Monday, December 12, 2011

Too short for what

In 2009, I sat on a panel with Warwick Davis, an actor well known for his roles in movies such as Willow and the Harry Potter series. The panel was composed mostly of people of short stature who, like Davis, are part of the entertainment industry. I don't remember many specifics of the panel, but believe the panelists spoke of issues like objectification of little people in popular culture, transcending that objectification in entertainment, and how their career experiences and goals related to both. At some point, the panel discussion addressed the Spring 2009 Celebrity Apprentice season. One episode of that season included what many believed to be humiliating treatment of little people and unacceptable use of the word 'midget.' That episode led to the filing of an FCC complaint by the Korpai Family (who recently appeared on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition), and to Little People of America's official recognition of the word "midget" as negative. In the midst of discussion, I mentioned that on the same night the Celebrity Apprentice episode aired, the Fox network ran an episode of The Simpsons that included a character of short stature. I said that in my opinion, The Simpsons got it right because, rather than ridiculing people of short stature, the episode poked fun at awkward situations that people of short stature, and non-short statured people who hang out with little people, find themselves in nearly everyday. At that point, Warwick Davis foreshadowed a television project on which he was working at the time, "Life's Too Short," which premiered not long ago on the BBC. Davis said that his new show, billed as a fictitious reality show about a little person (Davis) who runs a casting agency for dwarf talent, also hints at the ridiculous and sometimes unreal situations in which little people find themselves.

Recently, I have been reminded of that panel discussion. I think about it nearly every time a new story pops up about "Life's Too Short." I don't know if I should say it's unfortunate or not, but most everything I have read about "Life's Too Short" has been negative. Rather than pointing out hilarious situations that dwarfs find themselves in, the new show, according to the commentary I have seen, reinforces archaic stereotypes of dwarfs as nothing more than visual gimmicks and non-human objects about which to make fun.

Here is an interview from England's Guardian media outlet with the mother of young child of short stature. The mother laments the new program, and the message it sends about little people. In this article from The Sun a young woman who chose to have leg lengthening surgery because of the bullying she has endured criticizes the show. The article says of the young woman undergoing limb lengthening, "Not surprisingly, Sanika isn't a fan of Ricky Gervais's controversial new comedy, Life's Too Short."

In the past, I often alluded to the reality program, "Little People Big World," praising the show for presenting a well-rounded view of dwarfism and the lives of people with dwarfism. I rarely watched the show, except for when I visited my parents, who had cable. I based my opinions on the few episodes I watched, and upon what I read about the show. A few people criticized me for praising the show so openly. They thought I could have looked at the show and judged the show, and the people on the show, more objectively, with a more critical eye. I still think "Little People Big World" has positive merits, but the people who issued criticism were probably right. Perhaps I could have looked at the show with a wider lens.

It would be hypocritical of me to withhold judgement on "Life's Too Short," because of criticism I received based upon my reflections of "Little People Big World." If I am going to praise one show based mainly upon what I have read about it, why can't I be critical of another show based mainly upon what I have read about it?

I can't answer the question. Perhaps a few people would listen if I did answer the question but I am sure no one is sitting around his or her computer, waiting for my criticism or praise of the show. For one thing, I am not a critic. What I think does not make much difference. For another thing, like I pointed out a few paragraphs above, perhaps I am not objective enough, or thorough enough, in my reasonings.

I may not be qualified to issue opinions, but nevertheless, I do enjoy the space that this blog gives me to write about this type of issue. That said, even though it is clear that many, many people are upset with the message that "Life's Too Short" is sending, I just keep thinking of sitting on the panel with Warwick Davis, and wondering if we sat on a panel today, what he would say to the young woman who had limb lengthening surgery.

No comments:

Post a Comment