Was Glee school shooting episode offensive to people with Down syndrome?

ssorich@ledger-enquirer.comApril 12, 2013 

Warning: This post contains some spoilers about the April 11 episode of "Glee." If you haven't seen the show and want to avoid spoilers, stop reading now. Thanks.

The April 11 episode of "Glee," which featured a high school shooting, sparked a debate on Twitter about the Fox show's treatment of a character with Down syndrome.

SPOILER ALERT: Becky, a student with Down syndrome, brought her father's gun to school. Earlier in the episode, she expressed fear about her life after high school. The gun fired accidentally and Becky's classmates don't know what really happened because cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester took the blame. As a result, Sue was fired from the school.

That's the short summary. Read Entertainment Weekly's full recap here.

Anyway, as I monitored Twitter throughout the show, I noticed a growing pool of tweets from people who shared an opinion: By making Becky the one with the gun, "Glee" reinforced a belief that people with Down syndrome aren't normal. Some sample tweets:

"Thank you Glee for setting Down Syndrome awareness and acceptance back light years. Some people now see our kids in an even worse light." (@T21ASDMommy)

"I shouldn't feel the need to be making the distinction to people that having Down Syndrome is not code for 'mentally unstable.' Thanks, Glee" (@KaitlynLauren14)

"Really, #glee, I heard you had the girl with Down Syndrome become a high school gun shooter. So much for comedy, this is just sad. #rude" (@Leaayo)

Lauren Potter, the actress who plays Becky, talked to the Huffington Post about the controversy surrounding her role on the episode. The plot didn't make her appear less human, the actress suggests.

"Whether she has Down syndrome or not, it doesn't matter ... Why wouldn't it be somebody with Down syndrome because she's a kid. She's a teenager. She makes stupid decisions just like other teenagers do," she told the Huffington Post.

She's right.

A similar controversy surrounded the "Extra Large Medium" episode of "Family Guy." People got mad that a female character with Down syndrome was bossy. They argued her dominant, demanding personality hurt public perception of Down syndrome.

Obviously, it's wrong to depict people with Down syndrome as social monsters. But it's also wrong to only depict them in the angelic manner at the opposite end of the spectrum. Like everyone else, they aren't 100 percent evil. They aren't 100 percent good, either.

They're human. Being human includes making mistakes.

Sure, I understand there's a difference between cheating on an algebra exam and bringing a gun to school. Maybe "Glee" didn't make the the best decision in choosing Becky as the one with the gun. That's one of the risks a show takes when it includes only one character with Down syndrome. His or her actions will inevitably be dissected as reflections of an entire population.

If ditzy blonde cheerleader Brittany brought the gun to school, would women be offended? If Blaine brought the gun to school, would people say "Glee" set back the gay rights movement?

I don't know.

The faces behind horrific acts of violence are simultaneously human and inhuman. Their actions mark a breaking point few of us can imagine. But emotions fueling those actions are sometimes shared.

It makes us wonder: How much would it take for me to crack?

Sadly, we can't predict the answer -- or anyone else's.

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