March was Brain Injury Awareness month. While those within the brain injury community are aware of that, most of the country is not. Cougar Town, which stars Courtney Cox, Busy Phillips and Josh Hopkins is a show that airs on TBS. In March, Cougar Town aired an episode titled “Too Good to be True”. A member of my support group mentioned that the episode was offensive to brain injury survivors. I had never seen this show before so I watched this episode to find out more. The episode was about a man named Tom, who lied to his daughter about his life including that his friend Grayson had a “head injury” from hockey. As a parent to a child with a brain injury, I was upset by what I saw. While I understand that television shows are made to entertain and certain material is subject to interpretation, I was offended. I know Cougar Town and Hollywood’s stance would be that I shouldn’t watch it then. While I can respect that, I hope together as members of the brain injury community we can help educate others including Hollywood on brain injuries.
During the episode, Grayson, who was supposed to pretend he had a brain injury said “So, Tom told his daughter that a head injury turned me into a simple, good-natured man-child who needs help dressing himself. That’s humiliating.” This statement may be true for some brain injury survivors but not for others. Not all survivors need help dressing. Some survivors have minimal side effects while some face life altering changes. For those that do need help getting dressed I am sure that it can be a humiliating experience. Isabella could dress herself at 4.5 years old prior to her Acquired Brain Injury (ABI). Now Isabella needs help getting dressed and that makes her feel like a baby.
As the episode of Cougar Town came to an end, the characters all had lunch at Grayson’s pub. Tom’s daughter said and I quote “The food at Gray’s pub even tasted like it was made by someone with a head injury.” I found this statement to be extremely hurtful and highly offensive. Many brain injury survivors go on to be productive members of society. They go on to have careers and families. I am not sure how anyone could tell whether food was made by a brain injury survivor or not. Food can be horrible regardless of who makes it !
In my opinion, this episode of Cougar Town perpetuated the stereotypical brain injury survivor as one who is stupid and child like. Brain injury survivors are some of the strongest, most amazing, most brave and insightful individuals I have ever met. They have survived what should have killed them. Many brain injury survivors spend the rest of their life trying to regain what had been lost because of their injury. They are forced to deal with the physical, psychiatric, psychological, emotional and behavioral effects of the damage to their brain. They are abandoned by a society that sees them as “fine”. They are isolated by family, friends, co-workers and others who have no idea the extent of the challenges that they live with daily. This episode just adds to the misperception. We can change the way Hollywood and the world perceives brain injury by continuing to raise awareness and by educating others.
Guest Blogger, Kristin Olliney, is the mother of 8-year-old Isabella, who suffered sudden acute encephalitis when she was just 4. Kristin’s bi-monthly blog, Mommy of a Miracle, talks about the trials and joys of raising a brain injury survivor.
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