A friend of mine told me that this programme that takes a look at how disability is portrayed on TV in the last 50 years. While planning our evening timetable of TV, my beau asked me if this was going to one of those programmes that upset me and would have me shouting at the TV screen. Probably, I replied. I wasn’t confident about the angle the show especially considering it has comedian David Walliams narrating and listed the restricted growth community’s ‘friend’ comedian Stephen Merchant as one of the contributors.
The list of disabled contributors was commendable – actors Matt Fraser, Kiruna Stamell, CBeebies presenter Cerrie Burnell and Para-Olympian Tanni Grey-Thomson to name but a few.
The points made by the disabled comedienne Francesca Martinez got me thinking. Is portraying and making fun of disability on shows such as Extras, on which she featured, really equate to equality? Having the ability to laugh at your own disability as well as how others treat you because of it? Somewhere in the back of my head it makes sense, but I still can’t help but think that the jokes on the person with the disability, cloaked in a shroud of so-called choice and self-justification.
Comments from other comedians such as Jimmy Tarbuck had my blood boiling at times, but what I think these attitudes really highlighted was what era you came from and what was/is deemed as acceptable way to humour a minority group. What I did find interesting was how both Tarbuck and Merchant, comics from two different generations appeared to have very little awareness of what is an acceptable form or way of humouring the disability community, how the joke may not seem so funny disabled person on the receiving end it, nevermind the ramifications such stereotyping has on a particular disabled group when they are left to deal with consequences of such jokes in the wider world.
I’m with the wonderful Kiruna Stamell’s comments for the need for more disabled people in soaps and letting people see the mundane life that we usually lead to help counter balance the prevailing stereotypes that the programme highlighted. Of course in my biased opinion, especially so for people with restricted growth.
It was a good piece of TV and I am grateful that there are more and more positive/evaluative disability related programming appearing in print and on TV. Though after watching this, I can’t help but wonder, if we’ve still a way to go to portray as rounded individuals.
Sigh, I would so love to see a programme that takes an irreverent look at ‘normies’ from a disabled point of view on TV over the past 50 years instead. That would be funny.
Oh and by the way, I did shout at the TV… twice.
Watch while you can here – available until approx. 06/07/10
I totally understand and agree with your thinking on Francesca Martinez comments. I am sad to say that I believe that the majority of the interviewees on the programme who were celebrating the way that Gervais and Merchant have ‘tackled issues’ are rather naive in thinking that it’s somehow educating the comedy viewing public. The sad truth is this, I have to believe that Gervais and Merchant have the best of intentions with their new ‘Life’s Too Short’ comedy but this stuff will simply be open to unintentional (or indeed intentional) misinterpretation by its ‘less informed’ viewing public and the musings will simply be used for their own ends. For example, I suspect that after the screening of ‘Life’s Too Short’ I will be approached and touched by even more lunatics pretending that I will bring them luck, and because they feel they have had insight into Warwick Davies’ life they will believe that they know me too, and that I must be like him and perhaps ‘act’ for a living.
A genuine platform whereby people with dwarfism will be ‘demystified’ is if an RG person plays a straight role and is regularly featured in a soap opera, as I said in the Guardian article, having trouble with everyday life and troubles that have nothing to do with their disability/difference. For people of RG to be deemed acceptable and less ‘freakish’ it will only happen if its exposed in a serious and mundane way. In the same way that we now see many people of different races and cultures featured on tv, and as a result the majority of the viewing public don’t think twice about it.
Thanks for your comments Gill. I think, with regards to the ‘Life’s Too Short’ show, in context is a great idea for a piece of programming.
Sometimes I wonder if we are getting to worried about what might be? But then are we not the sum of our experiences? Which sadly for, I would hazard a guess, a high percentage of RG people, have and do have a negative experiences by other people dealing with RG, and in how we are portrayed in the media. As such, I think hearing about the show, has probably got your average RG person worrying and thinking ‘here we go again, we’re the humorous character, the one to laugh at or (as I suspect might be the case with Life’s Too Short), laughing with the character; which in itself is not necessarily a reflective experience for all RG people. Oooh the layers of subtext!
I think 98% of people will see through the façade and will get the irony or jokes of the show, and more than likely it will be clever. But it’s the 2% of the population who do take it quite literally and think it is funny to act out what they see on the screen. I agree with you, just as what Kiruna Stamell noted in the above doc, that restricted growth needs to be ‘normalised’ in the way that other minority groups have been given the opportunity in the media and in the entertainment industry. What the RG community would appreciate is just to see ourselves reflected in different roles other than what is currently published or broadcast. Say in Coronation Street or your EastEnders.
I do think, regardless of whatever community group you belong to, that there will always be that 2% of idiots who make trouble whether you’re short, tall or from an another particular community and the other 98% are too busy getting on with their own lives to care 🙂
This is all prepositioning at the moment and it’s great that it’s got the community talking. Any ideas when the show is to be aired?