Food allergies and auto-immune ailments aren’t laughing matters. Celiac disease affects one of every 133 Americans.
People who live with celiac can’t eat pizza, pasta, bread, pastry, or French fries without experiencing debilitating side effects that include vomiting, severe weight loss, and diarrhea. They must limit themselves to a gluten-free diet.
Recently, the Disney Channel pulled an episode of the situation comedy Jessie because a family complained about its use of celiac as a sight gag. Two of the family’s children, who have been diagnosed with the disease, were upset by a scene in which a character has pancakes thrown at him by other kids after they learn he has to eat gluten-free food (pancakes are not gluten-free).
The family started an online petition campaign to pressure the Disney Channel not to air the episode again, saying it could give children an excuse to bully others with the disease. A few thousand signatures later, Disney took the episode off the schedule and apologized.
The family successfully exercised its right to protest content it found offensive. Still, this is not the kind of victory that will benefit children who suffer from celiac in the long run.
Without taking away from the seriousness of the disease, it can be portrayed on a children’s show as a source of conflict, just as it is in real life. Why pretend celiac is so sacrosanct that it must disappear from view as if it were shameful?
Why not show how unenlightened some young people can be? Instead of yanking the episode, Disney could have expanded the scene to educate its viewers about the disease.
Kids’ shows deal with uncomfortable subjects such as bullying all the time. What would happen if parents who were worried about bullying demanded that Disney remove those shows?
Disney would stand its ground, because that would be ridiculous. Fortunately, most kids with celiac are more resilient than either Disney or the well-meaning family gives them credit for.