"Push Girls" Needs to Push Back! By Guest Amoeblogger Leroy Moore

Posted by Billyjam, August 21, 2012 02:45pm | Post a Comment
As a Black, disabled, community activist, journalist and lover of disability and music history, I’m always sitting on my hands when mainstream media gets on the disability wagon or more like it picks out the flavor of the year / month / day, or minute. As a columnist of Illin-N-Chillin on Poor Magazine and founder of Krip-Hop Nation (an international project of Hip-Hop and other musicians with disabilities), I have written about movies, artists, and journalists who write, act, and sing about disability and many times it has been from non-disabled artists. On the other side you have what I call “Me Too Media,” where people with disabilities in lead roles lack any politics or anything that is representative of the vast disability community. This happens just to get two seconds of bling bling or because the media can’t handle it and have control over what is produced.

Taking what I’ve said above, when the Sundance Channel network's Push Girls first appeared on my Google Alerts long before the show came out, I was worried because it was under the mainstream media cloud that does not have a good record of representing disability issues. That shaped my assumptions way before it came out. I have to say, I don’t have cable and, like so many people with disabilities, I can’t afford living in reality television. Today mainstream media likes to play in other’s shoes without the real life issues, like the CBS sitcom 2 Broke Girls. I saw only the first episode of Push Girls because it was on the Internet for free for a very short time, so I can only talk about my short contact with Auti Angel, one of the Push Girls way before the show, the pre-media frame around the show, and the time before the first episode.

As a researcher in music, race, and disability, I knew about Auti Angel’s work as a dancer in Ludacris’ Hip-Hop video "Stand Up" as she Hip-Hop danced in her wheelchair. I even had a chance to talk to her through the Internet about her upcoming Hip-Hop CD. I’m still waiting for her CD. Her dancing and music is wonderful, however it was easy to see that she had a hard time understanding the social justice mission of Krip-Hop Nation. I know it takes an activist/artist to really get Krip-Hop Nation so I’m not upset. Like my friend Lisa ‘Tiny’ Gray-Garcia, co/founder of Poor Magazine who grew up in L.A., told me years ago, "There is no social justice in Hollywood!" So when Push Girls came out Auti’s goals and politics were clear.

With my guard up, I thought I was ready for the pre-hoopla YouTube video interviews with the five women who make up Push Girls: Tiphany Adams, Angela Rockwood, Auti Angel, and Mia Schaikewitz. I don’t know why I was so surprised when I saw those video interviews. Perhaps it was because almost all were basically around how they each overcame their disability to get where they are today. Hollywood loves that kind of story: one rooted in tragedy. And it especially loves it when it’s a story about overcoming the “tragedy” of disability, without seeing the person for who they are.

Another prime example of not getting to know the real people with disabilities is the recent commercial for the upcoming Paralympics in London where Channel 4 in London hired the Hip-Hop socially conscious band Public Enemy for thestation's Meet The Superhumans music clip showing athletes with disabilities working out and once again “overcoming tragedy.” This theme of overcoming tragedy is so engrained when it comes to people with disabilities that we never get to know the real person. Mainstream media is so focused on disability, we never get to hear about other experiences like race, sex, and how they live with it as a part of their identity.

Getting back to Push Girls, I was glad to see that there are at least two woman of color and all of them are real women with disabilities, but for me it’s not enough and it's not anything new. Of course, all of them fall into the mainstream media’s stereotypical image of a woman that we always see on T.V.: skinny, white or light skin, etc. Many people told me, “We have to start somewhere!” If people really think Push Girls is a start, then I feel bad that some of us can’t realize the history and that all of our disabled ancestors that were on the streets when Hip-Hop began were in front of the camera before Push Girls without the bling bling of today’s reality show's bottom-line. Yes, Push Girls pushed their way to get to this point, but they also rely on the work of people with disabilities of yesterday, many of  whom got ripped off by the mainstream entertainment industry. Push Girls is not starting something new but rather adding to. 

