Wednesday, October 27, 2010

sexual representation

This entry is a follow-up to the October 20 entry -

After Paul Miller died last week, Joseph Shapiro wrote one of the obituaries. The obituary ran on the National Public Radio blog. Shapiro, who wrote No Pity, a book I referenced in the last post, now works for National Public Radio. The obituary mentions the L.A. Law character, played by David Rappaport, based on Paul Miller. The obituary also tells a back story about which I was not aware. Though the Rappaport character may have been based upon Paul Miller, Miller was not happy with the portrayal. In fact, because Miller believed the portrayal could be damaging to the perception of people of short stature, he wrote a letter-to-the-editor to the New York Times. In the letter, Miller praised L.A. Law for raising the issue of dwarf-tossing, which, according to Miller, treats dwarfs as if they are objects and perpetuates stereotypes against little people. But because the Rappaport character hires a prostitute, and indicates he would have no love life without a prostitute, Miller writes

the character Hamilton Schuyler, a successful lawyer who is a dwarf, states that the only way for him to find companionship is to hire a call girl. This message offends me. A dwarf, like anyone else, dates, falls in love, gets married and has children. Many dwarfs are married to other dwarfs, whom they meet through Little People of America, and many are married to average-size people. To imply that no one would want to have a relationship with a dwarf is inappropriate and wrong.

Twenty years after this particular episode of dramatic television, many other popular culture images of little people, and of little people in romantic situations, have emerged. From reality television, if no where else, the television public has been delivered messages of dwarfs in love and dwarfs who are married, sometimes with dwarf partners and sometimes with typical height partners.

But when it comes to fictional representations, the troubling image of the dwarf as unlovable still lingers. The movie In Bruges has earned some praise. I believe some of it comes from people within the dwarfism community because the movie includes a little person who for all intents and purposes is just "a regular guy." But the sexual portrayal of the little person is no different from the sexual portrayal of the little person from the L.A. Law episode. The movie stars Colin Ferall, a hitman hiding out in the Belgium town after a job. In town just one day, the Ferall character lands a date with an attractive woman hanging out on a movie set. Meanwhile, the little person character, who has been in town much longer, hires a prostitute for companionship.

To be fair, if Colin Ferall and I liked the same woman, Ferall would probably have a better chance to get the woman's attention, even if I had a whole month to work my magic compared to his one day. But nevertheless, with such fictional portrayals of a dwarf's sexuality, 20 years ago and today, it was no wonder my mother worried about how I might spend my money.


  1. Do you think that portraying a dwarf being romantically successful in a movie would change the majority of people's minds for the better? I don't think so. Movies feed people what they want, and what they already think is true. It's not entertaining otherwise.

  2. I don't know what will change minds. But I like to call for a balanced perspective. I am sure fictional portrayals of dwarfs in healthy romantic relationships do exist somewhere. But the In Bruges is by some people thought to be a good role. I would argue that the role is not positive.

  3. Are you calling for a balanced perspective or for something that exceeds reality into fantasy? Is it easy for a dwarf to find a romantic partner? Is it easy socially, or occupationally? I think, at root, most people look at how hard it can be for themselves in these situations, and think it must be even harder for someone who's a dwarf. Sometimes, it's probably with a certain relish - that someone else has it harder. Even if it is NOT ALWAYS the case, it is at least the case MOST OFTEN than not. Which is probably an uncomfortable truth.

    Didn't the woman (Julie Tamyor or something) from the Lion King write/shoot a puppet movie with a pair of dwarves. Except for the dwarves everyone else was portrayed by a puppet. She said she did it to FORCE the audience to relate to the dwarves.

  4. Yes, it can be hard for everyone. But if there is one thing I've learned from Little People of America Conferences, romantic social obstacles have a lot more to do with personality than with stature.

  5. I imagine at the LPA conferences perhaps the romantic social obstacles can have more to do with personality when everyone is in the same situation stature wise. But, I doubt that very much in the rest of the world. Saying that it isn't so puts the blame too much on the individual dwarf for not overcoming what is not under their control.

    I saw Peter Dinklage in the Station Agent. He was very good, and I have a lot of respect for him. He has a certain dignity and gravitas. But, it would be difficult to watch him as a romantic lead or in a sex scene. But, then people probably feel that way about most of the population which is why movies are full of good looking people.