Chairman Scarlet Speaks…

Recently I was challenged by someone claiming “You’re Mik Scarlet!”. They held their mobile phone up and showed me a photograph of little old me that was taken as part of the Re-Framing Disability exhibition. Now it’s not my favourite photo, but before I had the chance to say anything my challenger laughed “It doesn’t look like you do in real life”, and at that they walked off. Apart from being a reminder of what it is like to be known by the public, it also made me want to explain the project and my photograph in it (that’s it below).

The project involved a large group of disabled people examining historic images of disability held in the archive of the Royal College of Physicians, giving our thoughts on them and how they portrayed disabled people and then to have our photograph taken to be added to the archive. From the beginning it became clear that disabled people have always been around and have been of interest to the medical profession, even if they had no real idea of what caused the impairments of the people featured. What was amazing to learn was how much these disabled people of the past had found ways of creating successful careers. Many of them seemed to follow the same path as someone like myself and went into showbiz. Some even performed for royalty and became stars. The strangest thing was looking at the images before we were given any information and as we gave our thoughts it became clear that much of what we said was coloured by our own experience rather than historic knowledge. When we were told who these people were and what they had achieved, I think most of us were stunned to learn that disabled people had many more opportunities way back when than they do now.

When it came time for my photograph to be taken, I chatted with the photographer and got ready. The plan was to create an image that was equally hard to read, and that without any information might cause anyone looking at the picture in the future would read it as wrongly as we had with the images from the past. Now I have always secretly dreamed of being a world dictator, and so decided to play this role in my photo. I think we succeeded. If you compare it to the promotional poster for the forth coming film The Dictator the thinking behind my image becomes clear.

So I hope that in a couple of hundred years, if another project is run to examine the RCP archive then everyone involved will look at my picture and possibly wonder if there had ever been a disabled dictator with peroxide hair? Who knows, maybe one day there will…

(This says more about what goes on in my head than anything else I feel, but hey I am the Great Leader so what I says goes!)

For more of the images and the videos filmed of our discussions on the imagery visit Re-Framing Disability
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Ranting Round-Up No.1

Now where to start? As I’ve been crazy busy recently the list of things “Grinding My Gears” is quite long.

The first was C4’s Sainsbury’s Super Saturday. This music and sports show was to celebrate the launch of ticket sales for the Paralympics and was aired over a whole weekend on Channel 4. My issues with the show were many. Why was it only presented by non-disabled talent and why did so many of the pop stars who were interviewed allowed to use such out of date and non PC language to describe Paralymians? Those were the biggies. Surely C4 could have found some disabled presenting talent to work with Rick Edwards and Lisa Snowdon? Yeah they chatted with Paralympic stars but it would have made much more impact if the show had a disabled presenter too. The thing that really drove me mad was the way disabled people were talked about by various pop stars. The Sugarbabes condescendingly describing sport as a method to recover from the trauma of not being able to use your legs, for wheelchair users who were either born disabled or made that way through accident, got me so cross that I felt the steam coming out of my ears. Dappy making incoherent comments about the Paralympics was equally ridiculous. And they were just two of many to use language that seemed out of the 70’s. If C4 is going to be the Paralympic channel for 2012 they must have someone on their staff that ensures all of their output uses language that is currently acceptable and that does not set back the battle for equality for disabled people? I just pray that they clean up their act before the games begin.

Then I attended a meeting of a new charity run by disabled people called Enhance the UK , about a campaign they are planning. ETUK wants to design a campaign that questions the way disabled people are perceived when it comes to attractiveness. I don’t want to give away too much as I think it will be a really important campaign, so watch their website, but while we were all discussing how we could make an impact and what we should we cover, I realised that those of us who have issues of sexual function to deal with on top of the usual ignorance around disability have the journey we have to go on before we feel able to be sexy massively underestimated. Even by other disabled people. I know that I spent years coming to terms with the new me, and how bits of me worked. In a society that equates sex with penetration, to loose the ability to get a stiffy really messes with your head. I was just shocked that as we all sat round a table, discussing confidence, relationships and sexuality, everyone believed that most men who used a wheelchair were lucky as they all seemed to be confident. No one had any understanding that the huge bravado that most male wheelies exude is just a cover for exactly how messed up they are over the loss of what the world tells them makes them a man. I plan to write an article for ETUK’s website on the subject soon, and will point you all there as soon as it’s online.

