Every week, it seems like I read about a celebrity who died and I think, hmmm I thought they died years ago. Other times someone dies, and I didn’t realize they were that old or sick and it makes me sad. It’s not like I knew them, but I’ve heard so much about them, so I know they made an impression and will be missed. This is how I feel about Mary Tyler Moore.
The beloved The Mary Tyler Moore Show debuted in the 70s. It paralleled my mom’s generation, young women making a place in the working world, peeking out from under the patriarchy. When the show hit its golden years of reruns on Nick at Night, I watched I Love Lucy instead. I was too young to understand the groundbreaking context of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
I read glowing remembrances all week. This lady really changed a cultural attitude about women in America. Her character, Mary Richards, a TV station producer, stood in for the blossoming real lives of a new generation of working ladies. A character like her broadcasted weekly into millions of American homes said: this is ok. It’s normal. It’s relatable. Be like me if you want. Or don’t, that’s ok, too.
It points to a need in my life, to have a relatable fictional role out there in mainstream culture. Where’s my Mary Tyler Moore who’s living and working with vision loss? She could help people who don’t have friends who understand their struggles and triumphs and contentment with loss. She could help those of us, like me before I gained my low vision, who simply have no experiences with a blind person. Helen Keller I love you and you weren’t fictional, but it’s time to modernize popular American role models.
Recent examples in pop culture include The Fault in Our Stars’s Isaac, a young fellow facing blindness. NBC’s Mel Fisher, a divorced working dad. USA Network’s Auggie Anderson, a sarcastic blinded vet who works as a CIA tech officer. Karin Slaughter’s Sibyl Adams, the queer college professor in the Grant County crime novel series. Although Sybil doesn’t get the opportunity to share her meaningful life with us as we meet her postmortem, a victim of murder. Perhaps the most relatable fictional person living with vision loss to me is Prairie of The OA. Instead of a flat character to save or pity, she is layered and flawed, she is human. With these choices, there’s still room for improvement.
Fictional people living with blindness represent a minority. Every missed opportunity to diversify perpetuates marginalization. However, if many portrayals exist, disability stops being a cheesy plot device or prominent characteristic. Blindness becomes part of a complex life mirroring reality. It shows people how to accept difference, and to be comfortable around people with disabilities.
When we see ourselves on the screen and the page, others can too. We realize we’re gonna make it after all.
Did you ever watch The Mary Tyler Moore Show? Who do you relate to in pop culture? Tell me about it.