Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Correctness of Political Correctness

I stumbled across a blog today that really got me thinking about disability and political correctness.
The writer talks about an incident at a Frankie Boyle gig, in which he told a lady who was offended by his "jokes" aimed at people with Downs Syndrome to "f**k off" (the lady's daughter has DS).
Frankie Boyle's hostility towards the lady is shocking and he clearly felt no remorse at mocking a group of people who have no hope of defending themselves.
But what really bothered me is that I can only assume that most people in the audience felt that people with Downs are fair game for ridicule, since it would appear that no-one supported the lady.

I went for a walk around the hills of Monaghan this evening when my Angel Lorraine arrived, and I was busy whacking the grass away from the verge when it struck me that I felt angry (regular readers will know that it takes a while for my synapses to snap).

I thought "why are people with disabilities reviled???"

The basic unfairness of it is unspeakable.
The fact that there is a need for support groups and advocacy agents is proof enough of society's intolerance of those less-than-perfect.

And I was REALLY pissed that I loved Frankie Boyle on Mock the Week, while he was making a living out of making cheap swipes at a vulnerable group.
The school yard bully makes good...but it's chilling to know that he has an audience willing to pay good money to laugh at his jokes.  And that they think it's OK for him to swear at the upset mother of a Down's Syndrome child in his audience.

Maybe I've been living in a happy little bubble, but boy did it burst today.

Perhaps it's hit me so hard because I would have paid money to see Frankie Boyle perform if he came here, and I had to ask myself the deeply uncomfortable question "what would I have done if I was in the audience?"

Of course I can't answer that, and I'd love to imagine that I would storm out in defiance...but the reality is that I might have uncomfortably squirmed in my seat and said nothing.  It's hard to be the single voice of dissent in the crowd, and I applaud the lady who challenged him.
Maybe anger would get the better of me and give me courage, though, I just can't tell.

While I was abusing the sorry greenery, it also struck me that intolerance of those with disabilities is ingrained in our histories.
When I was a child, there were no kids around with disabilities....because they were ALL institutionalised.  They weren't spoken of, and they were never seen.  Ergo people with disabilities must be something to fear and loathe, right?
Even the bible talks about unclean spirits and possession by devils... vilifying those who are 'different' as being evil.
There are religions who believe that those born with a disability are paying for their sins in a previous life (which also neatly absolves them of any responsibility towards them) and  breaks open the ugly path towards abuse and derision.

This evil culminated in the eugenics movement which involved not only Nazi Germany exterminating all who were considered undesirable, but also saw Sweden enforce the sterilisation of 62,000 people with learning disabilities for fear that they would breed and contaminate their race.
It is deeply disturbing to know that this practice was not only acceptable, but actively encouraged...bringing me back to the Frankie Boyle audience.
Do people who find humour at the expense of the disabled also believe that the world would be a better place without them?

Historically, infanticide of disabled children was practised, and even enforced, in some societies but we like to imagine we have moved on since then.
When derision is poured on our babies by the likes of Frankie Boyle, and when audiences pay to be amused by this derision, it puts a chill in my heart.


  1. My family history is unknown to me, as you mentioned a lot of people with disabilities or mental illness ended up institutionalised in the earlier days, well our family was no exception, both my Grandfather and my Uncle were put in institutions and never came out except in a box, no-one spoke about it and it wasn't until our little man was diagnosed that the hard questions had to be asked, I suspect strongly that my Uncle was severely autistic as I knew him up to the age of ten when he was then put away and not surprisly his brother my dad was told they didn't know what was wrong with him only to say he wasn't right in the head!! Any type of ridicule on a disabled person that isn't able to defend themselves let alone understand what is being said to them is the lowest form of wit and comics should be ashamed of themselves.

  2. wow jean powerful stuff. Im ashamed to say id be the one to squirm in my seat, I wouldnt find it funny but at a show like that I wouldnt speak up. Really making me think.
    Fantastic blog Jean

  3. TBH I am so shocked that I can't comment, and I think I will be VERY angry too when I absorb the implications. In fact, it is starting:( Jen.

