Tuesday, 29 November 2011

The Inevitable "what I should have said" post.

Welcome to the internet. A happy place.

Thank you all for the unbelievable support for my last post, and thanks to Ricky Gervais for posting the link on twitter. I was amazed that over a weekend of nearly 14,000 hits and several comments, I didn't encounter a single troll. All comments have been posted unedited.

But I reread the post and realised something was clearly missing. The campaign to get Life's Too Short pulled from the air is well organised. Many letters are being sent to MPs the BBC, Ofcom and national newspapers and I suspect that it has built up such a head of steam now that there will more publicity over the coming weeks. Even well respected members of the restricted growth acting community have suggested that this show has the potential to set attitudes back 150 years and depict all short people as circus freaks. It is therefore not appropriate to simply dismiss this campaign because a few people got nasty on a message board; what I really ought to do is explain why they are wrong.

The campaign organisers want short statured people to be able to walk down the road without being stared at, without being shouted at and abused, without being lifted up by a drunk chav on a night out. I want that for my daughter too. But what they seem to have missed is that so does Warwick Davis. And so does Ricky Gervais. The thrust of the campaign is that in portraying short people in uncomfortable and unpleasant situations it somehow validates the appalling attitudes and behaviour seen in the show. I believe they have fundamentally misinterpreted the nature and intention of the show.

Last Thursday's episode caused particular outrage. The first scene has come in for particular criticism for showing Dwarf Bowling. We are all aware that Dwarf Bowling happens, and is pretty distasteful: that's the whole point of the scene. You are not supposed to like Warwick's character. He's the sort of person who organises a Dwarf Bowling contest, and after taking a 10% agency fee says "What's the problem, he's getting paid!"
It's a common argument that was voiced often after the Rugby World Cup débâcle this year, the scene seeks to invalidate the argument by putting it in the mouth of someone you already dislike.

Every scene that has caused people to be upset has a similar underlying message, and it's loud and clear. It has been since Warwick Davis first tweeted about the show, a year ago. It has been in the pre show publicity and interviews. It was clear when Ricky Gervais tweeted a link to a letter from one of the campaigners in The Guardian.

If you are not convinced of the show's intentions, let me briefly address objections to some of the other major scenes:

"Johnny Depp put him in the toilet! People look up to Johnny Depp!" - Johnny Depp was playing a character. An unpleasant, spoiled character who you are not at any time meant to identify with. He is a dick. If you think it's funny to make someone stand in a toilet then guess what? You're a dick too.

"Helena Bonham-Carter called Warwick "it" and had him put in a bin!" - yes because HBC was portraying a spoilt prima-donna with a sycophantic entourage. It was outrageous that she called Warwick "it". You were meant to be outraged.

Warwick was disappointed to find that Tim Burton wasn't directing.

A third of last week's episode was dedicated to the message that short stature actors should be considered for roles on their acting ability alone. Why shouldn't a dwarf play Othello or Hamlet at the RSC? This is something that Warwick has been pushing for years, and yet has been conveniently ignored by the campaign.
I wrote in my last post that the words used are not nearly as important as the intention behind them. It staggers me that the intentions here are so clear and yet the campaign still seems to be gaining ground. It is important to me that people understand that although the campaign is vociferous and passionate, it is based on a serious misconception, and does not have universal support within the RG community.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Not a Good Friday (part 2)

Ricky Gervais, abusing a Dwarf.

I am not a "campaigner". I was employed my Student's Union at University and the language and sycophancy surrounding some "causes" drove me insane. The pet "cause" of the Bangor student campaigners at the time was the Newbury Bypass, and not once did they ask the opinion of someone in the same office who lived in Berkshire, and that had driven through Newbury.

So being new to the world of Restricted Growth we recently joined some support groups. I was expecting useful, practical guidance on dealing with the extra challenges we and Ollie would face. Where we could get help. Where we could buy specialist equipment and toys (trikes, chairs etc). We got some very useful information, but I was not expecting the Newbury Bypass.

My wife joined one particular group on the internet before me. A few weeks ago she saw a post from somebody who had started a campaign complaining about the new Ricky Gervais and Warwick Davis comedy "Lifes Too Short". Letters had been written to her MP, the DG of the BBC, Points of View, and National Newspapers. Weeks before the show aired. The irony of pre-judging the show in this way seemed sadly lost on many people, whose ever-so-sincere encouragement had me rolling my eyes.

We are film geeks. Warwick Davis is one of our favourite actors, and we had read his autobiography long before we had any medical reason to do so! When he started talking last year about his new project, and how excited he was about it, we were very pleased for him. He is a man who lives with dwarfism and all of its implications, good and bad. It has affected his life and his family in the happiest and most tragic of ways. I would say it is required reading for anyone in our position, and gives an idea of his motivation for the "Life's Too Short" project (and yes, although the humour has hallmarks of Gervais and Merchant, this is very much a Warwick Davis project). So to see a full blown campaign setting out to trash the project before anyone had even seen it irked my wife greatly, and she said so. It started very civilly, but when it became clear that there were other people who felt the same way, the abuse started.

