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Toby Banks

Some more sick ideas

I have before me a picture of two women - one blind, the other an amputee - riding around in tandem on a wheelchair-cum-bicycle bedecked with balloons. Their stated intention is to 'support the handicapped' by demonstrating that disabled people can 'lead a normal life'.

I'm sure most people would like to see disabled people live a normal life, but I can't see how this kind of thing can help. For a start it gives unnecessary encouragement to 'normal' able-bodied charity nutters who get their 'kicks' by sitting in baths of custard or dressing up as rabbits and obstructing innocent shoppers. With yet another Red Nose Day upon us, that is surely sufficient indictment in itself.

More importantly, it gives the impression that disabled people approve of, or even enjoy, these antics. This in turn reinforces the prejudice that physical disability leads to simple-mindedness, and that the nightmare charity circus is a 'lifestyle' which the disabled choose to be part of.

A particularly horrible example of this insidious transformation of a medical condition into a lifestyle option took place on a TV show which followed the progress of a chronically obese young woman who suffered from incontinence. Not surprisingly, she was finding it hard to form a steady relationship, what with rubber sheets, etc. Yet a year later, here was a counsellor, congratulating her for enriching herself, coming to terms with it all and realising that it was society's fault for rejecting her.

After a while, the camera drew back to reveal her progress: still obese, still incontinent, but now wheelchair-bound and with a colostomy as well. In the meantime, she had had one relationship, which had collapsed almost immediately. When somebody had the temerity to suggest that maybe her problems were medical rather than caused by low esteem, they were dismissed as being too negative, and undermining her 'achievements'.

Where will this bizarre redefinition of illness as personal virtue end? Aids has been portrayed as a spiritual achievement, with Tony Perkins the latest to be sanctified. And if you thought that was bad, you don't read the Independent. Having pointed out that parents can love Downs Syndrome children and don't want them destroyed, its editorial concludes with this thought: 'Were medical science ever to make it possible, a society in which only normal children were born would be emotionally impoverished.' Sick, eh?

Parents of a child who fell while swinging on a climbing frame are claiming it was the fault of the Gladiators TV show and are threatening to sue. I have been toying with the idea of filing a lawsuit against Batman for a childhood injury, and Claire Rayner for a similar 'copycat' accident that occurred in my flat following her famous televised bidet demonstration, so I await the outcome with keen anticipation.

I have mixed feelings about it all, though. As with most things, toy scares are not what they were. You knew where you stood with a Chinese plastic doll dyed with lead, or a Korean teddy with a skewer in its neck. Today, you get a moral panic thrown in.

First there was the Earls Court computer games convention, where a stampede of ticketless children nearly caused a Hillsborough-style disaster. Then there was the news that fathers are becoming Nintendo addicts in their thousands, wrecking countless marriages and threatening the stability of the nuclear family. With record sales of Game Boys and Mega-Drives this Christmas, the future looks bleak.

Then again, this has a familiar ring to it. I seem to remember that Space Invaders were going to bring about the collapse of civilisation. Their subliminal heartbeat rhythm was supposed to be breeding ageneration of addicts who would be driven to mugging and burglary to feed their button-tapping habit.

What happened to these budding psychos? They spent the 1980s huddled around Trivial Pursuit machines with rows of pints balanced on the top and are now hosting their own pub quizzes up and down the land. A horrible destiny, I agree, but no more threatening to all we hold dear than the average loony appearing on Noel Edmonds' Telly Addicts with a collection of walking sticks, toilet rolls, or whatever fascinating 'addiction' he will discover next.

On a lighter note, there are still traditional seasonal pleasures to be enjoyed by those who make the effort to look for them - the good old British panto for one. I am enjoying my stint as Buttons at the Fairfield Halls in Croydon, and am indebted to Peter McKay of the London Evening Standard for reminding us all of the patriotic pride we should feel towards our pantomime dames in his 'It's great to be British', an A-Z of things to be proud of.

People sometimes complain that this magazine is too biased, so as a parting thought, here's an excerpt from the 'Manifesto for Militarism' (aka Peter McKay's A-Z).

X is for: 'Xenophobia. Not perhaps a great quality but, when kept under control, a useful trait which has served us well for centuries. At peace, we have learned more or less to control it. But at the threat of war, it can be summoned up by old, well-tried jingoistic formulations. Jolly useful it is, too, on such occasions.'

Happy New Year.
Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 51, January 1993



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