Sunday, April 25, 2010

The next reality star

A lot of people within the dwarfism community roll their eyes at the number of reality programs that feature people of short stature. Similarly, when producers hoping to cast the next reality show blockbuster send pitches to the dwarfism community, many people display exasperation, as if to say, "enough already with the little people reality shows." The exasperation could be well founded, for most of those who have had enough with the reality programs believe the dominance of little people on reality television is rooted in a voyeurism similar to that which fueled demand for freak shows. Despite the motivation for the creation of these reality programs, I've always felt the frequency of little people on television has had a positive impact on general awareness of dwarfism. I strongly believe that many gains little people have made in terms of social integration over the past decade can be traced back to reality television.

Though I support reality programming that features little people, I am very curious to witness what will happen later this year when Spike TV throws its hat into the ring, and airs a reality program that features a wrestler of short stature. The reason I believe most reality programs with little people are so good is that the stars of the most popular ones (Little People Big World and The Littlest Couple) use the programs to send important messages about: 1. language and 2. how little people share more similarities than differences with the rest of society. I worry that Spike TV Program may contradict those messages. The Spike program follows the founder of a "midget" wrestling troupe, who adamantly embraces the word midget and builds his business around differences between little people and the rest of the world. While, as little people, it's great to be proud of what makes us unique, when we are defined by that uniqueness, it's more likely to reinforce stigma rather that enhance the diversity of our larger society.

When the program airs, I fear it may undue some of the positive work of the other programs. But it may not. It may add one more voice to the many voices of little people now on reality programming. I was doubtful at first, but I think it may be the intention of Spike TV to show one more layer of a thick little people community. At first I thought Spike TV might be acting like a stereotypical shock jock, shocking for the sake of a larger audience, without ever intending to contribute to a constructive conversation. But a conversation I had this weekend gives me a little hope this might not be the case.

Late last year, Spike TV asked if a member of LPA wanted to participate in the reality program. Spike wanted to film a debate between the leader of the wrestlers and a member of LPA. The debate would be about the word "midget." The wrestler would support use of the word, and LPA would argue against the word. I didn't want anything to do with the debate. The debate was to be moderated by a shock jock named Mancow. With Mancow involved, I thought there was no way LPA would even have a chance to articulate an opinion. I declined the offer but a man named Tom Lash, the president of LPA's Windy City Chapter agreed to participate. He knew the debate might be a circus, but thought it important to challenge the wrestler's opinions on the word midget. The interview was recorded last December. I didn't have a chance to speak with Tom about it until last Friday, at the LPA District Six Regional event. Tom confirmed my fears. Mancow dominated the taping, making it less of a meaningful discussion or debate about language and more of a spectacle. What surprised me though is the reaction of Spike TV to the debate. According to Tom, Spike TV was disappointed that Mancow dominated the taping. Spike TV had actually hoped for a meaningful dialogue about language. In fact, after the taping, Spike even offered Tom some individual air time so he could express his side of the argument. Something Mancow may not have allowed him to do.

I am still worried about the reaction to the Spike TV Reality Program. But after talking with Tom about his experience, I am encouraged that Spike might indeed have good intentions. Rather than create a shock jock like spectacle, they may indeed just want to make a contribution and lead another voice to a very diverse dwarf community.

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