Animal Farm

Yes, that “Animal Farm”, the book by George Orwell. That’s what I was reminded of, or rather, I was reminded of the famous quote, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

Painting walls certainly gives one time to think, and I was stuck on the annual Muscular Dystrophy Telethon. Jerry Lewis is the comic who for years has been the host of the annual MD Telethon broadcast on US television. The program itself is designed to be a real tear-jerker, prompting people to send in money out of pity and guilt and good intentions. Lots of people hate the program. We hate the paternalistic attitudes that perpetuate the whole medical model of disability, and reinforce the warped picture the equates disabled people as helpless, hopeless victims needing cures and charity, rather than accommodation and equal social standing and social rights.

In the negatively stereotypical telethon world, the disabled person can only be brave by quietly clinging to others and not advocating for themselves, by staying hidden out the way and not asking for equal access, and by cultivating “hope” that someday they can be “cured” to become normal, thus regaining their status as a full member of society and become a real person.

Well, medical cures and preventions are well and good, but are nowhere near soon, and what people really need are more practical things, the equipment and accommodations and acceptance into general society that will let them live their lives. No one wants to put their life on “hold” waiting for some possibly non-existent, or distant future mythical-magical cure. No one wants to be stuck at home, much less in an institution, and thought of as a horrible burden, a non-functioning person who has nothing to contribute to their family, a non-working person who has nothing to contribute to their workplace, a non-sexual person who has nothing to contribute to their spouse, or a non-adult person who has nothing to contribute to their children.

Jerry Lewis plays up the pity card heavily. I’ve previously discussed the various social problems created by pity, so I won’t go repeating myself on that score. What choked me up (in disgust, not in sadness) was his “half a person” quote. It originates from the September 2, 1990 issue of Parade magazine, from the article titled, “What If I Had Muscular Dystrophy?”:

When I sit back and think a little more rationally, I realize my life is half, so I must learn to do things halfway. I just have to learn to try to be good at being a half a person … and get on with my life.

Ick. That’s when the Animal Farm parallel hit me:

All humans are people, but some humans are more people than others.

Half a person. Not a real person. Not a full citizen in society, but someone second-class. Forever dependent, focused upon all the things they cannot do, always left out. And why are people left out? Not because they’re disabled, but because of the entrenched bigotry against disabled people that permeates our cultures. Simple things that should be ordinary, practical, sensible things, are instead viewed as horrible hardships upon everyone else. Problems are seen in a warped world-view of false dichotomies: either the person cannot do something the normal way, or they get cured and then they’ll be able to do things. There’s no accommodated way of doing things in that unrealistic story.

I can’t stand to watch the program. I can’t stand the crass exploitation, seeing children (and their families) used as tragi-cute pawns for pathos. I can’t stand to hear Jerry Lewis snivelling. I can’t stand to see the whole routine repeated year after year after year, the horribly treacly music, the pleas to “save Jerry’s kids”. The program is a tear-jerker, and Jerry Lewis is a jerk.

“It is an uncomfortable truth, in social work, in government activity, and in charitable endeavors, that actions which are intended to help a certain group of people may actually harm them.”
~Laura Hershey

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