  4. thanks gals
    @ Andra, I had a few great-uncles who were institutionalized too and no-one felt terribly comfortable talking about them...
    @Claire most of us would squirm, I feel bad about it too
    @Jen, Frankie is lucky he doesn't live next door to you...

  5. Jean,brillant blog and i feel a lot of comedians seem to get a kick out of vulnerable people which is not right,i had a younger sister with down syndrome who we loved to bits but sadly she died in oct 2009 and life will never be the same without her,so will never like Frankie boyle again.xx

  6. It wasn't even good comedy! all based on outmoded stereotypes and when challenged, he couldnt come up with a decent response. Really unimaginative boring humor that just hurts people, so what is the point?
    jeannie: the Guardian have responded

    And I would love for you to re-post this tomorrow on the IAA blog in its entirety with e link to Sharon and the guardian. This thing with disabled people being hidden away in Ireland has always upset me - and it underlies the attitude that we shouldn't be annoying people with our pesky requests for legal rights, supports and interventions that give a better quality of life. We should just suffer for our sins because we have chosen to raise our children ourselves. It took a brave brave parent not to hand their disabled child over to the church in those days. And the attitude lives on.
    I got here in 2001 - and wondered where all the people with CP, Downs and mobility disabilities were? They were just invisible until 2003 when the Special Olympics came to town. And that was more to do with your woman Kennedy and her Oirish roots than any track record on facilities, legislation or recognition of disabilities in this country at that time.

    you have said everything that I have always wondered - but as an outsider, was not allowed to say. Thankyou xx

  7. People fear most what they do not understand and when they fear something they ridicule and try to make themselves look/seem superior. This is what I have learned in my psychology class. This is what bullies do when they punish another child for being different, they are afraid because their parents often do not teach acceptance (perhaps it is what they have learned from home or from other bullies). Either way, if they felt compassion instead of fear they would not be bullies. And this guy you are talking about is just an adult bully making an ass of himself. Often other people will laugh at cruel jokes just to fit in and not be singled out as this mother was. She became the target of his sharp-shooting humiliation by telling her to f**k off when in the end he is the one who should feel humiliation. He has a cold heart because he is not making room for love, acceptance, and compassion.

  8. @Anon, I'm very sorry for your loss
    @Hammie, I will gladly re-post (inc links)...thanks for your comment
    @Lora, a little love would go a long way

  9. your blog, as always, thankfully i am not familiar with the aforementioned Mr Boyle, but what a tragic individual he appears to be. To pay to be entertained by such low standards seems crazy and really we must dig deep to find the moral courage to challange prejudice at every level in our society. Keep up your tremendous spirit jean, its admirable. Rose xx

  10. Great to hear from you Rose! Be glad that you're not familiar with Frankie Boyle...he's a waste of space XXX

  11. Great post Jean, on a very serious topic.

    I'm with you on the institutions....same in this family but for different, varying reasons. You were institutionalised for varying reasons back then: Autism, Mute, Mental Illness and....truancy :((

    As regards the comedy, sadly comedians regularly laugh and crack jokes at MINORITIES. i.e. The Irish, Paves, Country people, English people etc;etc. It's USUALLY ok if it's say an Irish comedian cracking jokes at the Irish as it's self deprecating humour and can be funny. That big guy from Pakistan??? is very funny!

    When it's directed at a minority to which the comedian doesn't belong it's a different story....could be considered racial incitement.

    But when it's directed at people with disabilities, who can't defend themselves, it becomes highly distasteful and very, very wrong.

    I remember years ago in a Tops show my choreographer friend's group had a comedy sketch based on special Olympics. I worked with a person in a wheelchair at the time and was highly offended. I knew her show would get to the televised final so, being the good friend I am, I advised her to ditch the sketch. I wasn't the only one and THEY DIDN'T GET how inappropriate it was. They are very good people but they got caught up in their "Show" bubble and couldn't see what others could, They ultimately took the advice and thankfully the horrible sketch was ditched.