Because the thing about some campaigners is that they steadfastly refuse to see any other point of view. And when you put a huge amount of time and energy into being officially outraged, you put yourself in a position where you can't possibly back down, and there is always a refusal to accept that support is not universal. When a group of people decide that they are moral arbiters, they utterly refuse to accept that there is another point of view. Worse is that by claiming that they have the moral high ground, they assume open season on people who disagree.

We have been branded a bad parents for daring to disagree with a campaign that we (still) think is misguided.

We have been branded cowards for doing so.

I was been branded an internet bully for standing up for myself and my family.

We were (bizarrely and incorrectly) accused of being paid by Warwick Davis.

We have been told that our views are irrelevant because we are not of short stature ourselves.
Some bad parents

In the week that Stephen Lawrence was in the news again, there was one person who tried to brand the show a "Hate Crime" and that the makers should be charged under the appropriate legislation. I found that utterly distasteful - incidentally that person has also fallen foul of Godwin's Law.

One of the problems faced by little people is that of novelty- people will stare because they haven't seen a dwarf before. It's not a surprise, because dwarfism affects only one person in every 25000. This year's TV has done great things to change that.
Boardwalk Empire
Boston Legal
Game of Thrones
Seven Dwarves
and now Life's Too Short

(although whether the last one is positive seems to be dependant on whether you like Ricky Gervais or not)
NOTE!!! these links are largely NSFW or kids. Click with care, but do watch them. The second link isn't just Boston Legal, but a montage of Meredith Eaton, and she is AMAZING!

Please, please, please use the comments section here for any questions. I will try to answer them as quickly and fully as I can. Don't worry about “saying the wrong thing”, we have come to the conclusion that the words used are much less important than the intention behind them, which will always be obvious. For those who wish to be PC the word "midget" is not used anymore among the short-stature community; it is seen as a derogatory, slang word associated with circuses and the like.

And for the record, if anyone does try and put my daughter in a toilet or a rubbish bin I will physically hurt them.

Not a Good Friday

Exactly one year ago, the Paediatrics team gave our 2 day old daughter a diagnosis of Achondroplasia. A passing comment the previous day by a midwife about "short arms" had been playing on my mind, so after I got Ollie's brother into bed that night, I hit Google. I was, at least vaguely prepared for what was to come, but my wife, who had been somewhat cut off from the real world for three days, was completely unprepared. Hitting the odds of 1:25000 isn't fair on us, or on her, but the main way I have come to terms with Ollies condition is to accept that its not predictable, preventable or treatable: we just have to get on with it.

The next few weeks were a whirlwind of appointments, scheduling for appointments, Googling before appointments so we had a background knowledge of what would be discussed, family visits, banks, estate agents (we were hoping to have a third bedroom before she was born) the sleep depravation that comes with a newborn, and the emotions that come with finding out that your child will be "different". At that early stage we skimmed the RGA and LPA websites for information, and pretty much everything we found was positive, and reassuring. The potential health problems associated with Achondroplasia were flagged up calmly and we have been watching Ollie like a hawk for signs of raised intracranial pressure, loss of limb mobility, sleep apnoea, (there's a long list). The possibility of decompression surgery worries me greatly, although I see from OMIM that it's actually quite rare, and it's probably just my own fears that make it seem to stand out. I have turned Ollie into a bit of a science project. Its something of a coping strategy I guess but I find it's helpful to understand exactly what's going on in as much detail as possible, and I'm sure she will have questions as she gets older.

Emotions are funny things. They come and go. As a Father and Husband it was my job to hold everything together and be calm and practical for everybody else. For the most part I think I managed that well, but there was a point about two weeks in where everything caught up with me at once. I was eating a toasted cheese and ham pitta at the time, and it was like I had suddenly been hit by a truckload of "I don't want this for our daughter" with a special delivery of "it's not fair".
I sometimes find it hard when we take our son to the playground and I catch myself looking at little girls with long skinny legs. I suppose I should be careful not to get myself arrested, but it's nothing sinister, purely a tinge of whimsy and regret. And in any case, I'm pretty sure that Ollie already has more character than most of them!
We have been incredibly lucky in that we live near the John Radcliffe Hospital. We have had care from the most incredible team of specialists, and I am in awe of them- particularly our Paediatric Consultant, our Orthopaedic Consultant, and our Physiotherapist, all of whom have dealt with Achondroplasia cases before.

Over the course of the year it has become clear that we have dodged many bullets. I loved watching my son grow up, but it just happened. Knowing that there was a potential problem for Ollie meant that I paid more attention to how infant skills develop, and it has been fascinating. So many skills we take for granted as adults are reliant on underlying skills like sitting and standing: Early years developement in Achondroplasia can be a bit slower, low trunk strength means that while other children are sitting up and learning to use their hands, Achondroplastic children may still struggle to sit at all.

Nobody appears to have mentioned this to our daughter, who started cruising along low tables and sofas over a month ago, and is charging up and down the house on her toddle truck as I type. The determined little bugger is ahead of many of her average height peers. I could not be prouder as a father, or more more in love with her cheeky, gummy grin.
There will be a part 2 to this post later, but I am going to have to be very careful about the wording...