Braille Monitor November 1986
by Lauri Klobas
(This article appeared in the July August, 1986, Blind Missourian, the newsletter of the National Federation of the Blind of Missouri. It was originally taken from the July-August, 1986, Disability Rag.)
In The Light That Failed, an artist's masterpiece is utterly destroyed by his angry model--but he never knows it, for he's lost his sight. No one dares tell him his painting is a ruined mess.
In Pride of the Marines, blinded veteran Al Schmid believes he is being picked up from the train station by a WAC in an official car. Unbeknownst to him, the driver is the girlfriend he claims he doesn't love anymore. She dupes him to force a showdown.
In Night Song, a blind pianist attracts the attention of a rich society girl. He doesn't want anything to do with her. She pretends to be someone else, a blind young woman, and he falls in love, not knowing she is sighted.
"Light of the Day," a Love Boat episode, features a blind passenger who mistakes another traveler for a fellow she had a crush on during college. The man doesn't tell her she is mistaken. Lionel Ritchie's video of the song "Hello" relays the story of a teacher in a school for the performing arts who falls in love with a talented adult blind student. He watches her from afar as she plays the flute, dances, and acts--and she never knows he's there.
In Mask, a blind girl falls in love with Rocky, a boy whose face is so startlingly different that others think it's a mask. She is untainted by visual prejudice, a metaphor for love and innocence.
Dramatically, each one of these pieces succeeded. We didn't want the artist to know his masterpiece was tragically ruined. We wanted Al Schmid to admit he loved his girl. We wanted the pianist to let down his walls and fall in love. We wanted the woman on the cruise to live out a fantasy. We felt the teacher's poignant want for the talented student and his fear of approaching her. We were happy Rocky found a girl who loved him.
Despite the different stories, the effect is that blindness is--well, romantic. Without sight, the character is an innocent victim of some sort. They are vulnerable and we, the omniscient audience, feel a little wrench in our stomachs.
"Mr. Sunshine," a sitcom currently enjoying a trial run on ABC, features a lead character who is totally blind, divorced, and a college professor. Paul Stark--Mr. Sunshine--also accidentally stumbles into his closet when leaving his apartment, mistaking it for the front door. He wears clothes sighted friends feel they must tell him are hopelessly outdated. The new, positive traits of an independent profession, so "in" on t.v. these days, are tempered by the vulnerability he sometimes exhibits--which is, again, romantic.
What do these portrayals of onscreen blindness tell American couch potatoes and their families of little spuds?
Characters who must continually seek assistance of some kind from people, who can be easily taken advantage of--no matter how good the intentions--fall into the "need help" category. As characters who don't see colors, sunsets, faces, and clothing styles, they draw out our emotions. We feel protective and drawn to them.
I guess the story of a blind person who sues an employer for job discrimination isn't quite as romantic.