As you may know, “House” is a drama that deals with the medical practice of the highly anti-social Dr. Gregory House. Though this show remains highly popular, weekly it plays upon racism, ableism, heterosexism, class privilege and white privilege to drive home its neurotic message of the nothingness of being. Most relationships between the characters are dysfunctional and focus around whatever obsession “House” manifests on a particular week.
Ableism is a major feature in this medical drama. The main character himself is a differently abled person and this seems to function as justification for the writers to take creative license with the experiences of others. Each week Dr. House is presented with a medical mystery that he has to solve. The patient is minimized and the issue becomes the disease. Though this models much of what the medical establishment advises in an effort to reduce undue attachment, not all patients are as submissive and/or docile in their medical care as presented on House.
Each week a myriad of illnesses are manifested by different patients and yet ultimately the diagnosis usually comes down to two diseases; sarcoidosis or lupus. Using these two diseases as the “catch all” can be emotionally triggering and serves to reduce the difficult lives that those suffering with them must endure.
Illness does not end as projected on “House” after the disease is diagnosed; in fact, it is but the beginning of a very difficult journey, which can include intense pain and restructuring of one’s life. In the end, “House” will often prescribe prednisone as though he is offering a patient a glass of water. No discussion takes place on how harmful this drug is or the possible side effects that it can cause. Yet anyone who has been on prednisone for any length of time will usually attest to the fact that it is not a pleasant drug to take.
It seems that because lupus and sarcoidosis are diseases that mimic many others and do not immediately lead to death, the writers of “House” have determined that they can routinely rely upon them as solutions or possible solutions to each week’s medical mystery. Sarcoidosis in particular is not a disease that is well known outside of those inflicted with it. Many were not even aware that the disease existed until it was revealed last year that Bernie Mac died of complications because of it.
The general ignorance about the symptoms of sarcoidosis allows the writers to invoke creative licence, forgetting that some of their viewers are currently suffering from the disease. A point that is well worth noting is that both sarcoidosis and lupus are diseases that primarily attack African Americans, and yet week after week the patients that are diagnosed or hypothesized to have the diseases to have them are white.
We draw very few limits to what we term entertainment and, much like in the days of decadence of the Roman Empire, what we have chosen to view for the purposes of amusement often appeals to the baser instincts of humanity. Week after week, we tune in to “House” because we have determined that illness, suffering and disease qualify as a distraction from the monotony of our over scheduled lives.
The blood that is spilled is false and solutions are found within sixty minutes. Somewhere in the back of our minds we know that the images of suffering that we are viewing are real for someone. Though we watch with rapt attention, in the end, we are not infused with a greater sense of knowledge or even sympathy for those we know to be chronically ill. The purpose of “House” and shows of its ilk is not to challenge our views about disability or illness; it is simply to entertain. Those who it marginalizes or creates as invisible in the process are merely fodder that are easily forgotten in a world that seeks amusement in the pain and suffering of others.
Each time the able bodied person calls upon the differently abled to play “super crip” and rise above, we need not look father than shows like “House” to understand how it is that they have come to frame their understanding of chronic illness. If week after week we are presented with images of people suffering mysterious and exotic diseases who are miraculously cured, clearly those that are suffering daily are either not working hard enough to find a cure or they have given up. We have become accustomed to easy solutions and when we come across a problem that cannot be solved instantly, we blame rather than contemplate alternate solutions. “House” may be just a single show on a network, but it is the perfect example of the ways in which we “other” those with chronic illnesses.
There is no magic cure for either lupus or sarcoidosis. No brilliant doctor is suddenly going to alleviate the suffering of so many. Therefore if we feel compelled to recreate the circumstances of another’s life, we owe it to those that are afflicted with these diseases to make it as real as possible.