Sunday, June 20, 2010

Week Three

Week three of The Half-Pint Brawlers on Spike TV. Not many news hits about the program since TMZ and the New York Post stirred LPA's statement about the wrestlers' use of the word midget into controversy around the show. But there was a post on a site called 411 Mania, a site that comments on trends in media, music and other entertainment.

The post on 411 included a review of episode three of the Half-Pint Brawlers and even offered some commentary on Little People of America's response to use of the m-word on the show. LPA had written and stated that use of the word midget on the show reflected stereotypical, stigmatizing portrayals of little people. The 411 poster wrote, "I can't help but find the LPA's stance just a tad bit hypocritical." The writer suggested that the influx of reality television featuring little people, just like use of the word midget, also reflects objectification of little people. T
he networks are motivated to produce shows for little people because of a "these people will entertain us just because they are short" mentality.

In terms of the belief that reality television involving little people is related to a lingering fascination with looking at people of short stature, the 411 writer is not alone. Others within the little person community have voiced similar comments. From what I have observed, many people of short stature are tired with the overwhelming number of little people reality programs, and roll their eyes when yet another casting request from a producer who claims to be ready to "show the world that little people are no different than anyone else," makes the rounds through the networks of little people.

I agree that motivation behind the development of so many shows with little people may have roots in the same fascination with physical difference that stimulated the demand for little people in the circus and the freak show. Yet, in the circus and the freakshow, little people played a one-dimensional role, allowing little room to break out of categorization defined by physical difference. With reality television, characters are allowed to build other dimensions, enabling them to break away from narrow categorization. With this in mind, no matter the intent, the end result of reality television featuring people of short stature is that we are able to transcend traditional, stereotypical categorizations of little people -- categorizations embodied by and impossible to overcome through the word midget.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Who is pissed at who?

I may sound like a broken record, but again I question my media strategy. Ever since Spike TV contacted Little People of America in November of 2009 about the Half-Pint Brawler reality program, I've been gripped by the build up and debut of the reality program that follows a group of little people who are wrestlers. I was interested because, even though the wrestlers embrace the m-word, the Spike Network seemed to distance itself from language. For this reason, in the last few weeks leading up to the pilot debut of the program, when media asked for a comment on the show from LPA, I stayed away from talking about the show itself, but used the opportunity to speak about language. The goal being not to spark any controversy about the show itself, but to continue to bring attention to the negative impact of the m-word. In hindsight, maybe it's obvious that if the media, or the network, wanted controversy to bring attention to the show, the could probably find it in anything negative LPA said.

At first I was happy with media coverage about the show. The New York Times and a few other outlets ran stories that included LPA's stance on language, but try to create controversy where there was none. Some people were angry LPA wasn't going after Spike TV for producing a program that reflects traditional stigmatizing roles for little people, and a few people wanted us to challenge The New York Times for limiting their pieces that include dwarfs to stories about archaic entertainment (earlier they covered the park in China), but I thought our approach to the Half-Pint Brawler show was the most practical.

Following the pilot episode, in came a few more media requests for comment. Not wanting to push my luck, I sent an email reply with a generic statement about why we believe the m-word is negative and what it does to promote negative stereotypes. Most recently, a request came from TMZ. Though TMZ may be the web version of the Enquirer, I've always appreciated TMZ because they've recognized and observed concerns from people of short stature about language. I sent TMZ the generic email.

From the statement I sent, TMZ wrote this lead, "A new reality show is pissing off ... LPA." They then wrote, "LPA claims the m-word on the show is just as offensive as 'guido' on Jersey Shore." I work hard to be somewhat entertaining when I speak and when I write, but I could never develop such a colorful analogy as TMZ suggests. Give them credit though for writing "The m-word."

The New York Post got into the act also, writing a story based upon a story published by AOL - who I sent the generic email. Like TMZ, the New York Post suggested LPA was "pissed off" at Spike.

I guess, if I wanted to eliminate any possibility of bringing more attention to the show, LPA shouldn't have said anything at all related to the show.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Washington Post story reinforces why m word campaign is important

On Friday, the Washington Post published a story about a person of short stature wanted by the police for murder. Working on the story, the reporter who wrote the piece called me. As the reporter briefed me about the story, I remembered an interview on the national news a few years ago. The story was about a person who is Deaf in custody for an alleged crime. The national news interviewed Andy Imparato of the American Association of People with Disabilities for the story. I remember the on-air interview lasted nearly seven or eight minutes, throughout which Imparato kept stressing the same message -- a person who is Deaf should not be treated any differently under the law, but has a right to accommodations in order to access their legal rights and a fair trial. I think of that interview often as a great example of delivering a good message about disability. While the reporter spoke to me over the phone, I imagined I might be asked similar questions to those asked of Imparato. But I was wrong, the reporter wanted my thoughts about language used over the police wire.

Evidently, the person who called 911 never used the word midget to describe the alleged murderer. Rather, the caller, when describing the suspect, said something like "a 3'11" man who might be a dwarf." But the police dispatcher relayed put out an All Points Bulletin over the police wire using the word midget. The reporter, aware of LPA's efforts around language, asked what I thought of police using a word lpa is trying to wean out of the English language. Despite what LPA and little people in general think of the word, there are far worse uses of it than over a police wire. In addition, because there are still many times the word is used, both benignly and as a slur, in most cases, the little person community is better served doing proactive systemic outreach than by attacking the individual or institution responsible for using the word.

That said, I think the Washington Post story is a great example of why LPA is trying to stop use of the word midget. What didn't make it into the story, but what the reporter shared with me, is that soon after the APB went out, within police and media circles, the situation became comic. Police and media would snickered amongst themselves, asking each other sarcastically, "Have you seen the midget?" Once the description of the suspect transitioned from a 3'11" male to "a midget," the word all of a sudden dominated the situation. It was no longer about a crime, or a about a person. It was about a midget. That is one of the problems with the word. As people of short stature, dwarfism is just one element of who we are, something to take pride in, but just one piece that defines us as individuals. But because of the history behind the word, once the word midget is used to describe a person, it trumps all other elements of the person's individualism and removes their perceived humanity.