Pretty Little Blind Villain
I love the television series “Pretty Little Liars”.
I love the clothes, the hyperbolic drama, and the ridiculous yet addictive plot. I especially love the scenes and episodes that end with the girls receiving a group message from ‘A’, which, as though without any planning, they read in segments and then finish in unison. This always makes my day.
On a more serious note, I think “Pretty Little Liars” has done an exceptional job of combating issues of teen lesbian visibility on television.
My only problem is “The Jenna Thing”.
For those of you who don’t watch “Pretty Little Liars”, Jenna is essentially the villain of the piece, or at least the only person the girls are willing to actively and consistently condemn as evil from the beginning. Jenna also happens to be blind. I say “happens to be” but we discover in only Episode Two that the girls, in fact, assisted in blinding Jenna with a stink bomb.
While she is known to have cruelly attempted to blackmail her step brother into dating her, this seems to matter little to the girls who seem more concerned by and scared of her simply as a victim of their own crime. They fear her retribution, but without any evidence of its potential, and, more importantly, without any real remorse from them for their part in her suffering. So far as I can tell, the girls hate and vilify Jenna because she is a strong, resilient, blind woman. I find this very unsettling.
Other characters in the show occasionally recognise Jenna’s strength, but usually statements of their respect are followed by the girls looking ominously around as though her capability is all the more reason to be concerned. Even if it turns out that Jenna is a murderer, stalker and/or anything else “Pretty Little Liars” might come up with, the girls’ treatment and attitude towards her up until this point remain both strange and disturbing to me. Equally, the fact that she seems to be pretending that her recent eye surgery was not a success, despite indications that she is now able to see, does not diminish her ability to overcome the physical limitations put in her path. It certainly doesn’t make her ‘evil’.
Of course, the trope of the villain with a disability is nothing new, but I had thought it was now something popular culture had gone beyond. I also didn’t think I needed to explain why this trope is problematic, but the mere existence of “The Jenna Thing” suggests otherwise.
The image of the villain with a disability, whether it is Captain Hook, any number of the Bond villains, or Jenna, is severely damaging. It perpetuates negative stereotypes and further others members of our society who are already struggling to be seen. Furthermore, portrayals such as Jenna’s undermine understandings of the strength and capability that can be demonstrated only by the acts of people with disabilities, whether they are blind, or suffering from other physical or mental disabilities.
In a world where disability discrimination continues to such a troubling extent, I expect more from shows such as “Pretty Little Liars”.