Episode 68: Wally and Sensationalism

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(Intro music)

E: Hi, I’m Emily Ladau

K: And I’m Kyle Khachadurian

E: And you’re listening to another episode of The Accessible Stall

K: Emily, i have a feeling that going by that introduction that we might have some news!

E: We do! Guys, we have a new sponsor. And we’re pretty excited

K: It’s so cool!

E: So Seamless is going to sponsor our transcripts for the rest of the year. And that means that they are helping us make The Accessible Stall da da da daahhhh….

K: Accessible! Aw, I did it before the lead up, oh well,

E: You did.

K: … Now everything’s ruined! Anyway, what are we gonna talk about today, Emily?

E: Okay, so you know how every once in awhile stories about Emotional Support Animals pop up in the news?

K: It’s my favorite pastime since baseball I’ll tells ya!

E: Kyle hates sports (laughs) Anyway, I just saw an article that’s been floating around about an emotional support alligator named Wally! Now, I’m just gonna give you full disclosure here, I think Wally is adorable.

K: And  I’m just gonna give you full disclosure here, that my initial opinion on Wally I formed before Emily showed me a picture of Wally…

(Emily laughs)

K: … And now, I too think Wally is adorable.

E: I mean, there’s this video of him with his owner and he’s just laying on his back and he’s just fanned out like a dog, and he’s got this huge smile on his face. He’s just so cute.

K: Yeah…it’s honestly disgusting but

E: So look, I love me adorable animals including alligators. But anyway, this raises the question for me, not so much of “Where is the line?” when it comes to emotional support animals but where is the line when it comes to public perception? Because I’m sure many of you remember back in the middle of 2018, there was the whole fuss over the woman who tried to bring her emotional support peacock on an airplane and was denied. Now, I should qualify that by saying peacocks are my favorite animal.

K: Yeah really, anything that Emily says for the next thirty- seven seconds should not be taken seriously at all because she is just so biased.

E: I have a peacock tattoo. And last night my boyfriend was counting up all of the peacock items in my room, no joke this happened last night.

K: I have a question! How many?

E: I think he probably got to about fifteen or sixteen before he gave up.

K: I’ve missed you, Emily!

E: (laughs) That includes all manner of peacock cards, pins, stuffed animals, artwork, boxes, candles, actual feathers, I mean you name it, I own it. So anyway, my immense bias aside, I can kind of understand why you’re not allowed to bring a peacock onto an airplane. And I cannot imagine that Wally would get very far when it came to getting on an airplane either.

K: I don’t even think Wally could make it in the airport, frankly.

E: There’s gotta be some kind of exotic pet situation, no?

K: Uh maybe, I don’t know. I just feel like if I saw an alligator walking around JFK, I’d leave. There’s nothing good for me there

E: (laughs) There’s nothing good right now for people in airports right now anyway.

K: No, I mean look, the point that Emily is trying to make is…  When Emily told me before we started recording that there was a man out there somewhere in Pennsylvania with an emotional support alligator

E: A registered one!

K: I thought she was out of her mind. I was like, “Who would keep?” Like I thought Emily was messing with me, who would keep an alligator? And if I did that, and I’m someone who knows better, I know that people who don’t know anyone with a disability hears that and goes, “Emotional Support Alligator? What are these people gonna want next, equal rights?” You know, it’s like…you almost have to blame the media because they’re the ones that are like, “Oh look at this guy with an alligator, what a dope right?” Meanwhile it’s ike “No, I watched the video, he needs that thing. He needs it.”

E: It’s registered too. I just…honestly can’t believe it. I mean…But when we see stories like this…Does it somehow cheapen or negate the concept that we need to take service animals or emotional support animals seriously? And mind you, neither Kyle nor I have a service or emotional support animal so we can’t speak from personal experience but I think this points to a broader issue of how things like this become novelty for the media. They latch onto these topics and then how can we be expected to be taken seriously when the big Disability headline of the day is “Emotional Support Alligator Helps Man with Depression.” And I’m not judging him but there are plenty of people who are so I’m trying to find a balance here.

