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?”