There has been a long transit between this blog and my last. The reasons are many and varied. I’m in the last throes of completing a Dispatches programme for Channel Four, it is a demanding taskmaster, the last area of television in which you must be factually accurate a difficult thing to achieve in any arena.
Facts are like eels, slippery and cunning, hard to pin down. You may want to watch if you have a passing 30 minutes and a television set (or a computer). The subject matter is connected to disability and will open some eyes. Others, however wide open, will remain unseeing no matter what.
I’ve also been fortunate enough to receive a grant from the Artists International Development Fund run by the Arts Council. I was shocked in a pleasant way. I never expect grant applications to succeed and yet here I am the happy recipient of a grant that will enable me to go to Japan and work on developing an interactive video/dance piece in collaboration with Kazuyo Morita in Osaka.
I have never visited Japan and the chance is the realization of a long held desire. I’d like to make the observation that one should always produce work – with or without grant money, and if you procure any money from anywhere it’s a bonus, but the work comes first not the money.
There’s a fanfare of whinging about grants and money for the arts. Some of it is valid, but there will never be enough money to fund all the ideas (not even just the good ones) and while we must continue besieging the doors of those inside the fortress of funding. We must, more importantly make art.
Another other project I’m working on at the moment is called 'Thewitheredhand'. It’s an Instagram photo album about the adventures of a withered hand – mine – in this instance. I have always been of the opinion that my withered hand has a mind all of it’s own and I’d fail to be surprised to find out it’s been living a separate life, hidden from me. The photos will span a year in the life of the hand and then I’ll do something with the work.
Now, you may say, it’s easy for him to say with ACE money in his back pocket and his relentless compulsion to create, create, create, and I suppose you might be right. Obviously I could not go to Japan to make this work without the grant and my response is, I would just have done something else and then another thing, and another. My Instagram project is just Me, My hand and my iPhone – I don’t need a grant for that.
I was at the Edinburgh festival this year. I sat on a panel entitled ‘Disability a creative advantage’ which was a fun bit of rhetorical cant. But, the thing that struck me most was the presence of disability; it was everywhere, it’s like a new ‘art’ fashion.
Will there be lines of clothing? Will, “Top Shop cripples,” “Mongs’ at Muji” and “Spazridges” be all the rage? Wheelchairs shall replace Penny Farthings as the hipsters’ chosen mode of transportation and walking will be so déclassé. Mental ill health will be the new black and weekend breaks at sanatoriums almost compulsory. Hurrah we’re all cripples now.
But there’s a serious point to be made and it’s this. What has happened to make disability a new desirable marketing niche? Well, I think we did it to ourselves with the help of technology. What! Have we turned ourselves into a commodity? Yes we have.
Social media and technology have become amazing tools in creating a connectivity that could never have previously existed between disabled people. Allowing us to become effective activists and communicate outside our own often-narrow worlds. The campaign against ATOS is a fine example of how social media has provided us with a powerful weapon, likewise the defeat of the Assisted Dying bill.
IDS said recently that disabled people are not ‘normal’; this is a good thing (especially if the intellectually challenged Mr Smith is ‘normal’). In fact, there is no such thing as normal. Everyone is abnormal, there are just different groups in society that define themselves by various criteria and I suppose there must be a group that use the term normal.
IDS showed the power of this connectivity when he said that and it went ‘viral’ and when his ‘fake’ DWP stories were exposed. Holding power to account and achieving (as well as preventing) change are the things we should use this connectivity to achieve as well as the more mundane idea of keeping in touch.
The accessibility built into Mac computers is a boon to the disabled (not that I want to praise the Satan that is Apple). Apps that let people turn speech to text, turn text into speech and allow people to communicate instantly over massive distances have transformed the disability activism and arts landscape.
Although there is a lot to both criticise and concern one about the internet and its instant, though ersatz, experience of the world, in terms of helping to create a worldwide network for the disabled it has become an invaluable tool. And here I am using it now…
I watched a "kerpow" of Superhero movies the other night, mainly because I just didn’t fancy another evening of Francis Bacon and Foucault. That’s the way I roll, sublime to ridiculous in less than 24 hours. I noticed a few things about the superhero movies. It’s something that has long bugged me and now I’m going to bug you with it as well.