K: Yeah. Especially because you know that that was a very very like, thought about headline. You know what I mean? I don’t know what you could have said to make it sound less ridiculous than what it was, but whoever was in charge of picking that headline knew full well what they were doing to make it sound outrageous.

E: Yeah, and the same thing happened with the sensationalizing of the Emotional Support Peacock. And also, because my reputation for absolutely loving peacocks precedes me, everyone was posting it on my Facebook and texting it to me and being like, “Hahahaha LOL, You need an emotional support peacock!” And I was like, “Haha LOL” but also I was thinking about it and I was like, “Is this woman serious?” Like or is she just trying to pull a fast one on some security agents? Because that’s the other thing too, is this emotional support alligator seems to be a legit, registered service animal.

K: He had paperwork!

E: Right, he’s not trying to impose it on anyone!

K: Yeah. That’s another debacle though, isn’t it? I mean, I don’t know I know people with emotional support animals and I know people with dogs they claim are and I believe them because that’s what you’re supposed to do. But it’s a bit of a rift where it’s like…you know. The common argument that I hear from my friends that have them are like, “Do airlines have the right to ask for papers?!” And it’s like, “Yeahhh, sorry.”

E: Do they?

K: Yes! Oh my God, yes they do. Yes they do. Because, you know why? Because you can buy a vest for your dog and there are scummy people out there who just wanna have their pet, Rover on the plane…And those people are terrible, but that’s why.

E: I’m Googling this! We need an Accessible Stall Fact Checker. Okay. “When it comes to service animals, airlines do not require more proof than credible, verbal assurance.”

K: Are you serious?

E: “However if the airline feels less than confident, more documentation may be asked for at the time of boarding.”

K: I stand completely corrected! Oh my goodness, okay….

E: Ah, but! Apparently, and I’m remembering this now, there was a whole big thing where I think it was Delta, was requiring proof for service dogs or emotional support animals that was a new policy.

K: Oh, that might be what I’m thinking about okay.

E: Yeah, you know what so I think that lately there have been policy changes in some airlines because they were…

K: …Tightening their grip.

E: … See this is where the gap in knowledge comes in because we don’t

K: That’s true, but we’re using service animals as a practical application of what the media does to dilute Disability.

E: Yeah

K: It’s like yes we don’t know too much about service animals but that’s not really what we’re talking about. We’re talking about media tends to blow up something that has a grain of truth to it or in this case of this alligator like, a lot of truth in it, and sensationalize it to the point where we perceive that the general public might negatively think of people with disabilities because honestly, at first blush, “Man with Emotional Support Alligator” sounds a little ridiculous. You know? And it’s like yes, it’s legit but no one’s gonna read past the headline who has that negative thought in the first place.

E: At this point, I think the big difference is he’s not trying to take it anywhere. It’s not a story about being denied being able to bring it somewhere and now that I’ve definitely got my facts straight…So the Air Carrier Access Act does say that they may need to provide specific documentation or proof, verbal or otherwise. And I’m not really sure how that would go over with an alligator.

K: I can almost see it working with a dog. Like, “Is that your dog that emotional support dog? Yup! Cool!” But a dog, sorry Wally, it’s a far cry from an alligator. I don’t know. I don’t know.

E: So then the problem is now we have another sensationalized story of an emotional support animal and it just becomes so easy to make a mockery out of a necessary thing. Case in point being that, last month well, at the time of this recording, last month it was December 2018, there was an outcry because Popeye’s Chicken released as a marketing stunt, ‘Emotional Support Chicken.’ And their whole bit was that you could take this on an airplane.

