Ireland votes on same-sex marriage on Friday, and comedians Brian O’Carroll and Lenny Abrahamson from the sitcom Mrs. Brown’s Boys have teamed up to urge voters to support equality with the above video. If you can’t view it, here’s a summary:
Reading from a speech, a frumpy-looking senior citizen, Mrs. Brown [played by Brian O’Carroll], looks at the camera and says, “Hello. I’d like to talk to you today about midget equality.”
“Marriage, Mammy!” interrupts her son Rory, who is standing next to the cameraman.
“What, love?” she asks, confused.
“It says ‘marriage equality,’ ” he corrects.
“What you got against midgets?” she demands.
“Nothing, Mammy, I’ve got nothing against anybody! It’s just that this is about marriage equality.”
“What about it?” she shrugs. “Any two people who feel in love enough should be allowed to get married! What’s the feckin’ fuss?”
“Well, some people believe that if you allow gays and lesbians to get married, it might change the meaning of marriage and family,” he explains.
She laughs. “I’ve heard that one before! When I was a young girl, there was a big hoo-haa about mixed marriages – y’know, Catholics marrying Protestants and black people marrying white people. But you know what? They still went ahead and got married. And the world didn’t end. No. And we all grew up a little bit.”
She turns to the camera. “And you know, we all have to grow up a little bit now. Marriage isn’t easy. Changing the law isn’t easy. Changing attitudes is even harder. But we can do it. We’ve done it before. And the world didn’t end.”
“Oh, I know that some of you think it’s not right. Well, all I can tell you from my experience is that I can’t describe the joy I feel to see my son Rory having the same opportunity for happiness as everybody’s else’s son.”
“So go out and vote. That’s the important thing. Go out and vote.” She turns to Rory. “Do you know, Rory, there was a time when women weren’t allowed to vote?”
He smiles, rolls his eyes and nods knowingly.
They both start to laugh.
“You see, that’s the thing!” she says, looking at the camera again. “Every generation gets a chance to make a big change. And you’re going to get your chance on May the 22nd. So go out and do it. Go out and vote.” She giggles. “And keep in mind, support midgets!”
Rory rolls his eyes and shakes his head.
She thinks for a moment. “Oh, right. They asked me to make it funny.” She prepares to tell a joke. “These two queers were—” ”
“Mammy!” Rory scolds.
The video is touching in its call for equal rights for same-sex partners in the spirit of equality for so many minorities. And yet the attempt to inject some humor amid the pathos comes via a slur at the expense of another minority. After I showed the video to a close friend, his face shifted back and forth between a soft smile and a furrowed brow. “Most of it is pretty sweet, but – the midgets part? I mean, why was that necessary?”
As the mother of a boy with achondroplasia told The Irish Independent:
I know Brendan O’Carroll probably didn’t mean anything malicious in his use of the word, but it’s just to educate people that it’s not an acceptable term to use…
Brendan didn’t use the N-word to describe black people, as this is thankfully totally unacceptable in most of today’s society…
I didn’t see what people with short stature, call them ‘midgets’ as he called them, has got to do with marriage equality. I just saw it as a source of ridicule. It was a cheap shot. It was just a gag…
[When my son was born], the obstetrician tried to explain the condition to me by using the term, “Do you know a clown in a circus? He’d be one of those.” That’s the attitude that’s out there. It’s just comments that people think it’s okay to refer to these people in a derogatory fashion and it’s not okay.
She is hardly the first mother of a child with dwarfism to hear this. Parents of children with achondroplasia born in the 1950s recounted in the documentary Little People: The Movie how they were routinely told the same thing by obstetric nurses.
I personally do not find Carroll’s use of the word “midget” deeply offensive. I find it cheap, and unfortunately symbolic of the way dwarfs are predominantly marginalized by comedians and pop culture – the same way gays and lesbians up until only recently were predominantly marginalized by comedians and pop culture. As Bob Hope wise-cracked in 1970:
You know, a new movement – a new movement has appeared on the American scene. First women’s liberation demanded the rights of women. Then the hardhats demanded the rights of men. And now gay liberation is demanding the rights of – whatever they are.
Many in the dwarf community have tried to emphasize the offensiveness of the word “midget” by comparing it to the offensiveness of the N-word for the black community. This comparison is not entirely apt because a word’s power to offend relies greatly on the intentions of those who primarily use it. Most of the time that I hear the M-word, the utterer is displaying more blunt ignorance than outright malice. In that way, “midget” is perhaps more comparable to “Oriental” or “gypsy” or “Siamese twin.” Some people use these words pejoratively, many people take them as pejoratives, but most people use them because they are unaware of the human rights conversations about these groups that have been going on for the past several decades.
Indeed, my first reaction was that, obviously Mrs. Brown is played up as a caricature of batty, outspoken matriarchs whose speech is expected to be embarrassingly outdated. But she did not refer to black people as “coloreds.” And surely, Mrs. Brown, you had Seinfeld in Ireland back in the day?