Saturday, 16 March 2019

Officially Sanctioned Mischief

Last night we along with millions of others donated to comic relief, a comedy based fundraiser which really does save lives. I love the premise and the achievements are undeniable especially now when Comic Relief have to provide protection against starvation and homelessness here in the UK. The 5th richest country in the world.

So as it's all about jokes with unexpected punch lines.

Did you hear the one about Mendip House?

Mendip house was a residential home for learning disabled adult with autism. You won’t have heard much about it in the news except from Ian Birrell one of the few journalists and columnists who details the routine abuse endured by learning disabled people at the hands of care workers.

Predominantly the facts, which led to the residential placement being closed down, included the sort of ritualized torture and humiliation, which made me feel sick. The difference being that if I had been sick, I wouldn’t have been made to drink my own vomit by any care worker, unlike one of the residents of Mendip House.

Latest figures show that 3 learning disabled people die an avoidable death in the NHS everyday. That’s the apex of the facts, death. 

Whether learning disabled people are deliberately murdered like Gemma Hayter or neglectfully killed accidentally by professionals, the truth is the life expectancy of learning disabled people is significantly less than the rest of the population.

On the way to dying earlier than everyone else, learning disabled people will experience, physical abuse, sexual abuse, financial abuse, verbal abuse and politically targeted by austerity. Some learning disabled people experience all of those things more than once.

When I say learning-disabled people are the most vulnerable people in society, I mean it, because even when they are killed and the guilty actually prosecuted, the sentences are so light as to be insulting.

The Nazis had a term for disabled people, which enabled their T4 Euthanasia program, before and during the Jewish Holocaust. The phrase that accompanied the black triangle, which all disabled people had to wear, read “Life unworthy of life” in all Nazi propaganda posters, articles and speeches.

Disabled people were the original catalyst for mass extermination programme and the extermination method of Zyclon B gas, began in psychiatric hospitals where mobile gas trucks arrived and the patients were taken to the shower block. 

Zyclon B was a pesticide.

But I’m not talking about disabled people “taking the bread from the mouths of hardworking Germans” or as we would call them in peace time, disability benefit claimants.

I’m not talking about “untermensch” (sub humans) or as we would call them in peace time - learning disabled people who didn’t merit much press attention even when they’re being tortured by people paid to care for them. 

I’m going to talk about Alan Partridge.

Last night he appeared on Comic Relief and he was funny. He’s always funny. There’s nothing funnier than a middle aged white man which I guess is why middle aged white men lead most of the BBC comedy shows currently on air. 

Middle-aged white women are on prime time too, it’s not like the BBC isn’t great at equality- if by equality you mean people under the age of 45. 

The most popular prime time comedy show featuring a woman in middle age on BBC One, is Mrs Brown’s Boys, so there we are “gender equality”.

But back to Coogan.

Last night he did his Alan thing. If you don’t know who this character is, then I suggest you Google him. But to sum up he’s a character who’s very popular. 

Coogan too is very popular. He’s very loved by famous people and he’s pretty much untouchable, like most middle-aged men at the BBC. He was also nominated recently for an Academy Award playing the best beloved Stan Laurel,  and a raft of nominations for the beautiful “Philomena”. 

So you’d think a man with this much on his CV would be above punching down. 


That’s where you’re wrong.

Last night Alan did his thing with Side Kick Simon. It was a “live feed” from the Comic Relief Studio in the manner and mode of regional news presenters up and down the country who report live with those of us doing something funny for money. 

They flipped it Alan Style but it was the intro, which I disliked so intensely that I fell in line with my demographic and phoned the BBC to complain. I’m sure the BBC will fall in line with their usually response default and do fuck all about it.

So Cut to Coogan/Partridge.

That was me saying ‘Hello I’m Alan Partridge’ but backwards and that was to raise £75 for Patrick in the Shetlands, which is in Scotland, so make sure you pay up. And that’s exactly the kind of mischief, officially sanctioned mischief, that we’ve been getting up to today. Be it getting your grandma to dress up as Elvis or me saying ‘I’m Alan Partridge’ backwards. I am Alan Partridge but I’m not backwards.

                                (smiling) I beg to differ.

 (laughs) Very good yes. I’m just saying….I’m not…you know….I don’t have special needs

It’s funny apparently because it’s awkward. He also goes on to tell a group of people not to 'stand like you’re at a Jewish wedding' but Side Kick Simon pulls a face after repeating, it so we know, as an audience that Partridge is mindlessly mentioning delicate stuff.

Later in the sketch he also mentions/complains about gender and me too, eggshells and unfairness but again no one is laughing as he digs himself deeper into the offense pockets of his smart casual slacks. So we know, on those topics it’s all about the inappropriateness of his views.

That’s not the case with the “backwards” special needs stuff. It’s constructed as funny because of its association with learning disability.
It’s constructed to be funny because the joke has a long set up with special needs as the final payoff. 

It’s not lampooning PC culture or his own outdated matrix of terminology, the whole premise of the joke is based on laughing at learning disabled people and I’m so fucking sick of this shit.

Race, ethnicity and sexuality and gender used to be the punch lines of many jokes. But then black and Asian people, women, trans people and gay and lesbian comics picked up the microphone where Jim Davidson and Bernard Manning had dropped it and after picking off the cigarette butts and strippers tassels, they amplified their voices to tell their truth.

Routinely marginalized comedy targets began taking back the narrative and shaping it to. accuracy rather than the damaging stereotypes.

This isn’t routinely the case for learning disabled people. So learning-disabled people still remain everyone’s last resort comedy punch line, punch bag.

Coogan isn’t alone. It’s just depressing to see it done so blatantly in a charity fundraiser, which list amongst many projects ones which support mental health initiatives and services. Not all learning-disabled people have mental health issues but many, many do.  Learning-disabled people still live in a world where they’re not included within disability hate speech legislation. If an abuser beats up a learning disabled man, woman or child and uses a pejorative epithet the abuser many see additional sanctions but it sill isn’t in and of itself a crime.

Which is why the boxer David Haye was also featured in a comic relief sketch last night even though he routinely uses the term retard and tried to get the term “wetter than a spastic’s chin” trending on Twitter. 

I took him to task but of course he blocked me citing, in an unintentionally ironic twist “free speech”.

It would be good for the next Comic Relief and frankly more generally on the BBC as a whole, if pejorative epithets about learning disabled people were deemed to be as damaging and stigmatizing as race hate epithets are. 

In a world which still doesn’t prosecute care workers who deliberately render the food of a learning disabled person inedible and then when they vomit, force them to drink it; it would be good to see our public broadcaster and all privileged men and women, show they recognize their responsibility not to be part of a wider problem.

Until then I’ll keep complaining and being ignored, trolled, abused and accused of being humourless. 

Our learning disabled daughter, Emily is worth it.

Oh and here's how to be funny about disability and SEN without targeting anyone.