K: I’m gonna admit it, I thought it was funny but you know, it’s also bad. It really is. Because there are people that really do need these animals and yes, in the grand scheme of things, it is just a bit of cardboard but the implication of it is like, “Look, see? We can do it too!” And like it’s stupid like why are you doing that? There are people that need these animals and it’s just like, I don’t like it. I don’t like it…Although it did make me laugh, I’ll concede to that.

(Emily chuckles)

K: I will!

E: I laughed a little  at first too and I feel guilty about it because that’s the whole point, right? They’re trying to be comical and I immediately fell for it and then I was like, “Wait a second, this completely de-legitimizes people who actually need this!”

K: An entire subset of our…

E: Yeah! And I feel bad that my response was not instant outrage but the reality is that when so many headlines are just so ridiculous these days, I just can’t help but laugh when I see a headline that’s so over the top.

K: You know, you would think that if Popeye’s would spend the same amount of money in Research and Development  and Marketing that they did in that Emotional Support Chicken Box, and instead, but that toward making their chicken taste good. Um… they might sell more chicken.

E: I like Popeye’s chicken.

K: You are a heretic

E: Hey man, you like Chick Fil A.

K: I do. And I don’t like KFC. I guess we’re uh, equally matched.

E: Yeah. So Popeye’s has offended disabled people, Chick- Fil- A does not like the LGBTQIA+ community and KFC…

K: Is just disgusting

E: Well they I’ve heard are perpetrators of Animal Cruelty against their chickens. That’s long been the story that I’ve heard about KFC.

K: Well I’m just gonna stop eating chicken

E: So there is no moral or ethical fried chicken, is the story here. Anyway um guess we’re not getting sponsored by them

K: That’s okay!

E: But back to the topic at hand, so I feel like this happens all the time where legitimate stories are somehow turned into, “Let’s make fun of disabled people!”

K: And it’s open too! You know what I mean? There are groups of people, like minority groups of people in this country and I guess the world where everyone but the radical like, proud to be racist dude will look over their shoulder before they make an obscenely offensive joke. Not so with disabled people. We get made fun of openly. All the time.

E: Oh, it’s always open season on disabled people.

K: Yeah, and like look, I’m someone who can always appreciate a joke, I cut more slack than I should to pretty much your favorite comedian that did that terrible thing, whoever they are. But where is that line? And for me it’s like if you don’t have a point? Like there’s really no point to an emotional support chicken. Box of chicken. You know? You’re only doing that to rip disabled people, there’s nothing behind that. I don’t know, I just don’t like it because there’s s many real problems in our world and we don’t need the five companies who control everything we see on TV to make it harder for us to do sh*t when it’s already really difficult.

E: So I was trying to think of a prime example of something legitimate about Disability being turned into a joke. And I know that there are a million examples, but one that comes to mind is someone that I know, her name is Anastasia Somoza, she’s actually in Amy Poehler’s book Yes Please. And yeah, Amy Poehler recounts this story about how she, during a Saturday Night Live skit was mocking Anastasia and her sister Alba who both have Cerebral Palsy. And turns out their family was watching the show that night

K: Yikes!

E: And there are these disabled people getting mocked during a skit on SNL and it just goes to show that comedians don’t think, companies don’t think, everyone wants to turn Disability into a joke or a mockery, it’s funny. And I know that some people will come back and say, “Oh well, nothing’s safe when it comes to comedy” or you know, “Why can’t we make jokes about things?”

K: Look, I’m almost always one of those people. You know me.  I’m almost always one of those people. I firmly believe that almost anything can be funny in the proper context. But the word ‘almost’ is very important.  Don’t mind jokes that use Disability as a “butt end” if there’s a point to it. I don’t, I really don’t! But if your whole joke is, “Look at the crippled person! Weird, right?” It’s like, that’s not funny. It’s just, it’s not funny.

E: Yeah I think that’s what it really comes down to. It’s exhausting to be the butt of jokes but the reality is that our realities are often the butt of headlines and sensationalism and this constant need to objectify disability. I mean it goes back to Inspiration Porn and Pity Porn which we talk about all the time; everything is sensationalized with Disability. Why is someone having an emotional support alligator, news? I mean, is it a bad thing that it’s news? Is it having a negative effect? I don’t know! Is it having a positive effect on some people? I don’t know!

