Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Don't Know? Don't Say!

Now, before I go any further let's get one thing straight. I like a good laugh as much as the next person. I also agree with what Dave Gorman once said in a stand-up routine, to the effect that if the disabled – of which I am one – want to be fully integrated into society we have to accept that humour is part of that acceptance, to whit laughing at ourselves and allowing others to laugh with us is part and parcel of that. One of my favourite jokes is about one of my disabilities, Hydrocephalus; unfortunately it relies heavily on sound so doesn't translate into a blog. A stand-up routine I love is from Chris Addison who did an hilarious piece describing pirates as disabled sailors. I've seen it several times and I still laugh every time.
So that's the good part out of the way. Now onto the bad.
Humour based on ignorance is not humour. It's offensive. Tonight I watched a stand-up routine from a comedian who clearly hadn't done his research properly – if at all - and simply plucked a common disability out of the air to compare with an eating disorder. His misfortune – quite apart from the laziness inherent in the lack of research – was to single out my disability. Now, I grant you the routine was from 2011 and in the intervening years he may have had his error pointed out to him, but have the thousands who saw the routine also been informed of his error?
My major disability is Spina Bifida – I minored in Hydrocephalus (See? Humour! :) ) and for those not familiar with the condition, simply put it is a malformation of the spinal cord in the womb which results in varying degrees of paralysis and other side effects depending on where on the cord the malformation occurs. In my case, and that of many others, it results in an inability to walk and thus many of those who have Spina Bifida are wheelchair users.
The condition this ill-informed individual compared Spina Bifida to was wheat intolerance and Coeliac Disease. The latter is an autoimmune disorder of the small intestine. Symptoms include pain and discomfort in the digestive tract, chronic constipation and diarrhoea and many others. Vitamin deficiencies are often noted in people with coeliac disease owing to the reduced ability of the small intestine to properly absorb nutrients from food.
The offending line in question suggested that people with wheat intolerance 'act like they've got Spina Bifida..' Hopefully having read the two descriptions above you will, dear reader, appreciate what an asinine comment this was.
I'm going to be blunt here because the individual concerned is a public figure and has his words and opinions exposed to hundreds, if not in the low thousands, of people at a time, possibly millions on television. The man's an idiot. Firstly for not bothering to research his material properly, but then for exposing the thousands in the auditorium and watching the televised event to his ill-informed humour. The saying 'With great power comes great responsibility' is I feel appropriate here, as his words have the potential to shape what everyone thinks who attends one of his performances, or the millions who will have watched him on television. I hope that knowing they are watching a comedian they won't go away with the belief that he knows what he's talking about, because if they do they will think Spina Bifida is an eating disorder, or conversely they may think Coeliac Disease means you can't walk.
People in the public eye, especially those whose job entails addressing large numbers of the public, have a duty and responsibility to know what they are talking about. Not only comedians, but actors, music artists, politicians, in fact anyone who routinely finds themselves in front of a camera and feels obliged to have an opinion. These people have fans who in some cases hang on their every word and believe what they say – and that they can speak English properly but that's a whole separate blog.
The point of this story is quite simply if, while in the public eye, you're quizzed on a subject you know nothing about have the honesty to say so, and if you don't know about a subject don't make it up!