Comment: Where Is Chronic Illness Represented In Popular Culture?


Dr House


Chronic illness is misrepresented in TV and film, and it damages the lives of people coping with it, writes Naomi Chainey in SBS.


I once watched an episode of House M.D. where a man came to the clinic and outlined his symptoms.  Familiar symptoms.  My symptoms.  Having just been diagnosed with one of the most misrepresented illnesses of our time, I perked up.  Was House about to diagnose my condition?  How would this be handled on prime time?

House, genius diagnostician that he was, recognised the symptoms immediately.  His patient had recited the diagnostic criteria for chronic fatigue syndrome.  House gave the man a long-suffering eyebrow, filled a pill bottle with candy, and presented it as a cure.  Hilarious!

I cried that night.  The disabling illness that had taken my career, my independence and my social life had just been trivialised to viewers the world over, and the worst of it was, I knew there would be no outcry.  Too few people knew enough to care.

In the age of identity politics, the importance of representing minorities on screen is at least acknowledged, if not fully realised.  People with disabilities are starting to see a few more well-rounded protagonists on screen, if not the disabled actors we’d like.  Stereotypes are still prevalent, but they are being challenged.  There’s been progress, but there’s a long way to go.


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