Monday, February 13, 2017

Why the encore in Happy Valley?

In my role with Little People of America, and as a member of the dwarfism community, I try to raise awareness about the word midget.  My hope, and the hope of Little People of America, is that as more people learn about the degrading history behind the word, and that as more people recognize how objectifying and insulting the word is today, more people will make the decision to stop using the word.  There has been some success.  Several years ago, the New York Times changed its Style Guide to reflect the pejorative impact of the word.  The United States Department of Agriculture has changed names for one or two of the remaining food products that use the word midget.  Also, USA Hockey recently voted to identify divisions by age group in order to eliminate the word traditional midget division. 

Every day, google sends me an email alert with a list of news stories that include the word midget.  Most of the results are news stories about football or hockey teams that are a part of leagues that still use the word midget to identify a specific age group.  It may take a while, but most of these leagues will probably follow the lead of USA Hockey. 

At least once every several weeks, the google report pulls up stories about “Midget Wrestling.” There are three or four groups of entertainers that consist of little people wrestlers and that market themselves are “Midget Wrestling.”  The groups travel around the country, performing at bars and festivals. 

It’s a challenge to build a case against the word midget when there are scores of little people wrestlers who embrace the word and for whom the word is connected to their livelihood and identity. What business does an outsider have interfering with an individual who made the personal choice to be a midget wrestler? Yet, Midget Wrestling is not defined by wrestlers who happen to be little people.  Midget Wrestling is defined by marketing little people as an entertainment spectacle, just as little people were put on display based upon their physical differences during the days of the traditional sideshow and Freak Show.  The entertainment is driven by traditional stereotypes of an entire community.  When a little person decides to join a Midget Wrestling Group, they are impacting how the audience perceives the wrestlers, and they are impacting how the audience perceives the entire community of little people. 

In early 2016, Champs Sports Grill in State College, Pennsylvania hosted a Midget Wrestling Event.  Soon after the event, a website called “Onward State,” a student run Penn State blog, published a post called, “Overheard at Ultimate Midget Wrestling.”  With quotes such as “Oh My God! I WANT ONE SO BAD!,” “My Snapchat story is fucking lit with midgets,” and “WE WANT MIDGETS!” the post makes the case that the entertainment at Champs Sports Grill wasn’t wrestling. The entertainment was little people. 

Though I believed the post from “Onward State,” without intending to do so, made the case for what is wrong with midget wrestling and why it harms the dwarfism community, the Happy Valley Community didn’t buy it. Not only did the wrestling group return to Champs Sports Grill late in January of 2017, in a promo published on January 30, “Onward State” referenced the “Overheard . . .” post, implying the content of the 2016 blog makes the case for why a Penn State student should attend the event.  The Daily Collegian, a site produced by Penn State Students, also promoted the event.

Most of the dwarfism community is against what we refer to as the “mword,” but I understand that it will take time to eliminate the word completely, especially when the word appears to be used in a benign way, as the case may be with football leagues and food products.  Similarly, it will take time to eliminate midget wrestling.  Nevertheless, it’s disappointing that the Penn State campus has, according to Onward State, hosted midget wrestling three times. The disappointment is compounded by the “Overheard” post, which makes it clear that the entertainment is based not on wrestling, but on the physical differences between typical statured people, and people of short stature. A year after the post was published, Penn State embraced the event again.  

My hope is that Midget Wrestling has come to Champs Sport Grill for the last time.  Because just as midget wrestling affects all little people, not just the little people who choose to participate, when institutions at Penn State celebrate the objectification of people based on their physical difference, it’s going to affect the entire Penn State community. If wrestling were to come back to Penn State, and if I were a prospective student, faculty, or employee, I’d want nothing to do with the school.