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Tuesday, 30 January 2007

Crip on a Trip

Yesterday I said I would write a little bit about "Crip On A Trip", a TV programme shown on Channel 4 last week. It was the story of Dominic (Dom in the, a young disabled guy travelling around Europe with five non-disabled mates before they all split up and went off to university.

On the whole I really like this programme. It was perhaps a truer picture of disability than some other docs that I switch off as soon as I hear the orchestra lament. It had good elements of humour and honesty and it was a 8/10 on the positive portrayal scale (I've just made that scale idea up, it doesn't officially exist, but to give you a contrast, Daniel Day Lewis would probably get a minus/10 on the positive portrayal disabled actors need apply...doh!).

I particularly identified with the various "toilet experiences and stories"! Glad they blurred his doins though..dignity and all that. Dom and his mates came across as very genuine and with a pretty good attitude. I know what you're thinking "there's a but coming along"......... And there is!

I suppose I look at these documentaries a little bit closer, as it's kinda my job and my passion. So what was the problem with this documentary, well it continued to contribute to three very subtle cliches that are made about disability and disabled people. Although overall I think the programme was good rather than bad (100% better than last night's " smallest people" programme with mood piano music to accompany), I think it is right to share my disappointments here.

the first subtle cliche, perhaps more an observation, is around the need to quell curiosity about "whats wrong with you, how did you get it, were you born like that, I suppose you read a lot" stuff. The majority of documentaries have to spend at least the introduction (often the whole programme, detailing the medical condition and its impact on the body. Now although I strongly don't want to deny the existence or impact of impairment, quite the opposite and this doc didn't spend lots of time there, but it still did. I would argue that it is not always necessary to go into the nitty gritty medical details and comparison with the "normal body". It turns the whole experience into some kind of science story and emphasises our difference in a negative way and also subconsciously creates value judgements based on the idea of a normal body (thank god that's not me..or poor thing). I think someone once said "curiosity killed the cat". It'll be nice to see a documentary that acknowledges impairment without the need to go down the medical science and value judgements about normality, with the exception of perhaps Quincey!

the second assumption, and probably my biggest "damn it moment" with the whole programme was the "in my dreams" bit. Now we all know disabled people are all different individuals with a collective experience of discrimination and abuse of parking privilege.... don't we...(lol) and so automatically we all think differently. A lot of TV programmes and documentaries miss this difference bit out by portraying some kind of assumption that disabled people would wish to jump out the chairs and run the 100 m in under 10 seconds or throw away their cane or turn off their hearing aid to turn off the feedback (analogy not working now, but you know what I'm getting at...getting rid of impairment for some kind of normality) . I except that some disabled people do wish to be different from that which they are, but then again there aren't a lot of alternatives shown to challenge that feeling and say "you can be okay the way you are, look and live". This is part of the makeover obsession that dominates television at the moment, but that's another blog.

In my dreams, my chair breaks down and suddenly it can fly, I'm stuck on a desert island and a giant Guinness appears but in the glass there also appears a giant straw. It would be really nice to see a documentary where the disabled person is on the whole fairly happy with themselves, not perfect, but just okay about themselves. I suppose the editing team would argue that's not quite as interesting. I just want to see a documentary with that "in my dreams" sequence a little less cliched. You know that "in a bowl of jelly" one perhaps.... or is that just one of my weird dreams?

the final assumption was the "sex thing" cliche. Now actually, if you listened really carefully, Dom dealt with this one really well and actually challenged the myths. Again documentaries have this thing about making disabled people out to be non-sexual and/or desperate (delete as appropriate). Yes I know, we are all different and there are some lonely people out there desperate for a bit of whooopie..... But again, there are also people who are happily off (literally) in relationships, or successfully flourishing, as my Uni lecture might say, in the downstairs department.

Now I just ripped apart a programme which actually on the whole I was pretty happy with. I enjoyed it, it made me laugh and I liked the way the people in it came across. But it was tainted by the three cliches and it would be nice to see a documentary take a fresh approach. And I'm practicing my journalistic/writing skills along the way.

In context, talking about any of the three cliches: impairment, dreams and sex is fine, but at least portray them in different ways, with different outcomes, that really do reflect the we are all different. Not that we are medical curiosity freaks (good name for a band!), who sleep a lot dreaming of athletics whilst longing for a bit of downstairs action(referring to docs in general here, Not Dom who came over well and should be able to say those things without it contributing to assumptions generally made, if that makes sense)...... Now my blogs getting going!

Or am I just a bit over sensitive and needing a lie down!

Be lucky



Peter Sykes said...

Hi John,

I've read your "crip on a trip" article 3 times now and I like it very much, it helped me identify and understand some of the disapointment I felt watching the doc at times, and the doc and your article brought back memories of our trip round Ireland together, kipping in the back of your van - which now seems quite a brilliant little adventure to have had.

Anyway, your comments got me thinking, particularly about difference and appearance, and how certain stories about how people look or are different from the "norm" sell and become dominant narratives or cliches. And I wondered what makes or how do these narratives become dominant, and what maintains them in their dominance?

Presumably there's a story about power in there somewhere and about interest e.g. you're a TV producer with money and resources (power)which you've been given cos its in a TV channel's interest to make a doc about a disabled person, as its helps the channel keep its community programming budget, but only if people watch the doc. So how does the TV producer get people to watch, presumably he uses ideas (cliches) that have attracted audiences before i.e. its in his interest to stick to the cliches cos he knows people will watch, and being aware of this (probably only tacitly) will allow him to sell his doc idea, and get the resources to make it, and make a living, and so it goes on.....

Blimey, gone off on one there a bit, and don't know how much sense it makes, but thought I'd throw those ideas into the mix, and see if you had thoughts??

In the meantime, I hope alls with you and you keep going with the blog cos its a good read.

Cheers fella - love Sykesy

rockinpaddy said...

Ah Pete, you are a great and wise man, so gifted and talented. I guess your comments get me thinking about how tv docs do anything different. Creativity, guts, courage and belief that they can say something different. But I guess producers prefer to go for the safe option, although they would argue that they want "breaking ground" kinda stories. If only we had a video camera on our trip!

Anonymous said...

Hi there
I have to say , that i have never in all my born days read such a load of old doings . Im not an educated man , however i have been here and there an had a good time with a varity of people, male and female ,but i have to get it off my chest , A BOWL OF JELLY MOMENT ! HAVE A LIE DOWN.........

rockinpaddy said...

Dear Anon,
Be brave and tell everyone who you are. Don't hide behind yer Bushel. Tell 'em, do you hear me, I know who you are by the structure of your words, tell 'em, go on! And as for the jelly, your not coming in!