Disability and mass media have enjoyed something of a awkward relationship historically speaking. They are a bit like teenage lovers, in malaise of euphoria and ecstasy, which to them is magical, but to any casual onlooker can appear as forced. This has led to such gems as ‘inspiration porn.’
Personally, if I had one criticism of many portrayals of disability in media, it would be that they often don’t take the bull by the horns. They sugar coat it. In an effort to make these things appear common place, they loose the depth of the situation. This was one area that I felt The Theory of Everything did very well last year. The strength of the leads (particularly Eddie Redmayne), clearly illustrated the gravity of the situation.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a light-hearted side to disability, but at its core, disability is emotion.
Don’t Take My Baby was heavy television. I have watched episodes of A Game of Thrones, which were lighter in tone.
Don’t Take My Baby is a drama based on real-life events. It follows the story of Anna and Tom who are set to become parents for the first time. Anna is in a wheelchair and has muscle wasting condition, while Tom has degenerative eye condition and is partially sighted. The opening briefly deals with their romance before diving into the baby’s conception, birth and aftermath.. I enjoyed the opening as I found it honest and funny. I laughed out loud at the scene where Tom and Anna were in bed together, which went like this:
“So what can you actually see?” Anna asks.
“In this light, you are a very lovely blur,” Tom replies, then he fidgets a little. “Ok my turn for a question.”
He pauses and bites his bottom lip, afraid to ask the question on the tip of his tongue. “How much of that did you feel?”
It is a tender moment, which illustrates a important point. Just because two people are disabled, does not mean that they instinctively understand different conditions. We’re not a community that shares a common identity. Disabled people are just a bunch of individuals, often alone, often vulnerable and often acutely aware of the first two. I felt that Don’t Take Baby did an excellent job of conveying this. This is perhaps because the narrative was based on real life events as opposed to scripted but credit must be given to the producers for tackling the subject head on.
The narrative takes a more serious tone after the birth of baby Danny and social services become involved. Tom and Anna are put under the microscope. Both they have even begun, their ability to be parents assessed. The threat of having their child taken from them, a clear and present danger throughout most of the hour.
There is a particular scene that sticks in my mind as I write these words. Tom was experiencing the reality of being a parent to new born and carer to his partner. Set against the backdrop of his own diminishing sight, the spectre of social services and feelings of inferiority, Tom erupts. Anna resolves to take a bath herself and Tom ends up storming out, leaving Anna on the floor and the baby crying.
It evoked memories of difficulty times for me, as a disabled person. Because sometimes as a disabled person, the reality is brutal. That perhaps the biggest compliment that I can pay Don’t Take My Baby.
The golden age of TV was built on one thing. Realism. Post-Sopranos TV does not set out to make you happy or sad, or transport you to something surreal. TV now appreciates that if it presents true reflections of the human condition that is utterly compelling. This is perhaps what disability has been missing in its portrayal of disability. If people take notice of Don’t Take My Baby, then we could be about to witness the start of something special.
Don’t Take My Baby is essential viewing.