K: I’ll spar with you on that one a little bit. It’s newsworthy because it’s strange. There is something strange about an emotional support alligator and there is something strange about an emotional support peacock. You know, you see like dogs and the occasional little ponies but when you think of an alligator it’s like the farthest thing from a support animal that you can possibly imagine! So in that respect I do understand why it’s news but I really do think that it would have more of a negative effect than a positive one. I really do. It was my knee- jerk reaction, and I’m someone who knows better. And I’m not saying that I’m some like superior moral person but I’m just saying like if that’s what it does to me, what is it gonna do to someone that doesn’t know better? They’re just gonna see that and go, “Stupid!” But also, when you click on it and see Wally and his silly little face, it does the same thing that inspiration seems to do to able-bodied people so maybe it’s evenly split down the middle for all I know. You know what I mean? You’re just like, “Oh look at him, he’s smiling! It’s a killing machine that’s smiling!” And it’s like yes, that’s exactly what it is.

(Emily laughs)

K: No but like isn’t that weird because people who like Inspiration Porn, like able-bodied people who like love that sh*t, they’re like, “Look at this poor soul!” And it’s like, are we those people in this case? I don’t think so, I don’t. But it’s a strange thing to think about.

E: That’s interesting! I guess I hadn’t thought about it like that. Are we just as guilty of the objectification that we get mad at when other people do it to us. There’s a lot of things that I find cute and heartwarming or sad or whatever that if a non-disabled person found it sad I’d be like, “You stop that right now!” Or if they felt warm and fuzzy I’d be like, “No!”

K: “You don’t get why it’s warm and fuzzy to me mister man!

E: This was like the guy who was in the Nike Ad!

K: Oh my God, yes it’s exactly like that except with an alligator

(Emily laughs)

K: Emily is so right, never listen to me. She’s always the one that’s correct.

E: You were right on the requesting documentation thing for the service animal and emotional support animal

K: Oh, that’s true. So what’s that, like one out of five thousand?

E: Ha! Who’s keeping score? But seriously, we were all warm and fuzzy over that video because like, “Hell Yeah!”

K: Yeah, it’s cute!

E: You go! You go, for having an emotional support animal and for being the first disabled athlete signed by Nike. I mean, that’s awesome but it’s different when we fee; that way…Is that hypocritical? That’s hypocritical

K: It’s hypocritical only on a surface level because it is different when we feel that way. It’s sorta like…Okay, if you’re watching Saturday Night Live with your elderly non- woke grandparent, and I don’t know the cast of SNL but let’s say Kenan Thompson, I know he’s on there, he makes a joke about black people at his own expense to point out some stereotype..He points out some negative absurdity to point out how bad it is and so he makes a joke about it. And we’ll laugh because we’re like, “Haha that stereotype is bad, but look he’s doing it. Funny!” But your grandparent might look at it and go, “Heheh…black people!” That’s the difference.

E: Okay, I feel like you pretty much nailed that one. Yeah like, they miss the irony in it.

K:  Yeah Exactly

E: And that is the crux of the problem because once again we need to take an entire episode before we can figure out what we’re talking about. Basically media perpetuates this notion that everything that happens in the world of Disability is sensational. Whereas we have complex and nuanced emotions about these headlines that we see.