A handsome white male billionaire, in a Batsuit dispensing summary justice across a city according to his own value system = Superhero.
A man falls into a tank of chemical waste it disfigures him and that disfigurement turns him into a psychotic madman. He’s locked away in an institution = Super-villain.
Another handsome white male billionaire, this time in a Iron Suit also dispensing summary justice (when he’s not cavorting with supermodels and generally living it up) = Superhero
A child of a poor single mother suffering from depression who later contracts cancer forced through deprivation into a life of crime = Super-villain
Are you detecting trend here? I thought so. I have long been a bit of a comic book fan. I have owned at different times all of the Marvel Silver Surfer Series and a zillion 2000AD and Batman comics. The thing I always pondered as a child was why are the heroes always abled-bodied with extra-special powers and the villains so often Crips of some kind with the odd mutant power.
Look at the Hulk, a heroic scientist that becomes a giant green learning disabled villain. The trope is that of the cripple as a sub human, a drain on society, a nuisance, or in some other indefinable way a threat. And perhaps we are, imagine what would happen if we gained super powers – what indeed Mr Duncan Smith? what indeed? I don’t wonder about this so much as an adult (I don’t consider myself a grown up). I can see the subtext; in fact all I see everywhere is subtext.
As with all corporate media it’s designed to promote the capitalist status quo and to perpetuate the myth of an inclusive society. In the case of DC and Marvel the idea it propagates is the one that the American dream is not a nightmare for most of it’s participants, but in fact the “White Male Billionaire” is the pinnacle of achievement and we should be grateful to these paragons of human virtue – they literally save the world. Bill Gates as Iron Man. Richard Branson as Batman, “howling hedge fund Robin” I feel safer already.
Ah but what of the lowly lunatic? He is but a Joker or the fat boy let’s call him a Penguin he can’t have any friends but birds. If there’s mental illness, poverty or disfigurement involved why, that will make you mad and bad and you need to be punished, imprisoned or it’s the asylum for you and make no mistakes about chucking away the key.
The cripple is a threat to the world or at least to the tidiness of the streets. In comics they are either villainous or pathetic, either way they need the attention of the white billionaires to save or savage them. I still love these ridiculous stories and films but I’m not ignorant of the contribution reading them as a child made to my own negative self image.
As for Captain America – I ‘m not going there…
So, we recently had an election, in case anybody missed it, and I nearly did. The result was mind numbingly predictable the Tories won in England and the SNP in Scotland and nobody has any idea what happened in Wales.
I see much moaning and wailing about the outcome and what it means for disabled people; the thing is it doesn’t mean much. It will be business as usual under a Tory government. Labour espoused much the same welfare and arts policies as the Tories (not to mention the fab “Controls on Immigration” mugs – what was that about???). One must remember that it was a Labour administration that invited the disabled community to the ATOS / ESA tea party and didn’t we have fun!
We have a brand new Minister for Disabled People – whose name I can’t recall and a lovely new philistine as Minister of Culture Media and Sport – a grey suited man called…called…er…well, anyway it doesn’t matter because both of these posts are not real Ministerial roles they are only viewed by the incumbents as a stepping stone to a real job. The Minister of Cripples doesn’t even sit in the cabinet.
Whittingdale – the Minister for Culture etc. etc. (I looked it up okay…) is in the cabinet but will be so busy spanking the BBC with his kipper tie that we shan’t even get a whiff of his anti everything in the liberal arts ire. I had the misfortune to once meet Jeremy Hunt when he was in that role at a shindig for the Paralympics TV coverage at Channel 4. He was as slick and sincere as a fox in a hen coup I declined to be introduced to him.
Esther McVey was there as well in her roll as then Minister of Cripples – she said “hello” - as I had interviewed her a few days previously for a Dispatches I was making. I didn’t answer. The politician’s slimy politicking didn’t surprise me – that’s what they do. But I was somewhat ashamed of the rim jobs that most of the disabled ‘artists’ present (ok they were TV people – not real artists), were giving them.
We can expect both the new ministers to be gone inside of a year and hopefully after a lot of infighting the Tories slim majority will implode and they will explode but, and this is the real problem, what the hell is there to replace them with..?
Blue Labour? I don’t think so…. They are as much use as a blind lollipop lady on a motorway. I suppose we best all go off and make some art about it, as a protest.