Congratulations to Mat Fraser for the recent award given to Cabinet Of Curiosities: but isn’t Disability being firmly put back in a box?
It was good to hear that Mat Fraser has won the Arts and Culture Award category in the Observer Ethical Awards 2014 for his show Cabinet of Curiosities: How Disability was kept in a Box.
I interviewed Mat before the show went on tour and was wowed by his performance in the Science Museum earlier this year. For me it was akin to the kinds of cabaret performance we, in the disability arts movement, were lucky to see Mat do 20 years ago: Mat, angry, proud, projecting a cynical humour advocating for disabled peoples’ rights by giving exposure to the Social, Medical and Charity Models of Disability.
Always anarchic, linking karate-kicking raps with observations of how 'disability' is a personal and social role, which simultaneously invalidates people with impairments and validates those identified as 'normal'.
So it surprised me to read in the Guardian’s coverage of the award by Rhik Samadder that the journalist interprets the show, by saying “One of the show's aims is to normalise disability.”
Disability will never be ‘normalised’. Paul Darke, argued back in the late 1990s in his Now I know Why Disability Art is Drowning in the River Lethe paper, that the inclusion agenda was always in danger of sanitising disability to the extent that endangered disabled peoples’ rights.
The assertion of the potential normality of disabled people to fit in - went against the principles of Disability Arts precisely because it sought to ally with the cultural agendas of the arts establishment, rather than the values of the disabled peoples’ movement.
And it looks like Paul’s warning is coming to pass as the current dismantling of the welfare state continues to threaten disabled peoples’ lives. With precious little comment from the media, measures which, under the pretext of saving taxpayers money (but which with a terrible irony are costing more than the sums allegedly saved) are leaving more and more disabled people in a desperate state of poverty.
The latest epistle under the reign of the current unelected government, is to do away with the Independent Living Fund - a fund set up because it was realised from an economic viewpoint that it was more cost-effective to give disabled people direct support in their own homes - as opposed to locking people away in institutions. So we are going to see disabled peoples’ support needs taken away and replaced once again with high cost institutions allowing little, if any, quality of life.
I wonder if the subtext of Mat’s show should be How Disability is being pushed back in a Box. In his show Mat compares Nazi propaganda images and asks how easily those images can be applied to the strategies of Atos and the DCMS, working specifically to disenfranchise disabled people.
The ILF helps over 18,000 severely disabled people to live independent lives in the community rather than in residential care.
The government announced on 6 March 2014 that it will close the ILF in June 2015.This is the second attempt by the government as last time the Court of Appeal found that the government had breached the equality duties.
The government now claims to have got around the court findings and says it will devolve the money to Local Authorities for 12 months with no ring-fencing.
After June 2016 there will be no additional funding for already cash-strapped local authorities to meet their legal obligations.
Please, help us in the campaign to stop the government's latest attack on disabled people.
Four easy steps to campaign:
1. Email your MP now to help save the ILF and encourage all your friends and family to do the same
2. Sign the ILF petition to government
3. Tweet #savetheILF and Facebook the link to the e-action - www.pcs.org.uk/savetheILF - so others can join the campaign
On the way to Stratford Theatre Royal for an evening of Graeae's raved-about Reasons to be Cheerful - it was bizarre to read a report in the Daily Mail of several Labour MPs using twitter to send messages of support in favour of the students who attacked the Tory headquarters earlier this week. The Labour Party's support of violent action is not unprecedented, of course. They took us into Iraq despite the million march and a national sense of the injustice of waging that war.
Reasons took us further back in time - to the beginnings of Thatcher's reign of power in 1979. It was a nostalgic trip back to the days before the reconstruction of the male psyche. The musical is a full-on, energy packed evening, reveling in Ian Dury’s up-front obsession with sex, drugs, and rock and roll.
Graeae's cast of ne'er-do-wells were totally up-for-it - using BSL and captioning to give further emphasis to the pure inventiveness of Dury's lyrics. The show was a wonderful tribute to the man as a poet of his time. His songs are full of characters on the periphery of society, like Plaistow Patricia - ducking and diving in the pursuit of "a little bit of this and little bit of that! Oh Oh!"
The story tells the tale of Vinnie, his mate Colin – doing all they can to get tickets to see Dury at the Hammy Palais in 1981 – Vinnie’s mum Pat and his dad Bob. Bob lives a parallel life to that of Dury himself. He is dying of cancer and yearning for younger days of love, made to the music of one of Dury’s heroes - Gene Vincent.
It is a simple tale of ordinary folk, nicely pivoted around a tender rendition of 'My Old Man' - telling the story of a father and son come together in front of death’s curtain:
Seven years went out the window
We met as one to one
Died before we'd done much talking
Relations had just begun
All the while we thought about each other
All the best mate, from your son
All the best mate, from your son
My old man
And of course, Reasons is a tale about disability – reaching a crescendo towards the end of the first half with the ground-breaking Spasticus Autisticus:
Hello to you out there in Normal Land
You may not comprehend my tale or understand
As I crawl past your window give me lucky looks
You can be my body but you'll never read my books
Dury’s comment on invisibility of disabled peoples’ voices is as relevant now as it was back in the early eighties. Thatcher’s reinventing of British society around the values of consumerism has now reached its apex. Disabled people in residential care are now labeled ‘customers’ who receive ‘services’ – as if care was just another commodity to be valued by quantity.
Reasons draws conclusions about similarities in the political climate now – with the cuts to benefits, beginning to undermine disabled peoples’ independence. But the world is much more complex with the flow of information afforded by the internet.
In Thatcher’s time, everything was a foregone conclusion, with tight, unrelenting control of the media at the heart of her campaign to change the way we think and feel. What’s going to happen next? Will there be fisticuffs in the House?
Hopefully, at the very least, Graeae will get an opportunity to do a further run of Reasons to be Cheerful at a theatre near you!
Reasons to Be Cheerful ends its run at Royal Theatre, Stratford, London on 13 November 2010