In a recent blog, I stated that a disadvantage of film and television over books was that everything has already been decided for the viewer, whereas books let the reader make decisions in their own heads. However, what in one way appears to be a curse can in another way appear to be a blessing. For although the print medium can encourage people to use their imaginations and think for themselves, there are some things that only the visual form can achieve. Number one, flesh and blood people, fictitious as they are, are a lot easier to relate to than incorporeal individuals. This is where the worlds explored in television and film can be a great vehicle to motivate and inspire others. So why then, given the prevalence of dyslexia in the UK, is this not reflected more in movies or TV?
For those that argue that it would be futile as it would not create the drama demanded by modern audiences and those that finance the creative industries, that’s the point: dyslexia doesn’t have to. People need to understand this en masse, whether they have it, know someone who does or even just for their own general knowledge. And film and television, far-reaching as it is, is the perfect way to demonstrate this.
I’m not going to lie – CBBC’s decision to develop a television show on the Hank Zipzer series of books (about a mischievous boy who happens to have dyslexia) is a great one, if long overdue. But it would be equally problematic for this one character to become the definitive representation of young people with dyslexia.
Another (possibly even more welcome?) approach would be to integrate an individual’s dyslexia into the plot, but not let it dominate it. Here’s an example from Doctor Who:
The Doctor: We need to be ready for whatever’s coming up. I need a map…
Elliott: I can’t do the words. I’m dyslexic.
The Doctor: Oh, that’s all right, I can’t make a decent meringue. Draw like your life depends on it, Elliott…
And later on:
The Doctor: Look at that! Perfect! Dyslexia never stopped Da Vinci or Einstein, it’s not stopping you.
I really like this dialogue, which takes place (in typical Doctor Who fashion), just as The Doctor, his companions and some innocent bystanders are preparing to save the Earth from a race of aliens that think of humans as vermin. Not only does it reveal that Elliott is dyslexic, but it demonstrates a way in which he can be of use in the crisis, which is later reaffirmed when disaster is averted. Although Elliott’s map didn’t single-handedly save the day, it didn’t need to. The point had been made: Dyslexia should neither stop someone from doing something, nor does it have to dictate their lives, as is illustrated in this story. However, Elliott, who only appeared in the series for two episodes, is the only example I can currently find of a dyslexic person on British television, which is odd considering how common it is in the UK.
True, there is Percy Jackson from the recently released films, as well as Ryder Lynn from Glee, but neither of these characters seem particularly accessible. Percy started off life as a character in a series of fictional novels, hardly the best medium for dyslexics to access, and Glee is only available in Britain on Sky 1, meaning that less people are able to watch it now than was the case when it was first broadcast on Channel 4. Not to mention that both these examples are American, and all the examples cited are children and young people.
Let me be clear. Any positive role models for dyslexics are undoubtedly a fantastic thing that needs to be encouraged. However, there is always more that can be done. I find it odd that – to my knowledge at least – there are no dyslexic adults in British soap operas given 1 in 10 people in the UK are affected by it. After all, they are supposed to represent real life, and if Doctor Who – which is as blatantly science-fiction as you can get – can do it, other television series in the UK – be it in soaps or anything else – can and should follow suit.
Note: The Doctor Who episodes that the character of Elliott appeared in are called The Hungry Earth and Cold Blood. Both were written by Chris Chibnall.