K: It very seldom is sensational. I mean, the amount of sh*t that passes for news when it’s someone with a Disability is just staggering. I mean even if you take away all the feel-good stuff where it’s like, “Guy with CP Takes 600 Years to Graduate High School… But He Did it!” I mean, even if you took all that away it’s like, “Can you believe these Disabled People need a straw to drink?!?!”  It’s like, “Yes. Yes I can, have you ever met one” You know what I mean, it’s like

(Emily chuckles)

E: And so it goes with the straw ban

K: I didn’t mean to bring that up but

E: But it’s relevant too because you wanna talk about sensationalizing headlines? Oh my, God! People are like, “Disabled people are single-handedly destroying the Earth because they refuse to stop using plastic straws!” And it’s just like, “No. Why don’t you recycle once in awhile?” And you know I understand that a plastic straw got stuck in a turtle’s nose once but you know that smoothie got stuck in my friend’s throat once because they weren’t using a straw! So like c’mon now.

K: Oh you’re being so speciesist right now Emily

(Emily laughs)

K: This is what I feel about the straw ban. Okay here we go: New York dies it right, all the other cities do it wrong. We have an exemption for medical and disability reasons. If you need a straw, you should have a straw, and if you can use a straw that’s not plastic, you should! Otherwise, just let people drink whatever they want! Thanks, that’s it.

E: Kyle’s take on The Straw Ban. But your larger point stands about how that was also an issue that is constantly brought up by media and it’s like, can we all just relax and stop pointing fingers at disabled people for being a problem?

K: (whispering) It’s also not the biggest pollution problem in the world, FYI

E: Why did we just go all ASMR

K: Feeling a little naughty. It’s late.

E: No. I would like to state for the record right now that there is nothing naughty about ASMR.

K: (deeply) It’s the best thing ever

E: Kyle has such a radio voice doesn’t he?

K: (deeply) I don’t know what you’re talking about.

E: Okay, before we get off the rails I think that we should give our Final Takeaways about these here emotional support headlines and just sensationalized headlines in general and how that impacts disabled people

K: Okay. My final takeaway is that Wally the Alligator is like my new best friend. And I would have never known about him if it wasn’t for a sensationalized headline from Huffington Post. But having said that, they probably shouldn’t have worded it that way. Because in the short term all it does is increase your ad revenue but in the long term you’re planting seeds in people’s minds that might maybe later, maybe perhaps will lead them to think unnecessary negative thoughts about people with disabilities just because one guy somewhere had an atypical animal as their service animal. And so you know, if you find yourself thinking that, ask yourself why. Is it weird cause it’s an alligator? Sure. Is it that weird for a man to need a support animal? No.

E: Is it having an impact on your life directly? Definitely not! Also guys, go look at Wally he’ so cute!

K: Yeah, we’re gonna link to Wally.

E: Also his name is Wally!

K: Yeah, how do you not like things named Wally? Heartless.

E: (laughs) My final takeaway is that sometimes these supposedly awareness raising headlines or these very thinly veiled supposedly awareness raising headlines that are actually sensationalizing things which make it easy to make a mockery out of them? We gotta stop doing it. But, the reality is that that is not going to happen because people love clickbait and this is just the media we live in right now. Do we live in media? We live in a world…

K: (intensely) We live in a world…In a media..  

(Emily laughs)

K: (intensely): One planet whose name is Buzzfeed!

(Emily laughs)

K: Just read the articles that you like click on. Just read them, it’s fine.

E: With a critical eye too because to be honest the article about and the video about Wally? Not all that sensationalized when you  actually stop to take a look at it. The one that I was reading in HuffPost? Pretty chill actually. You know, be a thoughtful consumer of media. My goodness! We shoulda just said that at the beginning of the episode.

K: I was just gonna point out. You said, “With a critical eye” and like, not everyone has eyes okay?

E: Oh my gosh, the rabbit hole is endless.

K: This has been another episode of The Accessible Stall. I’m Emily, she’s Kyle.

(Emily laughs)

K: Like us on Facebook, Follow us on Twitter, donate to our patreon, www.patreon.com/theaccessiblestall Just one dollar a month makes sure that every future episode of The Accessible Stall is transcribed and accessible. Have a wonderful night and might we say…

E: You look good today!

K: Ya sexy b*tch!

(Emily cracks up laughing)

K: Goodnight everyone

E: Bye!