I can’t possibly add anything to the Oscar saga because surely the number of columns written about it, and the way the case is being live-tweeted and vigorously and sometimes viciously debated, is enough. Also, not feeling particularly eloquent, especially compared to the must-read columns I want to encourage you to read. I hope I’ll just add a tangential remark.
With everyone is rushing to exonerate or condemn, to speculate and find differential treatment based on race or celebrity status, there has also been criticism of the inevitable Oscar jokes that have done the rounds. Specifically, Karen Jeynes wrote a piece and quoted from another, both of which I think are fascinating reading.
in which she refers to an article written by Warren Robertson:
I don’t know the players in this tragedy, and obviously to those intimately affected nothing about this is funny in the remotest.
Yet I did giggle at the “leg to stand on” gag. (Other jokes I found less funny.) I would; disability is of interest to me since it affected my life directly. I find the joke funnier because of my own issues.
Usually when people I pass in the street see me and Richie, I see their faces contort into pat expressions of sentiment or pity or sadness or that “deep respect” face that has me simultaneously reaching to polish my and Richie’s matching halos and suppress my gag reflex.
We look scary, because we look different. Please understand I realise this is my issue. I project reactions onto people, at least some of the time. (Not all the time, otherwise I wouldn’t encounter strangers who want to press my hand or pray for us or tell me how amazing we are.) Richie must inspire parallels with Oscar Pistorius. His legs are obviously “the problem” as he totters like Lurch from the Addams Family, oblivious to the meaning of the looks and attention he commands wherever he, well, lurches.
Since 14 February, I tell a friend, I imagine these people looking at us differently. No more blanket love, prayers and accusations of superhuman strength and endurance. Now, I see doubt and dark suspicion on their eyes. Richie’s turned from Superkid into Force of Evil...
We fall about laughing.
I need to fall abut laughing because I need to dismantle the discourse of "crip-spiration" or "inspiration porn" as brilliantly discussed here by Eddie Ndopu:
.. .because some of that mythologising of disability is undeniably dangerous, and I want my child to resist it as far as he needs to. He needn't be a hero with clay feet. Neither the hero part nor the clay feet part.
We know we laugh at tragedy because we need the release, otherwise the weight of it would be oppressive. We live in a complex and conflicted country that I believe makes humour sometimes necessary just so we can cope again afterwards. And people’s private lives and experiences inform what they occasionally need to laugh at.
I have seen deep anger on social media platforms about the Oscar jokes. I get why you are angry. We wouldn’t joke if we didn’t need to cope with how serious this matter is. But in the same breath, I have seen responses like “retard!” or “that’s retarded” to people posting Oscar jokes – when discussing this very issue.
The other day at the zoo, Richie was exhausted and lay down flat on the floor of the restaurant. He didn’t speak. He was extra-lurchy. He looked, suddenly, like a kid with a super-scary cloud of neurological as well as physical symptoms, instead of the straightforward spina bifida he has. I felt the looks we were getting were somewhat different now that Richie looked like... a “retard”.
No, that’s not right. You would never call him that, would you?
So explain to me, please, how a word that is so clearly perjorative is still used so unreflectingly when dismissing someone you disagree with as stupid? You wouldn’t publish on social media: “That’s typical of what a chick/lesbo/nigger would say” but you are happy to say, “That is typical of what a retard would say”.
I will admit I need dark humour to keep me going. But to me, this is where it stops being funny.