Sunday, September 4, 2011

Late to the Pity Party

image Hollywood Reporter
Jerry Lewis, the nemesis of many in the disability movement, was dumped by the Muscular Dystrophy Association this year as host of their annual Labor Day telethon. He had a long run, and the MDA treated him a bit shabbily considering that the association had used him for decades to bring in the bucks.

Whatever Lewis' reason for supporting the association, a reason he never disclosed, the man probably raised over a billion according to many reports, although it is difficult to understand how that money has been used. But Lewis never raised his consciousness about what it means to live with a disability. His message was all about dying too young. And he milked that tragedy for every dollar possible.

Jerry Lewis remained trapped in the pity mode -- Give your dollars to save these poor little kids -- and when the world changed around him, when people with disabilities began to force themselves into mainstream society by demanding education, access, and employment, Jerry Lewis' ego made him deaf to those who attempted to counsel him. His responses to criticism from the disability community, from "half-persons," from "God's mistakes," he had dedicated himself to helping was to advise the "cripples" who didn't like what was going on to "stay in their house."

All that's history. What is interesting to me, however, is now that Lewis has been unceremoniously dumped by the MDA, some in the media have begun to pay attention to the points raised by the disability community long ago.
Jerry Lewis a No Show at Telethon After 45 Years 
By FRAZIER MOORE AP Television Writer
NEW YORK August 31, 2011 (AP)
Lewis found a perfect counterbalance for his excesses and vanities in the purity and urgent need of "his" kids. Everything he did he was doing in their service, which, in his mind, absolved him of his carte blanche life-or-death extravagance.
The Nation

The End of the Jerry Lewis Telethon—It's About Time
Jon Wiener
September 2, 2011
The problem with the Jerry Lewis telethon was not that he tried to help people with muscular dystrophy. The problem was the way Jerry Lewis did it. Yes the telethon raised a lot of money. But it also perpetuated destructive stereotypes. Jerry’s message was simple: “crippled children deserve pity.” His critics offered an alternative: “people with disabilities deserve respect.”
The second article has earned a half-dozen comments, all negative, all suggesting that any opposition to Lewis sprang from that bugaboo, political correctness.
The reactionaries are missing the point. The opposition to Lewis came because people grew out of the mindset that the proper response to disability was charity, paternalism, and political/social management by people other than those with disabilities.

I suppose there are two ways of looking at this. First, where were all these people ten years ago, twenty years ago? Second, and doubtless the better view, perhaps the world is ready to regard disability in society in a different, better, normal way now that Lewis' sentimental, charity-focused mindset has been pushed aside.

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