The big hotness in Hollywood right now is “diversity.” All races, ethnicities, orientations, and whatnot are being represented in film, television, stage, video games, novels, and more.
So where’s the representation of chronic invisible illness sufferers? People like me and you, with Lupus, Fibromyalgia, Dysautonomia, etc.? It’s true that some better-known illnesses like Depression and Multiple Sclerosis are featured sometimes on TV dramas — particularly the ones that take place in a hospital setting — but when was the last time you saw someone in a movie or on television suffering from Crohn’s Disease or Chronic Fatigue?
(Just don’t get me started on House. I will always despise that show for the stupid “It’s never Lupus” meme it spawned. To this day, you can look up “Lupus meme” on Google and the vast majority of results will have Hugh Laurie’s smug face on them. Thanks to House, more people know Lupus as a punchline than a real, life-altering, life-threatening disease.)
It’s said that nearly half of all Americans suffer from one or more chronic invisible illnesses. Nearly half! That’s incredible. But the public at large still knows so little about these diseases that one of two things is happening here: either Hollywood has no idea how to depict a chronic invisible illness, or they choose not to because they believe that things like a heart attack or a cancer diagnosis provide better dramatic fodder.
How can everyone be getting representation in pop culture these days if the day-to-day reality of nearly half of the American population is being ignored? I wonder how long it will be before we get equal representation. What we need is a prominent Hollywood writer or other creative who’s willing to learn about Lupus, Fibro, or any other chronic invisible illness and then show what it’s really like, with care and attention to detail.
And that’s a problematic notion for TV and film, because it couldn’t be a one-off story arc. If it’s talked about once and then never mentioned again, then it’s completely missed the point. Chronic illnesses never go away. You don’t have to talk about them all the time, but you can’t pretend they’re not there, either.
Right now, the measurement of chronic invisible illnesses in entertainment is at zero. We’ve got a very long way to go.