tired and harmful media stereotypes about disability. Better he die than live and perpetuate those stereotypes.

Fast forward to a couple weeks ago when the season finally resurfaced and as I feared, Jack Hodgins survived but is now paralyzed from the waist down, necessitating the use of a wheelchair. The series which is winding down (it will finish with one more shortened final season) and this development can end one of three ways; Hodgins, who is currently angry and pushing people away will use his anger as an excuse to exit the show, he will be miraculously cured (most likely by Dr. Temperance Brennan who will discover something anomalous that led to a misdiagnosis), or there will be a tale of overcoming where Hodgins stays disabled but somehow everything end up heartwarming.

The first option seems unlikely because they could have simply used the explosion to kill him off, though shows have avoided doing this to beloved exiting characters to spare the fans (though the show hasn’t shied away from this before, killing off both squintern Vincent Nigel Murray and FBI psychiatrist Lance Sweets). The other two are more likely, in both cases they are problematic.

The disabling of a previously nondisabled character is problematic generally and the case of Jack Hodgins is no different. It is clearly a plot device, originally to create a cliffhanger and now to create tension between Hodgins and basically everyone else. He started out in denial and has graduated to full on hostility. I’m not going to comment on the accuracy of the characterization of acquired disability, it’s not an experience that I share. I am going to say that it just feels horribly contrived and makes for a less than pleasant viewing experience (the fact that the latest episode had a generally cringeworthy plot didn’t help to offset this). The whole things play like unnecessarily fabricated drama. Which for disability representation is just harmful. Disability, when used solely as a plot device to ad tension is inevitably going to do nothing but play on old tropes and have nothing authentic to share.

So we are left with the two overly sentimental stereotypes, the miraculous cure and overcoming disability. The former is problematic for its complete lack of realism and subtle reinforcement of the idea that people who haven’t been cured just haven’t tried hard enough or explored enough options. Now, I will be the first to say that particularly in the realm of disability that doctors get prognoses wrong. People exceed medical expectations all the time. The problem with media miracle cures is not that they don’t happen in real life, it’s that they are almost inevitable. The disability disappears as soon as the tension it was scripted to create is no longer needed or because a cure will create more tension (consider the disablement and almost immediate cure of Felicity Smoak on CW’s Arrow). Cures on TV don’t resemble the medical improvements of everyday disability and are frequently just as much a plot device as the disablement was. Disability in television is never something that just is, in the same way that nondisability is. It always exists to further the plot or character development. Its presence or removal are never inconsequential.

Removal of disability in media is also almost always complete, it is rare to have a television character sustain longterm effects of an injury. Just look at how quickly Aubrey bounced back from being nearly killed in an explosion not to mention how often Boothe is injured on the job. At most you get the occasional offhand comment about back pain or a twinge but it ultimately never stops the character from getting into the next harrowing situation. Even nondisabled characters have an unrealistic level of able-bodiedness, free of the wear and tear of aging and physically demanding jobs.

The final option is that Hodgins will eventually have an epiphany and overcome his bitterness about being paralyzed. You know that is will be sudden because there aren’t enough episodes left in the season much less the series for a more natural and realistic coming to terms with/acceptance to take place.

If they go for the overcoming bitterness angle, my money’s on Hodgins realizing that life has value following something nearly killing either his wife Angela Montenegro or their son Michael Vincent because if you can’t use miracle cure as a plot device, nothing beats a newfound joy for life following a near tragic loss.

There is of course a fourth, though very unlikely option for Hodgins. He might simply remain bitter for the remainder of the series and we’ll watch his relationship with Angela implode. That however would make for horrible television so I don’t see it happening.

Bones is in its eleventh season now, so it’s hardly surprising that they are scraping the bottom of the barrel to inject tension into the show. So it is unsurprising that they’ve pulled the put someone in a wheelchair move but this is hardly the show’s first foray into problematic disability storylines. This even the first time it’s affected Angela and Hodgins.

First though, let’s talk about Seeley Boothe, a man so perfect that the show had to contrive a flaw for him or he would just be a good looking, deeply principled, crack shot with unbelievable physical stamina. In order to balance that out he was given a gambling addiction. It is only mentioned to either counterbalance his otherwise flawless perfection. Even on the rare instances that it is relevant like during a relapse, it is at most a short few episode plot arc to offer short term tension between him and Bones. After this has served its purpose it is shelved. Unless he is in the midst of a relapse it has no affect on him except to remind the audience that he’s not perfect.

