The media has caught on to the idea that ‘worthiness’ sells. As a result disabled people have been more prominent on tv and within the arts, yet as a group we have been getting a rawer deal since the 2012 Paralympics says, tv producer/ director Richard Butchins.
Like everything else in our shiny new 21st Century world disability is now a commodity to be bought, sold, and traded. Not, I hasten to add, that we can commodify our own impairments, at least not often, although Peter Dinklage has done a reasonable job – but really he hasn’t – he’s a commodity for the producers of 'Game of Thrones' and in media terms disability is a new fashionable commodity, although it’s actually a harkening back to the glory days of the Barnham and Bailey’s freak shows, (except often the freaks are no longer getting paid).
Take the C4 show – The Undateables - this is a freak show par excellence and the participants get no pay, but it rakes in the cash for the production company and the channel all in the name of diversity. Though such diversity barely extends behind the camera. We have enough cripples on-screen to sink an Italian cruise liner but behind the camera there are very few. I can think of only two other Producer/ Directors that are disabled alongside myself that work regularly, making programs.
Ah, Diversity the holy grail of equal representation in the arts and media – but wait is this just a badly painted ghetto I see before me containing publicly supported crips making bad art and a somewhat shinier cage for the TV crips – be brave, and inspire and occasionally perspire – if not then you must scrounge for that is the word and the way of our world. But fear not oh crippled ones, for if you are a receiver of the gift of benefits then you become a useful asset for another corporate world, the world of politics and procurement.
Our crippled carcasses are worth hundreds of lovely pounds to Atos or Maximus or to the private companies now ransacking the NHS. The cripple is a corporate cash cow (although only in bulk) the only person that doesn’t get any of the value of this commodity is the crip. The impact assessments, endless reports and studies carried out into what’s best for us are worth hundreds of thousands of pounds; all to determine qualification for some meagre state hand out.
Now we do have a voice, albeit a small squeaky voice and we shout and bang our broken fists against stuff, but no one really listens, and we are not a community. We are disabled and that is secondary to whatever culture, gender or race we come from. We are a disparate group of voices, disunited in deformity, only homogenous to the outside world.
And it’s oftentimes a voice for sale - as disability activist’s Sue Marsh’s departure to work for Maximus illustrates. I have no real problem with that. I’m pragmatic and one needs to take care of oneself; as the infrastructure (such as it was) that was in place to help is being dismantled one calliper at a time.
In the world of the Arts, there’s a newly developed industry around administering and dishing out cash to disabled artists, filmmakers and so on. The Paralympics represented a flaming archway for the new “disabled for sale or rent” ethos. It’s all about winning and celebrating diversity and yet if you win a gold in a wheelchair race, guess what? You are still rubbish at walking to the shop to buy a pack of fags.
The Art paraded at the front end of this Circus of Freakery was the figurehead for trying – “didn’t they try hard” – “weren’t they brave” and so forth. All the self-righteous parsimony tasted like dust and left a bad taste in my mouth. I shan’t argue about the relative merits of individual artists or organisations, suffice to say where is the Alexander Pope or Toulouse Lautrec that such funding should be uncovering?
I’m talking about a conceptual level on which disability has been defined as a commodity and had a price tag attached to it, the output doesn’t matter. Commercial and social relevance is more important than the art or the entertainment, for surely it’s now the case that if something doesn’t have a price tag it has no value in our brave new world.
Richard Butchins is, amongst other things, a TV Producer/ Director. His novel ‘Pavement’, published by Cutting Edge Press, is a dark, gruesome, funny and dystopian story of a disabled serial killer... available now on on Amazon