A few weeks ago, in a moment of nostalgia, I settled down in front of the TV to watch the 1985 classic film, Back to the Future, starring Michael J. Fox (I look forward to having a go on a hoverboard in 4 years time), and since then I've been feeling a little like Marty McFly myself in as much as it seems I've gone back in time. Why are you feeling this way? I hear you all ask. Well its because, in my opinion our political and social attitudes towards disabled people have regressed alarmingly.
Why do you think that? I can hear you ask, well this opinion is based on many reasons, but two main ones. Firstly the upcoming benefit reforms that will significantly reduce the quality of life for people with disabilities. I'm not going to talk about this particularly as yesterdays blog by campaign group The Broken of Britain put it far more eloquently than I can, and you can read this here http://thebrokenofbritain.blogspot.com/. Already as a result of the proposed reforms highlighted in the comprehensive spending review in October and the proposed changes to Disability Living Allowance, a culture of deserving and undeserving poor is becoming more and more apparent. An example of this can be seen on the comments made by members of the public on online media sources reporting these changes. A recurring comment goes along the lines of 'If you are genuinely disabled then nobody is against you getting benefits'. I assume this is meant to be reassuring to us disableds, but yet again we are left to defend our conditions and our disabilities, prove what we can and can't do and, as is shown the, the system used by those who decide who is and isn't disabled can be flawed.
My second reason, and no less concerning is what seems to have become socially acceptable in comedy, and how it uses disabled people. Here I have to eat humble pie, when I wrote some weeks ago about the mother of a disabled child who was unhappy with elements of comedian Frankie Boyle's stage show. I hadn't and still haven't seen the show but am very familiar with his work on TV shows like Mock The Week from which he grew a reputation for having a biting humour that was prepared to plumb depths for humour, and i said as much, that if you were familiar with his work you knew what to expect. However after seeing his channel 4 TV show, Tramadol Nights, he is still plumbing the depths but I can see what the mother was getting at as it now appears to be more shocking than funny, especially the humour aimed at those with mental health problems.
Frankie isn't the only one though. Morgana Robinson, is relatively new to TV comedy, but on her, The Morgana Show, ironically also on channel 4 right after Tramadol Nights, she has a character called Gilbert who is a teenage boy with learning disabilities making his own amateur TV shows, which again for me, fails badly on the humour scale, but as I trawled through Twitter while these programmes are on, I was surprised to find opinion was split and a significant percentage of people were finding these programmes funny. here is a clip of Gilbert from the Morgana Show and you can decide for yourself. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=voCE_LjG3zE but again on Twitter opinion was split.
Now I class myself as a bit of a comedy-geek and have sat through some very good and very poor programmes, and I like to give new shows a chance so I'm clamouring to have these shows taken off the air, nor would I as I don't believe in censorship (next stop Wikileaks). My comments are more on a significant number of viewers finding it funny and acceptable.
Having disabled characters in comedy is brilliant when it's done well for example Lou and Andy in Little Britain and Brenda from The Office played by Julie Fernandez, where the disability wasn't the joke (or in Andy's case the lack of disability) but the social interactions with disabled characters was the source of the comedy. Of course the two characters I have cited as doing it well have physical disabilities and the Gilbert character has a learning disability, so maybe it isn't possible to use learning disabled characters in comedy without it coming over as mocking and derogatory.
Either way, it does seem we have gone back in time where people with disabilities are becoming easy targets politically and socially, so I'm off to see if I can get a De Lorean with a flux capacitor with my Disability Living Allowance while I still have it.