Of course there is Bones herself whose character is heavily coded as autistic, though there is some suggestion that her difficulties in social situations may stem from the trauma of her childhood of being abandoned by her parents and her subsequent abuse in the foster care system. The biggest issue here is less that these questions are never directly dealt with but rather the fact that her behaviours whether stemming from autism or trauma are simply used to set Boothe up as her social saviour.

Then there is squintern, Colin Fisher whose clinical depression exists as comic relief. Actually far to many of the squinterns have either autistic coding (Zach, Vincent Nigel Murray, etc.) or other not so subtle characteristic which seem designed to make the viewers question whether they are neurotypical (Daisy Wick). Basically, the behavioural coding is used to reinforce the scientific nerd stereotype and they always appear like caricatures next to characters with actual developed personalities (Finn Abernathy, Wendell Bray, etc.)

Finally, let us return to Hodgins and Angela. In season six when Angela was pregnant both she and Hodgins discovered that they were carriers of a genetic mutation giving them a one in four chance their baby would be blind. It was just another disability as tension plot device though as the couple struggled to come to terms with this possibility, which they of course did only to have their child born with sight. This erased the possibility of having an actually disabled character on the show and saved the writers from actually having to figure out whether Angela and Hodgins’ prebirth coming to terms with the possibility of a blind child would translate to the reality of one (excuse me while I vomit over this entire plotline).

Oddly, right before Hodgins’ paralysis, the couple was discussing trying for more children. This had me wondering if the writers had forgotten about that season six subplot. Hodgins’ paralysis neatly avoided that rehashing though as even if he’s still able to father children, I doubt the conversation will resurface for the rest of the series unless it’s to suggest that the paralysis made him sterile.

While all the plotlines to do with disability in Bones are problematic it is the ones associated with Hodgins and Angela that I find the most infuriating because they so clearly depend on disability being feared and overcome (or possibly in the case of Hodgins’ paralysis, the source to continued unending bitterness). They, more than any other storyline that touches on disability in bones either directly or through suggestion, says that disability is a tragedy and one that is best avoided. There was no exploration of the idea that Michael Vincent might have had a fulfilling life if he were blind. They payed lip service to the idea but ultimately undercut the sentiment with the joyous moment when he was revealed to be sighted. I also have no faith that they will do better with the paralysis of Hodgins even if they eventually bring him out of the bitterness he is currently in. With so few episodes left to deal with the issue and the lack of actual disabled people in the show, I have no doubt they will fall back on empty feel good stereotypes.

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What Canada’s Immigration Policies Say about the Status of Disability in Canada

 

2017-09-14 14.13.38

Image Description: A Canadian Passport

 

Every so often in Canada (and other countries but I’m focusing on Canada here) a sad story will appear in the papers. It’s one that we’ve seen before and will unfortunately see again. A family has been denied permanent residency because a family member (usually a minor child) is disabled. The most recent iteration of this recurring story involves the family of York University professor Felipe Montoya. The Montoyas were denied permanent residency because their son, Nico has Down Syndrome.

Nico is being refused under Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act under health grounds. The relevant section of the act maintains that someone can be denied permanent residency in Canada if,

  •  (1) A foreign national is inadmissible on health grounds if their health condition

    • (a) is likely to be a danger to public health;

    • (b) is likely to be a danger to public safety; or

    • (c) might reasonably be expected to cause excessive demand on health or social services.

Nico is being refused under the third subsection about the potential drain on health or social services.

This portion of the Act is a catchall which is used to summarily refuse residency to disabled people. It places a burden of proof that affects no other applicants as regards health. At least the first two subsections are dealing with immediately identifiable issues like whether a person is currently ill. The third however requires disabled people to prove that they will never be seriously ill or that their conditions will not deteriorate. While the wording suggests that the risk of expense must be reasonable to apply, in practice it becomes swiftly apparent that the presence of disability regardless of whether or not the individual is currently in need of expensive treatment or services or if those services might require alternate funding anyway.

There is no onus on a nondisabled applicant to prove that they will never contract cancer, experience a disabling accident or simply experience prolonged unemployment necessitating the use of social supports. This is however completely impossible to guarantee. It is also entirely impossible to prove that a disabled applicant will be a burden on the Canadian public.

The thing is, that this section of Canadian immigration legislation is of questionable constitutionality. It also most definitely does contravene the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

Section 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that,

Equality Rights

Marginal note:Equality before and under law and equal protection and benefit of law
  •  (1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.

