popular culture

Owning The Name

The Simpsons was almost always on our TV when I was growing up. It’s a mark of my childhood, which is probably true for most people given the program’s longevity. This particular clip, from the episode “To Surveil With Love,” which aired in 2010, is very significant.

From 0:36-0:50, Lisa Simpson scolds the bully Nelson when he called somebody who tripped and fell over a “spazz.” Lisa then says this term “is short for spastic diplegic, someone who suffers from a serious medical condition.” You guessed it…this condition, though not explicitly mentioned by name, is cerebral palsy.

Cerebral palsy is an umbrella term, and spastic diplegia falls under this umbrella.  The di- in diplegic signifies two, meaning the CP has affected two limbs, usually the legs. Therefore, using this logic, Lisa would indeed be referring to spastic diplegia CP in the video clip. My initial reaction was one of pride. One of my favorite shows made a reference to my disability! Through the program, I and others like me, had gained visibility through representation.

Most might not know that “spastic diplegic” is indeed one form of spastic cerebral palsy, but I knew right away, and that mattered to me. If you didn’t make the connection before reading this, now you can, and that matters, too.

I do want to say, though, that the association of CP with the derogatory word “spazz” is harmful and hurtful. Why does such a term have to be linked to my condition? Just like representation matters, so does the use of our language: what we call things, what we label things.

Believe it or not, this clip was actually the inspiration for the name of this very blog. The Spastic Diplege was not only a nod to this video clip, or a reference to my disability; it’s also a declaration. It’s a declaration that I’m owning this “label,” this name, this diagnosis, and this experience. I’m not letting it hinder me or make me cower or simply feel bad, and it is powerful as hell. As long as I’m claiming ownership, nobody can take it away, whether it be through harmful language or acts of vile discrimination. I won’t let them.