A new sensitivity and perception of disability emerged during the paralympics. Presenters and athletes were on our screens daily with missing limbs and the type of disabilities that go unnoticed. The word ‘disability’ seems inappropriate when the scale of the success and achievement of the athletes was accompanied by footage that explained the effort required to go for gold. The Australian comedian, Adam Hills, who was born without a right foot, was a brilliant presenter of a show on Channel 4 at the time of the Olympics. Sometimes it became a bit uncomfortable watching guests wrestle with concepts of what is appropriate or acceptable behaviour towards people with disabilities. It seemed like the early days of various liberation struggles – Women’s lib, Black power, Gay pride. Maybe the language needs to evolve, but more importantly the shift in perspective is encouraging.If people in wheelchairs are less likely to be ignored and prosthetic limbs don’t cause panic on the streets, we must be on the right track. But what is acceptable in the world of comedy?
Frankie Boyle pushes the boundaries of comedy in a way that is always going to offend some people, but he is no Bernard Manning. His outrageous humour is not intended to ridicule a particular group of people with the tacit acceptance of bigots. It has a sort of self-deprecating subtlety behind the savagery, that hints that this taboo-busting is just to get you laughing, but might make you think about stereotypical viewpoints – absurdity not malice is the key.
Channel 4 screened a program about various young people with disabilities trying out dating services. The ad for the program had that freak show voyeuristic feel about it – but when we watched the program as a family, we found it uplifting and life affirming. The guy with Tourette’s syndrome found a fabulous soul mate whose influence helped him reduce his tics. The woman who had suffered a stroke when she was only 18, that limits her ability to call words to mind, dated a young man who could see past the disability to a young woman of humour and intelligence.