Archive | November, 2011

The Simpsons, Dwarfism & Getting It Almost Right For Once

12 Nov

Livro ou TV?(Image by Lubs Mary. used under Creative Commons license via)

 

Somewhere, among the many things cluttered in the back of my head, has long been the wonder as to whether The Simpsons would ever address dwarfism as a topic. Last night, I found out they did two years ago in the episode “Eeny Teeny Maya Moe” and I was shocked to see them decide against the freak show trope that our generation adores so dearly.  Not only did they transcend the snickering, but they pounced upon it and deftly demonstrated how blurred are the lines between comfort and discomfort.

Of course it feels silly to be grateful upon seeing one’s difference portrayed respectfully and productively.  But forgetting all the crappy media that take cheaps shots at dwarfs (James Bond, The Man Show, Celebrity Apprentice, Austin Powers), I’ve become quite used to good art reveling in the yuk-yuk fascination (Scrubs, This Is Spinal Tap, QI, Bob Dylan).  Not to mention the fantasy genre’s long-held tradition (from The Wizard of Oz to The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus) of utilizing dwarfism to denote either a separate race or mysticism (“It must be a fucking dream, there’s a fucking dwarf in it!“), which is not explicitly offensive, but also not particularly helpful in deconstructing prejudice and misconceptions.  Across the genres, Hollywood usually contributes more to the list of names we get called (Oompa Loompas, Hobbits, Mini-Me, etc.) than to diversity awareness.

The Simpsons episode isn’t perfect – how does one deal with minority issues perfectly? – but I was quite pleased.  The one moment that left a bitter taste in my mouth is the final line: “Who would have thought a woman so short could make me feel so big?”  Little People of America and many of their supporters perpetuate this same, pathetic slogan of empowerment: physically short, but mentally/spiritually/emotionally huge.  Short, but.  Little, but.  You’re well-meaning, but.

Little is not less.  Little is not inferior.  Little is not cute.  Little is not submissive.  Little is not weak.  Little is not a Napoleon Complex.  Little is little.  Big is not greater.  Big is not better.  Big is not powerful.  Big is not dominant.  Big is not strong.  Big is not a Gentle Giant.  Big is big.  To consider size as indicative of personality traits is as ludicrous as equating anything from freckles to elbow shape with personality traits.  (Any attempt to compliment Oprah Winfrey or Alice Walker by saying, “She may have been dark-skinned, but she brought light to the lives of many” would be considered wholly idiotic and righftully so.)  Having two x chromosomes does not impede my intelligence or independence or strength, and neither does having an autosomal dominant mutation in my fibroblast growth factor receptor gene 3.

If you want to praise an individual’s ability to overcome social obstacles, do not place blame for the obstacles on their genetics.  Society’s incessant xenophobia and vanity are constantly let off the hook because a genetic difference is still seen as that which upsets normalcy, rather than that which is handicapped by our delusions of normalcy.  It is all too often supported by the reasoning that if a majority is scared of a difference, then it must be a natural fear, and natural is practically synonymous with good.  It will take quite a few more episodes like that on The Simpsons before the discourse changes and someone says, “Who would have a thought a woman so shat on by our culture’s omnipresent lookism could have the patience to deal with my own individual prejudices?”

 

 

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It’s Not One or the Other with Evelyn Evelyn

6 Nov

Evelyn EvelynSo Jason Webley and Amanda Palmer have formed a band called Evelyn Evelyn for which the two dress up as conjoined twin sisters.  I wasn’t going to comment on the scandal that has erupted over the launch of their new album because it seemed too many people were screaming at the top of their lungs and the ones who weren’t had stuck their fingers in their ears.  But I’m both a big Jason Webley fan and an advocate for more visibility on the issues of ableism in political discourse.  And this is an excellent example of a common occurrence in the counter-culture that rarely gets talked about.  Here are a few of my points, some of which have already been made by others, some of which haven’t.

One can love Jason and/or Amanda as artists and also believe that they’ve done something wrong.  One can be in awe of Mick Jagger’s talent, and still gristle at his womanizing and the lyrics he sings advocating it.  The adolescent idol-worship of these two singers that’s been revealed in the defense arguments is quite disturbing.

Even though I fiercely believe in intersectionality (i.e., if you’re gonna support the rights of one minority, you’ve got to support them all), being insensitive toward one group of people does not make you insensitive to all.  Amanda Palmer is a fierce feminist and LGBT advocate, and both she and Jason like to sing about, as he put it, the experiences of those on the margin.  This project does not nullify their previous good works and transform  them both into misanthropic bigots.

As intersectionality often proves, a liberal identity does not make progressives like Jason and Amanda incapable of prejudice or sheer jack-ass behavior.  I met student after student at Bard who would glare at anything remotely racist or sexist or homophobic, but who insisted that dwarf-tossing is fucking hilarious and cringed at individuals with facial deformities.

I admit that I didn’t consider the offensive implications the first time I heard of the project.  When I read the bio on Evelyn Evelyn’s MySpace page, I did start to feel the thing reverberate with circus-freak retro-chic.  More than anything, I didn’t see why the twins had to be conjoined.  They have the same name and sing back and forth to each other; there isn’t anything about their record requiring them to be conjoined except to add a little freak-show flavor, realized by the sight-gag of the two singers performing onstage on a single accordion.  If Evelyn Evelyn were merely identical twins, no one would have given it a moment’s pause and only the freak-show flavor would be lost.  I happen to think “Have You Seen My Sister Evelyn?” is a great ragtime song.  I also enjoyed Jason’s solo rendition of “Elephant Elephant” using the audience for call-backs far more than his version with Amanda as his twin. 

Bearing all this in mind, it is my opinion that both Jason and Amanda have handled this quite badly. 

Jason’s apology on his blog is much less defensive than Amanda’s, his shock at the reaction seems genuine, but he nevertheless manages to keep stumbling.  “I had some fear that the few conjoined twins living in the world might find the project offensive.”  Ouch.  Respect and human rights do not directly correlate to a minority’s numbers.  Someone pointed out that conjoined twins are so few because their infant mortality rate is so high.  Ouch.    

As for Amanda, I don’t know why she tweets or posts so frequently only to be shocked about the fire she draws from her hastily typed statements regarding her often controversial projects.  Let’s not kid ourselves – she obviously likes being an iconoclast, which is fine and in fact admirable, but she so far lacks the poise to handle the inevitable backlash each time she comes roaring onto the scene with another boisterous project.  And, Amanda, you don’t need to let us know you’re PMSing.  If you’d used the word “midget” on me and included that in your apology/excuse, it would not help to redeem you. 

I originally wasn’t going to attend the Berlin show because it’s rather expensive, but now I’m considering proposing a boycott over this issue.  Not because I hate these two for it (I don’t), but because the friends who were reluctant to go over the price would likely tell me to loosen up if ableist politics were my sole reason.  And that could be a good opportunity to confront the prejudices lurking under the liberal badges we love to wear.

 

UPDATE: Any credibility Amanda’s apology had was swiftly obliterated by her performance on this Australian talk show.  She may very well be a feminist and a radical and an activist, but first and foremost, Amanda Palmer is a narcissist.  Possibly the least radical thing you can be in show business.

 

 

Note: This post originally appeared on February 21, 2010 at klompen.livejournal.com