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The first series of After Life was, I begrudgingly conceded at the time, was very good. I was constantly on guard waiting for some sort of Dwarf joke, but Gervias and his team appeared to redeem themselves. Apparently not so, when, in the first episode of the second series, the audience is ‘treated’ to a vile joke at our community’s expense.
There have been many great strides in better representation of Dwarfism in arts, culture and media in the U.K since Gervais and co.s, Life’s Too Short.
There is Sinéad Burke breaking down doors of the fashion world, Kiruna Stamell on children’s TV in Australia, Lisa Hammond who was on EastEnders. Yet all this hard work and attempts at inclusivity by arts, culture and media organisations is undermined by a 2-minute sketch.
A sketch where Paul Kayes’s psychiatrist character likens having sex with a Dwarf person as like having sex with a child.
People like Gervais and co. will explain it’s all about context. Yet the insinuation about how people view our disability in society is no less powerful. That Dwarfism is something freakish, something to associate with paedophilia, something once again to objectify and use for the non-disabled person’s amusement.
The Far-Reaching Impact
The thing is, we can spend all day unpacking the awfulness of such a sketch, but what this doesn’t do, is acknowledge the impact it has on the Dwarf person.
As a young woman in my 20’s, I wasn’t sat in pubs with my mates wondering if that guy chatting me up was interested in my ‘sparkling’ personality…
I was sat there wondering “is this person looking at me as a conquest to boast to his mates about?” or “are they are creep who has a fetish for disabled people or worse?” as insinuated in this first episode.
And the writers, by horrifically linking Dwarfism as like having sex with a child – the insinuation is that an average-height non-disabled person is a pedo (or wrong) for having a relationship with someone with our disability.
Meaning, Dwarf people have a lot more prejudice and ignorance to overcome to be seen as worthy of a loving relationship because of representations like this.
It’s not a happy place to find yourself brought into or to be constantly switched on to having to deal with.
Then there’s the impact on non-disabled parent’s who have a Dwarf child. Imagine if you were that parent – how would it make you feel to know that there are men (and women) out there who would treat your child in such a disgusting way?
Why does the Dwarfism Continue To Be Singled Out in Comedy?
Mainly, I wonder what the Dwarfism community has actually done to deserve being singled out for ridicule by Gervais and his band of merry writers for so long? 8 years on from Life’s Too Short, and as a community, we are still the butt of jokes, mainly by powerful white men.
The professional ramifications on writers and actors who participate in such behaviour would be subject to much more stringent guidelines in the commissioning, writer and editorial rooms here in the UK.
Gervais and co, have been savvy, consciously or not, working with NetFlix, as OFCOM has no power to regulate the streaming service regarding their programming. So, who can we actually turn to voice our concerns and complaints about those who incite hatred towards our disability?
Well, if you don’t like it, don’t watch it!
Look, I get it, it’s gallows humour, don’t watch it if you’re easily offended… believe me I wouldn’t if I knew this sort of sketch was included.
And that’s my point…
That is what comedians, the films, the books, the autobiographies and writers, make people like me have to do every time we switch on the bloody screen or open a book!
I (and the rest of the Dwarfism community) have the responsibility of constantly policing every single piece of art, culture or media for prejudice and ignorant behaviour that wouldn’t make the cut with mainstream outlets for groups that have far more clout and people ready to stand up for them.
Quite frankly, I would love to read a book, watch a film or drama series where Dwarfism isn’t been used as a comedic, freakish or fantastical tool to show a non-disabled person’s character. Think about that for a moment…
My reaction after watching the episode was more of exasperation. 8-flipping-years-on from Life’s Too Short, and as a community, we still have to put up with crap like this. We are still having to write blog posts and we’re still having to challenge ignorance and prejudice towards our disability.
What disheartens me the most, is the lack of anger from non-disabled people who have the power to stand up and say that there is no place on-air for cruel comedy that singles out a group of people for the way we were born.
Seriously, done with having to point out non-disabled idiocy when it comes to making fun of my disability.
I’m fed up of being smirked at in the street or by comedians – tall and short – who should know and have the privilege to know the impact their work and words have.
I have a simple request – of the comedians, the writers, the producers, and anyone else involved in the creation of arts, culture and media – stop taking the piss the out of our disability.