Allergies in Fiction
As someone whose dream has always been to be paid for my fiction writing, I pay attention to people’s reactions to fiction. I’ve read numerous articles about minorities lamenting the lack of diverse characters that are more than stereotypes. I know the three rules to pass the Bechdel Test. So I read with interest the reaction to an episode of the Disney Channel show Jessie bullying a boy with celiac disease.
I understand that I’m preaching to the choir here when I say that Disney obviously misstepped here. But I do want to examine what exactly went wrong. Bullying is a common trope in fiction. So many movies and books start with the protagonist getting beat up or picked on. Bad things happen in life so of course bad things will happen in fiction. It’s the only way to see characters learn and grow, which is the exciting part of stories.
The problem with the Jessie show is that the viewer was not supposed to sympathize with the victim of the bullying. They were supposed to laugh at his reactions. This gives the message that it’s ok to do that in real-life, which its not.
I would one day like to write a story with characters with food intolerances. I just haven’t found the right plot for it yet. Part of the reason is that while I understand how life changing it is to deal with food allergies, it can’t carry a story. And if the food allergy becomes necessary to the plot, it tends to fall into the three clichés Beasley brought up in Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl 1 – the reaction as a sight gag, 2 – the allergy as the Achilles heel, and 3 – the allergy as an excuse for the protagonist to be heroic.
At this point, the best thing I can think of is to have the food allergy just be one of a well-rounded character’s many traits. Something that others are aware of, but its not a big deal. Not sure how to pull it off, but I’ll keep it on the backburner.