Then this morning I was watching The Wright Stuff, as I do every morning, and found myself amazed at the discussion on whether Page 3 girls could be feminist role models. The women on the panel seemed to think that Page 3 girls were less damaging to the feminist cause than Size 0 fashion models, and this totally shocked me to the core. Now I can’t say that I haven’t used pornography, or looked at a Page 3 girl, but I can’t imagine that anyone could claim they were role models for young women. Especially compared to fashion models. I shall explain why using my own analogy. I got into the media after I was spotted by a TV producer while performing a gig with a band I fronted. Everyone who booked me to present, act or appear on a TV show always said that one of the reasons they hired me was because I was nothing like the stereotype of a disabled person. With my bleached spiky hair, leather gear and massive motor bike boots I was in fact the antithesis of that stereotype, and so using me made people question their attitudes of what a disabled person was. A lot of disabled people thought I was a bad role model because by being so different from what most disabled people were like I gave a false impression. I understood this view, but as I was just being myself and I spent a large amount of my time using my high profile to raise issues around equality and access, I did not feel I had to change. I also know that if had, the work would have dried up quick time.

So how does this have anything to do with Page 3? Well Page 3 creates a unreachable ideal of a sexualized female that impacts on all women and how men perceive them. They use their sexuality and the way society expects attractive women to be sexually available as a way of making money. Fashion models however, are not playing on sexual availability to further their career. They are playing on how clothes hang on them, and how the fashion industry wants their output to be seen. Sex rarely comes into it. Sexiness maybe, but not sexuality. In the past I have been friends with several fashion models and they are actually very normal women. They aren’t even that thin, just really, really tall. When you meet fashion models the first thing that hits you is how tall, and big they are. They are mostly around six foot tall, and their bodies match their height. They just look thin in photographs.

But I digress. No matter if they are very thin, or just really tall, they have a very different role from Page 3, and they have a very different effect on society. Some people claim that fashion models create an unobtainable ideal for young women and girls, and there is some truth to that. Just as some disabled people claimed that I created an ideal of being disabled that many disabled people could not achieve and that was not representative. But those ideals did not create an atmosphere and perception in society that makes the world less safe. Any ideal that revolves around a false impression of sexual availability damages society, and Page 3 must make the world less safe for women. Fashion models do not. In the same way that I may have had an image that was very far away from what most disabled people were like, but they could have achieved my “look” if they had have wanted to. Just most didn’t! I really feel I never had a damaging effect of the way society thinks of what a disabled person is like. To have the same effect as a Page 3 girl I would have to start claiming that all disabled people were just lazy and were all benefit fraudsters. We all know how damaging that has been to the way society thinks about disabled people as it now seems to be the way the press paints us at every turn. Either that or we’re super humans that are bravely over coming adversity. I can proudly say that I was neither. Just a punky, loud mouthed weirdo that told everyone to be whatever they wanted. I also never got my chest out for money… and I was offered!

So that’s my ranting round up for now. Not sure it all flows the way I’d like, and maybe I should have edited this blog before posting it, but I always feel that blogs are more fun if you use them as a stream of thought affair. I’d love to know what you think on any of the subjects in this blog, dear reader, so comment below.

I will close by saying if anyone at The Wright Stuff is looking for a panellist I am available. It’s been a ritual for me to watch it since the show started and I was even up to appear to the show many years back, but was too ill (with my second broken back!) to do it. It’s always been something I want to do… get paid to get the chance to air my opinions on National TV. Pure bliss.

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Another Busy Bank Holiday

After planning how to avoid that wedding, it seems that I got myself into a rut of doing things when I should have been enjoying the bank holiday. Instead of waving flags and going to a street party, I decided to rebuild my studio. The doors my wife and I decorated, in a very successful arty Jackson Pollack style, were ready to be hung and so we spent Thursday doing the ultimate nightmare… building an Ikea wardrobe. Now I’ve been through some awful things in my life, and met people who have been through much worse, but I am sure everyone will agree that the thought of putting together Ikea furniture fills them with terror. With only a little arguing we managed to get it finished and ready to fill with my collection of classic synths, bits of computer, set of electric drums, keyboard and mic stands, a classic video game called a Vectrex and loads of other bits of junk. So as the morning of Friday dawned, and TV became a no-go zone, I faced the task of moving my studio gear around, building some desks (from Argos by Hygena, very nice and much easier to build), setting up a collection of computers and their peripherals (so many blooming wall warts!) that I seem to collect like some crazy hoarder and preparing to dive into another horrific task… wiring up my recording studio. I have just finished today, Monday May 2nd at around 3.30pm. Only took all weekend.

