Saturday, April 18, 2009

And the winner is .....

Coincidentally, on April 5, the same night NBC ran an episode of the "Celebrity Apprentice" humiliating people of short stature, "The Simpsons" episode also included a person of short stature. While "The Simpsons" episode didn't earn nearly the same attention as "The Celebrity Apprentice," it should have, but for opposite reasons. Comparing reality television with scripted television may not be fair, or possible, but for everything "Celebrity Apprentice" did wrong, "The Simpsons" did correct.

As a person of short stature, there is plenty of material on television, the radio and the internet about which to be offended. Sometimes, if a complaint is expressed, we are criticized as too sensitive. People within and without the community say, "just like any other minority, you have to learn to take a joke." But that critique is wrong. Comedy that works in relation to a minority group doesn't poke fun directly at the members of the group because of who and what they are. Comedy that works pokes fun at the stereotypes about the minority group developed by the at-large community, at the way people outside of the group react to the stereotypes, and at the way members of the minority respond to the stereotypes.

The "Simpsons" storyline on April 5 followed Moe, the bartender of Moe's Tavern. He had recently met a woman through an internet dating service. The woman turned out to be a person of short stature. Moe didn't know about her stature until they met in person for the first time. They had planned to meet at Moe's Tavern. The initial meeting opened a huge door for comedic laughs. Knowing Moe's character and his tendencies to make off color comments, I expected the comedy to come at the expense of Maya, the short statured woman over the internet. But instead, the comedy revolved around the fear of offending minorities. When Moe opened the door to find a woman half the size of what he expected, he said, "oh, you are a little person," then cringed worrying he had offended her. Bluntly, he apologized, saying, "I am sorry, I didn't mean that; what's the correct term?" To which Maya answered, "Little person." Then Moe hurries back inside, keeping Maya at the door, to "tidy up." Inside, Moe tears down a banner advertising dwarf tossing and throws in the trash Little Women.

Later in the episode, when Moe and Maya meet Homer and Marge for a double date, Homer, looking very confused and tentative says, "I have a mechanical question." Terrified the question is about the logistics of a sexual relationship between two people much different in size, Moe cringes horribly. Of course, why wouldn't Homer ask such an inappropriate question. But the question turns out to be about nuclear reactions.

The episode is full of comedy like this. Maya's height is at the center of it. But the comedy doesn't make fun of her. It makes fun of the way we react to difference, in process pointing out how silly it is to make a big deal of the physical differences between people. So if I were handing out awards for best television on Sunday, April 5, 2009, "The Simpson's" would win in a landslide.


  1. Hi Gary, it's Cara...this is fantastic!

    You DO have an award to give out! Way back when I started something called the LPA Award for Promoting Awarness of LP's...something. I don't remember what we called it. It seems to have gone away, but this is the kind of thing for which the award was developed! To award the people OUTSIDE the organization. With the conference in NYC, you might actually get somebody "real" from the Simpson organization to receive it personally! I know someone who has met Matt Groening...I could do some digging if you want.

  2. that's a great idea. A writer actually contacted us last year. I was looking for his info after I saw the episode. I need to dig deeper.