  • Marginal note:Affirmative action programs

    (2) Subsection (1) does not preclude any law, program or activity that has as its object the amelioration of conditions of disadvantaged individuals or groups including those that are disadvantaged because of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.

You will notice that 15(2) directly states that laws or actions that encourage the equal treatment of the protected groups listed in 15(1) are allowed. This means that the financial hardship argument found in immigration legislation in regards to disabled applicants is flimsy at best. Legal jurisprudence on the issue of constitutional exceptions for financial reasons bares this out, with the courts having

stated its intention to continue to view budgetary justifications for Charter breaches with scepticism, “because there are always budgetary constraints and there are always other pressing government priorities.”

And yes, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms applies to all laws, even those dealing with nonCanadians such as immigration law.

The problem here is not that Canada’s immigration law is constitutional but that the government will maintain a convenient discriminatory and unconstitutional law until someone raises a Supreme Court Charter Challenge. They are gambling that people unfairly affected by unjust laws will not have the money or years to invest in a Supreme Court challenge (and yes Charter challenges take years, even the successful ones).

When the Charter was first proposed people were hopeful particularly as regards section 15 that marginalized people would not have to fight for legal protections anymore. It was hoped that the Charter would force the government to be proactive in aligning Canadian legislation with the Charter. Unfortunately this has not been the case and people have repeatedly had to fight for the supposed rights that the Charter claims to guarantee.

The government bets that people won’t have the time, money or energy to fight and doesn’t back down when they do. They do this despite the Charter and despite the UNCRPD which Canada has ratified. Article 18 of the UNCRPD directly states that

1. States Parties shall recognize the rights of persons with disabilities to liberty of movement, to freedom to choose their residence and to a nationality, on an equal basis with others, including by ensuring that persons with disabilities:

  1. Have the right to acquire and change a nationality and are not deprived of their nationality arbitrarily or on the basis of disability;
  2. Are not deprived, on the basis of disability, of their ability to obtain, possess and utilize documentation of their nationality or other documentation of identification, or to utilize relevant processes such as immigration proceedings, that may be needed to facilitate exercise of the right to liberty of movement;
  3. Are free to leave any country, including their own;
  4. Are not deprived, arbitrarily or on the basis of disability, of the right to enter their own country.

2. Children with disabilities shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have the right from birth to a name, the right to acquire a nationality and, as far as possible, the right to know and be cared for by their parents.

18(2) is particularly important to one case of refusing a Yukon family residency because in this case the disabled child was born in Canada and thus a Canadian citizen but because the rest of the family were noncitizens, when they were deported, they had to choose to either take him with them (and saving Canada the cost of his care) or leaving him behind (ensuring care but depriving them of him). Basically, Canada was able to deprive a disabled Canadian citizen of his rights by forcing his noncitizen parents into an impossible choice.

It’s hard to know just how often this sort of exemption actually happens. We tend to only hear about it if the family fights back. It is impossible to know how many simply accept their rejections and return to their countries of origin or are denied entry to Canada in the first place.

When stories are publicized, they are frequently very sympathetically presented (even in cases where writers are not opposed to the exclusionary nature of our immigration law. see here for one such example focusing on the Montoya case). I suspect it is because people see these stories as exceptions. The fact that they frequently focus on children also helps tug at people’s heart strings. This certainly seems to have been the case for Canadian comedian Rick Mercer who devoted one of his famous rants to the Montoyas case

While Mercer has some fantastic things to say in his rant. He acknowledges that Nico Montoya will grow up and that in no way undermines his value as a person. He calls out the ridiculousness of predicting how much of a burden someone will be and the related assumption that this means that person has nothing to contribute.

It is however a bit disheartening that Mercer doesn’t appear to realize that this issue is bigger than kids with Down Syndrome. He says,

Apparently there is a war on kids with Down Syndrome that I was completely unaware of.

If he had just stuck to commenting on this particular case or other cases involving permanent residency, I would let’s be honest still be annoyed because the issue is far more encompassing than that but I can understand that sometimes the bigger issue is to huge to tackle all at once. My issue starts with the fact that he doesn’t seem to realize that there is a bigger issue. He goes on to say,

What’s next, we’re gonna say that family can’t come in because that kid in grade eight just failed his math test, or that one’s got a funny foot (emphasis mine)

He says this as though it would be utterly unthinkable to deny someone residency on the grounds of having a “funny foot” but the fact of the matter is that it could very well be a reason for exclusion.