While I am over joyed that I now only have to set up the software before I can start creating retro synthpop electroclash, and annoying my neighbours, the craziest thing about what I spent this weekend doing is that I had big plans for April 30th. That date is special to me, as it was the last day I walked back in 1981. I attended Gary Numan’s farewell concert at Wembley Arena but during what was going to be a key moment in my teenage life, an even more important moment occurred. Unknown to me, my spine started to collapse and just as my teenage hero stepped onto the stage I was wrecked with agonising pain. I fought through the first half of the superb show, but eventually I had to find somewhere to lay down. So I battled to the back to this massive venue and watched the rest of the show laying a wall. I was so far away from the stage, after being in the third row (I was even in front of Trevor Horn!), that my hero was a tiny little stick figure. Getting home to Luton was another battle, but I was helped by my date that night. (Thanks Karen) I awoke the next day and was still in pain and found it hard to stand. However it was also the morning of my first O level exam, German. So I called a cab and went to school. When I arrived I found I could not walk at all and collapsed in a heap in the door of the cab. I was rushed to hospital and my life as a wheelchair user began, after 15 years walking with the help of a leg brace on my right leg.(Believe it or not, my school sent a teacher to my hospital and I took my exam in a side ward – and passed!) It transpired that the treatment I had been given as a baby for cancer had an unknown side effect, and caused my spine to be deformed and was too weak to carry the weight of my growing teenage body.

aged 17 – A goth before it was called goth or what!

Strangely I did not find becoming a wheelchair user a bad thing. Instead I saw it as a wake up call. I had spent my childhood being a very good boy. Hard working, very studious and well behaved. I was taking a pile of exams, and had over 10 job offers. Yet I hadn’t done anything fun. I had always wanted to dye my hair, dress weird and go to clubs and pubs like most of school mates. Hey it was the post punk blank, and New Romantics were just starting out. As I recovered from major surgery and came to terms with a new life in a chair, the life that been planned for me no longer appealed to me. A good job with prospects, meeting a local girl, getting married and buying a house in the same street as my parents was were I had been going but now I wanted more. I wanted to grasp life by the horns and ride it for all it was worth. So I sat my parents down and told them that from now on I was going to enjoy myself. They supported me of course, as they are cool, and so I found myself living the kind of life I had only dreamed of as a walker. I purchased a couple of really basic synths and a drum machine, formed a band with my best mate at school and started playing gigs. I dyed my hair, had hair extensions put in and wore more make up than a nightclub full of girls. I began the life I now have. So I see that day, when I lost the ability to walk as a good day.

on stage at the Electric Ballroom, on tour with Gary Numan 1991

But in a way it is fitting that I spent the 30th anniversary of that day building my music studio. It was learning to play music that gave me a direction when I was getting used to my life as wheelchair user, and gave me the chance to end up touring Europe with my hero, Mr Numan, in the 90’s and gave me the foot into the media, as well as allowed me to meet my wonderful wife. Music was essential to making me who I am, and I really hope that young disabled people understand that there are more ways to find a direction than sport. I hated sport as a walker, and truly found myself going “Hooray, no more sport!” when I was told I would never walk again. Music, art and creativity is an equal method to happiness and success, if not a better one. While with sport it is either win or nothing, artistic creativity is an end in itself. I never got the chance to release an album or get on Top of the Pops, which were all dreams as I began playing music, but I had a great time trying. Yeah, I didn’t get the chance mainly due to discrimination on the part of the music industry (I’ll tell you more in another blog), but I really lived the rock and roll lifestyle throughout the last 30 years. Maybe a bit too much sometimes!

As I look back on the last 30 years I do so with happiness. I had a great time, and created a Mik Scarlet that I would have loved to be as the spotty teenager who went to that Gary Numan concert. In fact if I had known then what was ahead of me, I wouldn’t have told a soul that I was about to loose the ability to walk. No, walking is just a means of getting around, but the life I have had since that day has been a fantastic roller-coaster that I wouldn’t have missed for the world. So now you know why I wanted to celebrate. The fact I didn’t isn’t a bad thing, as I am getting a bit old for all that partying. Instead I am now ready for the next 30 years. Studio set up, hair dyed, make up ready and a wardrobe to die for. All I can say is watch this space… anything could happen!

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