Saturday, January 22, 2011

College Reunion

To some extent later in high school, but especially in college, the culture in which I studied valued writing. With that mind, many students, at least in the academic circles I existed, aspired to write. How well any of us wrote is a matter of opinion. At least, the notion of subjectivity is how I defended my writing. Writing is often personal. Therefore, when a peer or an academic critiques the writing of another, he or she applies his or her own personal standards. To some extent, that was just an excuse I used in order to maintain the desire to continue writing.

In reality, a gap existed between what I wrote, and good writing. There were at least a handful of very good writers at Beloit College, where I studied. They wrote with a simplicity that was poetic, without using poetic words and applying a style that appeared straightforward but was hard to mimic. Stringing together words, they created narratives while many of us created confusion.

One good writer on campus was a student named Eric. Beloit was a tiny campus so most students knew each other but Eric and I didn't hang out. I am not sure who Eric hung out with but I know he wrote and acted. He once wrote a play that was produced on campus when I was a sophomore or a junior.

After graduation, when I had been in Chicago for a number of years, I began to see his name in print. Soon after the Millennium, around the time I was fighting against "Midget Wrestling" at a bar near Wrigley Field, he wrote an article about "Midget Wrestling" for Chicago Magazine. The piece presented "Midget Wrestling" as a late night attraction every Chicagoan or tourist should experience at least once, kind of like eating a hot dog at one of those outdoor stands in Lincoln Park famous for rude dialogue between the vendors and customers. He ended the piece with the line, "Remind me never to piss off a midget," something he had overheard at the wrestling event. That line underscores the problem with entertainment that objectifies people of short stature. The person Eric overheard was equating the wrestlers to all other people of short stature. There are maybe 50,000 or fewer people with dwarfism throughout the United States. With a population that small, objectifying images in popular culture threaten to promote stereotypes that will be applied to the entire population.

I wrote Eric an email after the article appeared. I didn't remind him that we had attended college together and I didn't remind him that I was a person of short stature. I just criticized him for writing the article. I wrote that I believed the article was irresponsible because it publicized entertainment that could promote discrimination. Eric wrote back. He also didn't reveal if he knew me or remembered me. He wrote something to the affect of, "they choose to wrestle."

The Chicago Magazine article appeared around eight or nine years ago. I am sure I have seen Eric's name since then, on Facebook if nowhere else. This week though, his byline popped up on a Vanity Fair article. The article was a interview with Peter Dinklage, the person of short stature famous for starring in The Station Agent, a film often pegged as the first to cast a dwarf as the main character and the first to emphasize a dwarf's humanity more so than his physical difference.

The opening of the article, an introduction leading into the interview, is great. I wonder if Eric even remembers the Chicago Magazine article he wrote years ago. But the first few paragraphs acknowledge that in entertainment, dwarfs are often placed in situations that strip them of humanity.

When dwarf actors do get to show their faces, they tend to be sight gags at best, forced to wear diapers, get thrown around by a sniggering Mike Myers, or, if they’re lucky, play magical creatures who befriend children.

The article in Vanity Fair convinces me that Eric wouldn't write the same article he had in Chicago Magazine if he were some day assigned to cover another wrestling event. That's probably pretty sanctimonious of me to say. But I think it's true.

After reading the Vanity Fair article, I sent Eric a message. Again, I didn't say we had been to school together. I didn't remind him of the Chicago Magazine article. I just said I liked the Vanity Fair article. He wrote back, thanking me.

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