Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Is this the end?

At work this morning, a co-worker said, "Gary, yesterday I heard some terrible news." From the tone of her voice (the kind of voice that says 'I personally believe this is bad news but it's also fairly petty), I knew about what she referred. For the past few days, I had read internet reports that announced the sixth season of "Little People, Big World," would be the last. My co-worker was a big fan. She had just heard the news. "Say it isn't so," she moaned dramatically.

I'll bet thousands, if not millions, of people around the world share my co-worker's remorse. I don't study ratings, but it seems that over the past five years "Little People, Big World" developed a significant following. Because of the show's popularity, millions of viewers were exposed to the lives of little people, an exposure that has delivered messages about dwarfism to counter traditional stereotypical messages about little people. Each week, viewers saw a family of little people live their lives. While there were many dwarfism specific pieces to their lives, the show presented them as people, which is more than can be said about some of the less than tolerable appearances of little people on television -- a generation ago and even today.

Many times over the past few years, as spokesperson for Little People of America, I've been asked to give my opinion of reality television. Each time I've tried to deliver the message that "Little People, Big World," and the other reality programs featuring little people, send a positive message to the world - a message that dwarfs are just like everybody else, trying to live productive, successful lives and do good in the world.

But with each passing season of "Little People, Big World," grumbling about the onslaught of reality television featuring dwarfs has grown louder. More and more voices have expressed concern that reality television, rather than saving little people from social discrimination, is just a new form of exploitation. Reality television, like "midget" wrestling, side shows and "midget" cities is just an avenue for putting dwarfs on display because of their physical difference. There is probably an element of truth to this. But even if reality television perpetrates exploitation of little people, I still think the general population wouldn't be where it is today, in terms of social awareness about dwarfism, without reality television.

No matter what I think about the gains of the dwarfism community, strong opposition is beginning to take shape against reality television. With this in mind, as the organization Little People of America begins to respond to voices that are asking the organization to examine and define its relationship to entertainment, I think it's probably a good thing that "Little People, Big World" is winding down. Because if LPA does develop a new policy about what kind of entertainment is allowed or not allowed at organizational events, the voices organizing against reality television would insist that reality television be included within the umbrella of "entertainment." That's probably a good thing. Because the rules would have to apply objectively (if objectivity is possible).

That doesn't mean applying the rules wouldn't be hard. Though I think national LPA conferences are for the membership (not fans of reality tv or reality tv stars), if LPA does come up with a strict policy about entertainment, it would be strange to take the rules that apply to auditioning for munchkins at conferences and apply them to filming "Little People, Big World" at conferences. But it might make for good tv.

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