The reality is that this affects more than just kids with Down Syndrome. Hell, it affects more than just kids. Consider Chris Reynolds who was 21 when he was deemed inadmissible on his family’s permanent residency application. His father, Thomas E. Reynolds is a professor (there seems to be a trend here) at Emanuel College at the University of Toronto. Chris was refused on the grounds of his Asperger’s Syndrome diagnosis. This despite the fact that all of his medical expenses were covered by his father’s private insurance, not medicare. There is no followup to the case that I could find but Dr. Reynolds is still listed as faculty at Emanuel College so I can only hope that his reapplication for the family to be considered for permanent residency on compassionate grounds was successful.

Consider also the case of Eniko Reka Kincses and her daughter Boglarka who were denied permanent residency because Boglarka has cerebral palsy. In this case the Saskatchewan government (where they were living) intervened and they were allowed to stay but the reason is worth highlighting,

Health Minister Dustin Duncan and Economy Minister Bill Boyd penned a joint letter of support for the Kincses family to federal officials.

They said Kincses [the mother] was a valuable, skilled worker and assured the federal government the province was willing to cover Boglarka’s “minimal” health care and social services needs”

Enika Reka Kincses wanted to open a care facility, so that she could not only provide care for her daughter herself but would also provide a service that the province sorely needed. Saskatchewan did not see any particular value in Boglarka but rather thought that her assumed deficits were outweighed by the skills of her mother.

This is a trend that continues in both the Montoya and Reynolds cases. The skills and contributions of the parents are highlighted as is to say “on balance if we let them stay at least we benefit from the work of the parents”. Sure, these stories tug at the heartstrings regardless but it’s hard not to wonder how many stories we don’t hear because the parents aren’t highly skilled as an offset to their child’s disability. These stories are more palatable because the disabled person comes with a consolation prize to offset the possible burden they may one day pose.

Disabled people in these scenarios are not seen as having any inherent value beyond that they may be cute children. This is bad enough in the context of what it says about disabled people trying to enter Canada. The problem worsens when you realize that this is essentially how Canada views its disabled citizens.

If disabled Canadians were viewed as having inherent value it would be harder to argue for this discriminatory immigration policy. What the Canadian government and public have to say about foreign disabled people is likely to be a reflection on how those of us who are here by right of birth are viewed.

In order to foster an inclusive society, Canada needs to show that they value all disabled people. Not pay lip service to focusing on those of us who are already here. It’s a little hard to argue that we are valued members of society when people are being excluded from the country for being like us.

Changing the law would not only improve the lives of disabled applicants because they would be considered on their merits (yes they have them, no I’m not suggesting we just let everyone in who applies) rather than have them rejected on grounds that are not only protected under the Charter but in line with international human rights agreements.

Now as I mentioned above, I know Canada is not the only country with discriminatory immigration laws. Everyone seems to be of the opinion that if they open their borders to disabled people, suddenly we will all descend on that country en masse. Again I’m not against all immigration policies so this is absurdly reactionary. Also this mentality fails to recognize that when disabled people are treated like everyone else, we tend to behave like everyone else because here’s the thing that people also miss, if disabled people can come to Canada, we can also leave. People tend to immigrate because they are offered further opportunity elsewhere but I and my fellow disabled Canadians do not have that option despite it being directly addressed in the UNCRPD.

Exclusionary laws like current immigration policy clearly show that the supposed equality we are guaranteed in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is still little more than a dream. We are in practice little more than tolerated and then only if there is no other option.

It is time Canada led by example and fixed it’s discriminatory immigration policy because both our constitution and international agreement. Changing the law will create a legal precedent to stop the far to common excuse that disabled people are first and foremost burdens. The mentality that allows the odd story of exclusion to hit the news and illicit sympathetic emotions for exceptional cases where there is a cute child or the government seems to have overreached or the loss of a highly qualified parent makes the gamble worthwhile but glosses over the inherent discrimination that created those scenarios in the first place. People don’t want to look at the bigger picture, they are happy to get self-righteous on a case by case basis but ignore or actively support the wholesale exclusion of disabled people.

Changing the law won’t erase prejudice and discrimination in Canada but it will make it harder for those with discriminatory attitudes to justify them. But first the Canadian government needs to address it’s reliance on that prejudice and set an example not only for Canada but for the rest of the world as well. It may become harder for other countries to rationalize their own discriminatory immigration laws with Canada leading by example and advocating for change.

In the end it will help disabled people at home and abroad.

 

 

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