From an audience member perspective, an initial consideration of some broad disability related themes mainly covering comedy. This is only a snap shot from the huge and varied Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2008-10. Many eg's were noted of unreconstructed disablism in comedy, mainly via the idle use of othering language such as the words 'spaz' and 'retard'. Notions of 'othering', representation, the practice of 'cripping up', the freak show genre, irony... the impact of equalities legislation are eg's of areas for deeper research.
'That's not even a word is it?' ( Response to my heckle at a London improvisation show in December 2007 which prompted me to consider comedy at Edinburgh). 'Disablism is discriminatory,oppressive or abusive behaviour arising from the belief that disabled people are inferior to others. www.scope.org.uk/disablism
Unlike disablism, racism, with the exception of Islamophobia, seemed to be off limits in the 2007 London improv show which included imitating stereotyped behaviours the performers associated with Tourette's syndrome, epilepsy, cerebral palsy. Frequently occurring words included spastic, spaz and spazza, retard, special needs. The audience loved it. Edinburgh stand up 2008-2010 included numerous similar examples.
Foucault's term for the way people distinguish themselves from others, usually in a pejorative manner. 'Language has always had power to define cultural groups. (Haller et al 2006 p61). 'Mainstream selves and their boundaries of identification are defined in opposition to negatively constructed others'. (Valentine 2002 p217).
'Dominant groups in society reduce minority culture to discourse of the other.' (Peters 2000 p588). 'The expression 'special needs' puts together two of the terms most commonly used in patronising euphemisms. Special segregates'. (Valentine 2002 p220). The Free Fringe 2010 included a comic who described herself as a 'Special Needs Teacher' and drew on the impairments of her pupils.
Ivan Brackenbury's Hospital Radio Show (Tom Binns in the guise of a hospital radio DJ)- M.E. 'She had a lazy eye, it spread... Dwarfs have feelings too, happy, grumpy.. they are like real people only smaller... South Yorkshire police are looking for a man with a learning difficulty, they must be recruiting... Chris Williams review in 'Fest' 2008 described Brackenbury as 'truly hilarious'. The audience seemed to agree...His popularity persists.
Dr Paul Sidhar in 'That John Terry Moment' recounted his sense of being appalled by a woman who used the term handicapped then referred to himself as 'the school spaz'. 'Hairy Back Productions' in 'Nude' included ' I'm a good person, I did a swimming gala for 'the spastics'.
'I'm gay because I'm disabled and I can't get women to sleep with me.' (The Devil in Drag). Also sexist and homophobic, and not very funny.
The (UK) Disability Equality Duty (2006) is specific about the requirement to promote good relationships between disabled and non disabled people. Stereotyping in relation to race, gender, sexual orientation appeared less mainstream in Edinburgh. Words like sexist and racist are in common use. Disablism isn't. The Equality Act 2010 recognises multiple identity.
In which disabled people use their experience of disabling barriers to comedic effect. (Fraser 2008). Laurence Clark (Spastic Fantastic's) 'Kill the Puppies' sketch for example, in which people put money in a collection bucket because they saw the man and his impairment rather than the theme of the collection.
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'Normality' ( 2009).Pedro Kruger.Wordsmith Theatre Factory. 'Boy -cripple- meets girl-quirky...normal is just a setting on the dryer'. Kruger walks on stage as Alex then dramatically adopts the pose of a person with a physical impairment. The meaningless and tragic life of the disabled character-Alex-is transformed by the miraculous love of a non disabled woman.
Hit Me!The life and rhymes of Ian Dury. ( 2010).Jeff Merrifield. Seabright Productions. Dury as...'Troubled genius...wrestling with disability... powerful... inspirational life story... incredible triumph over adversity... Dury (played by Mark White) returns after death as a tap dancing angel and announces that he is cured.
Miss Landmine (2009). Teatro Dei Borgia and The Lincoln Company. 'Angola. A unique beauty contest. The prize-a golden prosthetic limb-and the title Miss Landmine'. (Also-cash). Based on fact with a photographic backdrop of Miss Landmine contestants. Representation of a chapter in the real life of Augusta Urica, and commentary on the impact of landmines in Angola.
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Expectations. (2010). Whatssonstage.com Gothenburg English Speaking Theatre. Two young couples deal differently with the news that their child will be born disabled..based on the author's own experience'. The young child is portrayed off stage over 4 years by sounds initially of distress, and later a mix of crying, babble and laughter.
Disability comedians may offer a welcome challenge to disablist ideas. Disabled comedians can be disablist. Some performers slip in words like spaz but not sexist or racist terminology. Cripping up-or acting? Considerations around representation of disabled characters by non disabled performers? Equalities legislation-possible impact? Irony?