    However, if I was an unknown in an audience and it wasn't directed at me I would squirm uncomfortably and perhaps say something afterwards....just like I did before. If it was about Autism...I would stage a walkout. xx Jazzy

  12. @Jazzy, thanks for that...well done on advising your pal re the sketch! It took a real friend to do that.
    Boyle opened a can of worms, didn't he? xxx

  13. a well formed blog. wonder what those with disability feel about being ridiculed. Perhaps not as much as we who love and protect them. I have come to this conclusion having witnesses family and the public uncomfortble enough with autusm and my lifestyle enbracing it, to choose to criticiuse and at worst deny how it presents. Lucky me, diversity has enriched my life. Sometimes I can laugh at these guys and myself but there is such a thing as boundary and I wonder why some feel the need to push it so hard. I would respond with the pointed question of why they think they are SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO funny. HA HA Ha Ha. m

  14. Great blog Jean Unfortunately a lot of these so-called comedians seem to think they are untouchable and can say what they like because they're so 'funny' Wit has been replaced with 'the shock factor' and some like Tommy Tiernan think being controversial will get them more fans
    I have a cousin who uses this form of shock tactics to get 'laughs' and be so 'out there' but I have told him (using stronger language) what I think, that it is sad that he has to lower himself to get attention. Needless to say I don't see that side of him anymore It make me so mad to see any type of ridicule towards any group , minority or otherwise but to attack people who cannot defend themselve makes me fume

  15. He's an ignorant bully, but karma is a bitch, and one day I'm sure his words will come back to haunt him. I am not going to waste any energy on him. He's just not worth it! Brill post Jeanie Doll.

  16. @ Sam's mom, a sense of humour is so important, but like you say, where are the boundaries??
    @ Kat, i feel the same, that comedians replace genuine wit and intelligence with shock value
    @ Taz, thank you darling

  17. You lot all have disabled kids and would have a completely different view if you didn't. My girlfriend has an autistic sister and she is a nightmare! People look and stare and take the piss because their different - whats wrong in that? they are different!

  18. Morning Will, I'm sure you're correct that we would have a different view from the "outside" (as it were)if we didn't have kids with disabilities. It IS horrible when people stare at their bizarre behaviour, and trust me we feel embarrassment just as acutely as you do. But that doesn't excuse ignorance and cruelty.
    As your sister (and you) are very aware, life with autism can be very difficult but can also be rewarding, life-affirming and can ultimately make better people of us.
    Use the opportunity with your girlfriend's sister to challenge'll feel better for it.
    Thanks for your comment

  19. Will lets hope you never become anything more than a boyfriend to that poor girl! your girlfriends family need someone more useful than you appear to be to join their clan believe me, I am the sister of an intellectually disabled man and the mother of an autistic boy, my husband was totally accepting of disability long before our child arrived. He helps my mum out with my brother and she loves and appreciates him for it. Your just not a very evolved human being if you think its ok to prey on the vulnerable in society, hopefully you will have a shift in your thinking sometime, Great post Jean x

  20. Oh dear Will....I feel compelled to respond as one of the "lot" above, who, incidently does not have a child with disabilities but feels saddened to read your comment which exposes your own insecurities when with, what you so eloquently describe as a "nightmare". Dig deep Will, believe me, you will find resources within that you never knew were there if you try to understand this girl and all that she brings to this world. Open your mind, ignore the ignorant and enrich your'll feel so much better. Rose

  21. It's a really great post and I share your anger. I don't know why comedians think they can get away with it, it sickened me that Tommy Tiernan said it was for 'awareness' then I say build a school, run a marathon, raise funds for awareness but don't make it ok to use disabilities as comic fodder. It is cheap and ugly. It is like last resort of the comedian I think when there are gazillions of subjects (not necessarily people ok politicans are allowed) to make fun of. I don't have a child with disabilities but I grew up with families who adopted children with DS and I interacted and played with them and they are so loving and caring. My cousin has Austism and I just want to understand her better. I just watched Harry Brown on DVD, it's about a drug culture that takes over and intimidates everyone. I know that if this 'comic' bullying isn't curtailed more people will latch on and attack verbally or physcially, afterall that's how Nazism spread it became acceptable to target jews. It just takes a few voices in prominent positions to influence the vulnerable.