Blindness on TV is usually like being gay. Say what? I mean that in many cases, the single defining quality of a character is that he is blind or gay. Truly breaking through into the mainstream occurs when characters pop up on TV shows that are gay and their gayness barely even warrants mention. It just is; like heterosexuality. Same with being blind. But a lack of vision on account of those who work on TV shows is not always the case. Some of those who work on TV shows actually introduce blind characters who are characters first and blind second. Helen Keller might very well be proud. But she was a wonderfully idiosyncratic human being, so who knows?
A blind investigator? What the? Yes, Mike Longstreet was one of those insurance investigators you hear so much about. Working out the Big Easy, Longstreet got himself blinded during an investigation. But he sure wasn’t going to let that stop him, Jack! Ever have one of those weird moments from a TV show that you remember for decades despite the fact that it really wasn’t anything particularly memorable taking place on the screen? For me, one of those moments was when Longstreet turned on a light in a room. Can’t remember the reason–I may even be inventing the memory–but it struck me as quite odd. Nevertheless, “Longstreet” must be considered a groundbreaking moment in TV history as a case of a leading character being blind.
If an insurance investigator could get away with being blind and still do his job, why not a cop? That was the question Steven Bochco asked, and then answered, in “Blind Justice.” NYPD Det. Jim Dunbar lost his vision as a result of a gunshot wound. But, like Mike Longstreet, Dunbar had no intention of letting a little thing like not being able to see stop him from carrying a gun and investigating crimes. A seeing-eye dog and the development of his other senses to a much keener degree helped Dunbar solve cases, but he still had to answer questions about the validity of a blind cop being allowed to pack heat.
Star Trek: The Next Generation
It can be difficult to remember that Geordie LaForge is actually blind without that goofy visor he wears on the show. The lack of pupils to allow in light is taken care of courtesy of that visor and all works well as long as the oil filter rests around his head. Lose that visor, however, and Lt. Commander LaForge is quite literally facing some significant disability. One might well have supposed that by the time the future of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” rolled around that blindness would be a thing of the past. Apparently not.
Little House on the Prairie
Possibly the most famous blind character on a TV show was Mary Ingalls, older sister of Half-Pint on “Little House on the Prairie.” A lot of people knock this show as being just a mawkish family drama on Michael Landon’s ascension to angelhood, but the truth is that ‘Little House on the Prairie” was one the most realistic western dramas in TV history. People did go blind, including the real Mary Ingalls. The fact that the TV show decided to follow real life so closely is a testament to the fact that “Little House on the Prairie” was not just a Very Special TV Series. The reality that many fans of darker westerns might not like to hear is that “Little House on the Prairie” is a much more authentic portrait of that time and place than most other shows.
Becker was a jerk doctor even before Dr. House came along. He was a jerk to everybody. Or so I hear; in all honesty, I never watched the show. I do hear that Becker was given to ranting and insane tirades in the presence of a blind newspaper stand operator named Jake. The blind newsstand operator is such a common character that he stands on the precipice of becoming a stereotype. Not sure why. Because few people would actually be all that interested in stealing newspapers? Gotta be some reason why Jake from “Becker” is hardly the only blind newsstand guy in pop culture.