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

13 Comments

  1. Blake said,

    24 February 2009 at 5:19

    “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.”

    This is taken out of context. Adding a little more of the context:

    “I know the courage it takes to get on the court with other cripples and play wheelchair basketball, but I’m not as fortunate as they are, and I bet I’m in the majority. I’d like to play basketball like normal, healthy, vital, and energetic people. I really don’t want the substitute. I just can’t half-do anything — either it’s all the way, or forget it. That’s a rough way to think in my position. 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.

    *I may be a full human being in my heart and soul*, yet I am still half a person, and I know I’ll do well if I keep my priorities in order.”

    When he says “half a person,” he’s not speaking of his (the hypothetical Jerry with MD) humanity; rather, his physical limitations. As a person with MD, I can remember wanting to play sports. I had to accept that playing power wheelchair soccer was the closest substitute to playing, say, little league baseball. For a while, I didn’t play anything. But…

    “That’s a rough way to think in my position. 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.”

    That is, I realized what I WAS able to do and I decided that power soccer was the best I could do (no offense to power soccer).

    I realize he isn’t always tactful. But I think we at least need to try to understand where he’s coming from.

  2. Shalanda said,

    15 January 2008 at 5:51

    i think that animal farm was boring.

    animal farm. wow. couldnt come up with a lamer title.

  3. Tysyacha said,

    4 September 2007 at 15:20

    “Nova tema”. As far as I can tell, that’s what the messed-up Cyrillic says.
    “Nova” is the short form of “novaya”, which means “new”, and “tema” means
    perhaps “theme”, as in “post” or “blog”. At least those are my best guesses, since I’m trying to learn Russian. (“Trying” being the operative word.)

    As for the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon, I hate it, too. I didn’t watch it. I recently wrote a mini-essay about it, too, saying “People experience pain and suffering when they get no respect from others around them, because those others prefer to interact with them in condescending, patronizing, and surrogate-parent/guardian ways. This, and not MD, is their real “fatal disease”.

    Heartbreak and the death of the soul are real, just as real as failing muscles and nerves that fight for every synapse they send.”

    Hope this helps!
    Tysyacha

  4. 3 September 2007 at 19:11

    Thanks for this post

    I did a blog on the telethon as well at http://reunifygally.wordpress.com/2007/09/03/why-deaf-people-should-boycott-jerrys-telethon/

    If you choose to come look at my telethon post then I hope you’ll also stay and look around at some of the posts I’ve done about the ADA Restoration Act of 2007, which I think is another subject that people with disabilities should be up in arms about. And BLOGGING ABOUT! (Which you did recently as well …)

  5. Joel Smith said,

    3 September 2007 at 15:58

    There was a huge blowup a few months ago on the Hub regarding people writing about Animal Farm, their interpretations, and some people who didn’t like those interpretations. :(

  6. qw88nb88 said,

    3 September 2007 at 13:49

    You want to hear something really funky? My WordPress user dashboard is in Russian this morning! (I wonder what “HoBa Tema” means? That’s the only one I can transcribe, lacking Cyrillic keys.) Maybe I bumped into a command key somewhere…

  7. Justthisguy said,

    3 September 2007 at 3:23

    Somebody please explain Joel’s comment to me. I did read “Animal Farm” when I was a kid, and thought it was an allegory about the Bolsheviks in Russia.

    I think people have since pointed to it as an allegory about similar kinds of injustices.

    Are the “Tranzis” (Trans-National Progressives) objecting to people alluding to that book, or what? Is that why we’re not allowed to talk about it any more?

    P.S. It is my personal opinion that if I were magically to become despotic absolute dictator of the world, the Tranzis would all suffer slow death by impalement, starting with George Soros, the worst and first among them

  8. qw88nb88 said,

    3 September 2007 at 2:14

    Explain which? I still don’t understand Joel’s comment, but I can explain the other stuff…

  9. Justthisguy said,

    3 September 2007 at 1:51

    HUH? What? Somebody please explain this to me?

  10. 3 September 2007 at 0:59

    “Not because they’re disabled, but because of the entrenched bigotry against disabled people that permeates our cultures.”

    Basically, people aren’t necessarily disabled by anything with which they can be diagnosed: they are disabled by the attitudes of other people in society and the behaviours of those people based on those attitudes.

  11. Justthisguy said,

    2 September 2007 at 23:45

    Yeah, Joel, I would say to you, “Huh? Just what do you mean by that?” I really would like to know.

  12. qw88nb88 said,

    2 September 2007 at 23:35

    How so?

  13. Joel Smith said,

    2 September 2007 at 22:36

    I don’t think we’re allowed to talk about Animal Farm anymore. :/


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