I hope young girls with disabilities were watching the first episode with a critical eye or had an adult woman with a disability who had some social justice thoughts in the same room to explain the mainstream media travails. These are nothing new. The travails start with the happy-go-lucky-days of non-disabled young ladies. As usual, the build up was the boom, the accidents, or something where many of the women’s lives changed for good. Through this one-way tale, the Sundance Channel provided dramatic mood-enhancing music and lighting in case viewers missed the point. This they accomplished via drastic changes in lights and then a switch in the sad tone of the music that painted the gloom of what was on the horizon: the onslaught of disability.

 I know we all come to disabilities in different ways in life and I bet it’s not a happy journey if you were able-bodied most of your life. I also know from friends who became disabled and from reading the autobiographies of Curtis Mayfield and Teddy Pendergrass that there is a process of stages that an able-bodied person goes through when he/she becomes physically disabled by accidents, gun violence, or other causes. The first stage is denial followed by a need for a cure to be able to walk again like Christopher Reeves. Then on the other side of this process, if you ever get there, is acceptance: accepting your new life as a person with a disability as in the cases of both Curtis Mayfield and Johnnie Wilder Jr., the lead singer of the 1970s RnB/funk group, Heatwave.  As a person who was born with a physical disability, I can read the above stories and listen to my friends, but I cannot 100% really understand it. Thus is the wonderful diversity of life. Friends who have watched more than the first episode of Push Girls told me that the show moved from the tragedy of disability and dealt with real-life issues like job discrimination, living with a lack of income, and relationships, which I was glad to hear.

All of today’s reality shows are far from reality! Going back to my youth of the late '70s and early '80s, sitcoms had more reality than today's so-called Reality TV. Shows like Archie Bunker's All In The Family, Good Times, Sanford and Son, and The Jeffersons were more rooted in reality than anything we can see on TV today and these sitcoms all offered something I could relate to: being Black...more than a lot of TV shows offer today. I’m not saying that these shows didn’t have their own problems, but compared to what we have today they touched my reality much more. Yes, Push Girls is the first reality show with real women with disabilities and is dealing with disability as a main issue, but -- like we saw in 1998 with Will & Grace and in 2003 with Queer Eye for the Straight Guy when mainstream regular and cable TV jumped on another group’s bandwagon for a flavor of the year (gay white men) -- the question remains will it delve deeper into reality? Or will it be just another flavor of the month?

The sad reality of the popularity of Push Girls, along with other reality shows today, is that they form popular cultural, conversation, and thinking of a group.  An activist friend of mine who uses a wheelchair was stopped on the so-called liberal streets of Berkeley, by a stranger and was told, “You are an inspiration like Push Girls!”  Now all skinny light skin/white young women who use wheelchairs are going to be compared to Push Girls!? God, I hope not and I feel for the many disabled women/girls/persons who are mistaken as women in our tight gender penny we live on who have to face that raw kind of pressure from society because Push Girls is for now the only mainstream/cable television show out there with the bling bling backing.

Can you imagine if grassroots, activists cultural expression projects with strong politics had the resources to put out their work in the same avenues as the Sundance Channel without swallowing their stories, politics, and their whole selves?  Groups like the following and more:
•    Sins Invalid, a performance project on disability and sexuality that incubates and celebrates artists with disabilities, centralizing artists of color and queer and gender-variant artists as communities who have been historically marginalized from social discourse
•    This is What Disability Looks Like, a group who seeks to counter messages that disability is a tragedy or inspirational by exploring the rich representations of people with disabilities
•    Poor Magazine’s all women play, The Welfare Queens, a revolutionary group of mamas, daughters, and sons struggling with poverty, welfare, racism, and disability. Poor women creating art with the goal of resisting and reclaiming the racist and classist mythologies about poverty and the criminalization of poor people in America

Yes, we might have Push Girls on mainstream cable television but to balance it out we have the underground/community art, music, theater, and media that are also avenues of education and cultural expression, which can change the attitudes of the community we live in.  


Special thanks to Leroy F. Moore Jr. - founder of the Krip Hop Nation and frequent subject and
interviewee here on the Amoeblog - for writing up this exclusive for the Amoeblog.

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Leroy Moore (22), Sundance Channel (1), The Push Girls (1)