New Article Round-Up

Here’s a round up of some of my recent articles.

First is a  piece on Wheelchair Dance in Disability Now, as it doesn’t matter whether you live on wheels, legs or both you can cut a rug on the dancefloor.

Then I have an article on sex and disability published on Miss Alice Gray‘s website. It’s the first of a two parter, with the second art being more of a “how-to” guide to sexiness and disability.

I have also joined the writing team at Disability Horizons as an occasional contributor. My first story for them was about dressing up for the party season if you are disabled, called Festive Fashion, but it works for all times of year. You know me, I never need a reason to dress to impress… or shock! The next article for DH is on the recent casting at the BBC for the cream of disabled acting talent which asks Is It Time For Our Close Up? Ages back I wrote my views on Assisted Suicide, so if you missed it maybe check it out.

You can also check out my column in PosAbility magazine at their online portal. It’s not the most recent, but keep checking back as they update it regularly.

So that about it for now. Got loads of new articles coming up, so I’ll keep you all posted.

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Disability & TV – The Mik Scarlet Lecture – Part 3

Before I explore the subject of content, disability and television I feel I must just quickly give my solution of the issue of the title of the C4 show “Freaks of Nature”, that I posed in my last blog. The answer is a question mark. “Freaks of Nature?” not only makes the program’s content make more sense, but also stops the casual viewer or listings reader seeing the show as saying that disabled people, or disabled Paralympians, are freaks of nature. Just a small question mark makes the show a more valid political statement on top of being a fantastic sports program. This really demonstrates how language is so important and must be paid very close attention. Not only when covering disability but at all times.

I’ve covered how to use language on TV but not what to talk about. But why not cover that first? Well, program content can be a case of personal taste and what appeals to one person may make another rush for the remote control, but the language used is vital whatever the show is about. In that case, why even try to explore program content? Because the way that content and individual stories are covered can change the way a program works dramatically.

Let me demonstrate by referring to a program I was involved in again. Sometime ago I went to the BBC with a documentary idea around the decision I had to make about whether to undergo surgery and to try to walk again. It was put into production with brilliant new up and coming deaf producer, Ally Scott. We wanted to make a show that really explored the issue and showed that it wasn’t such a cut and dried problem, as most people thought. The program would revolve entirely around my life, how I lived and we would explore what being able to walk might add to my life, if anything, and what it might cost me in time and commitment. There were plans afoot to film all manner of footage that showed the subject in a glamorous, positive and televisual way. We hit a problem when a misunderstanding between the production team and my surgeon led to the artificial hip being manufactured, at a cost of over £150,000. My surgeon was annoyed, to say the least, when we talked and I explained I felt I would not being going ahead, and he insisted that a new production team was put in charge of the program. This new team changed the direction of the show, and in the end it included three other people, all of whom desperately wanted to walk again. This was done for “balance”. While the show did examine the issue, it did so from a view point that made not wanting to be disabled normal and so reinforced the very attitude I wanted to dispel when I first approached the BBC. The show was well received but I know how massively important the program would have been if it had followed the original direction.

Many times disability makes it onto our TVs with balance as one of the driving forces behind how it is shown, yet that balance is there to reflect many of the attitudes that disabled people wish would change. We want to see our real lives represented, and that should be all of our lives and not just the areas where being disabled might have an impact. Also how one person’s disability impacts their life will differ from anyone else, so it is the elements that might be considered “normality” that ties us all together. For example, I get asked to get involved in many shows about how hard it is to find partners if you have a disability but I always ask are you going to include those people who didn’t find it hard and examine whether it is really that different for able bodied people who are lonely? I explain that I feel to make a show about disability, sex and relationships there needs to be balance (that word again – play them at their own game!) and if a program is going to cover the problems that disabled people might have when looking for sex and love, it must also explore solutions, compare what it is like if you looking for love and able bodied and show the good things, and even the benefits, that being disabled can bring to your love life. (For more details visit my website Mik Scarlet – Wheelie Sexy). Of course by doing this I scare off the production companies, who have a fixed idea of what such a program will contain, and hence no Mik. But at least I have my integrity. Good for the soul, crap for the bank balance.

Many shows portray disabled people as “tragic” or “brave”, even if they don’t use the language itself. Time and time again when we see disability on TV the program is focusing on someone who is sick (tragic) being cared for their by their wonderful children (brave), or a disabled child (tragic) who is fund raising for charity (brave), or a disabled soldier (tragic) who is battling to get up on his false legs so he can walk down the isle (brave) or something similar. But while TV has to have these personal stories running through it, especially in today’s reality obsessed culture, the bigger issues are never even mentioned. Why is the child being expected to care for their sick parent and where is the state provision in that care? Why does this charity exist at all? Why does the soldier see disability as such a negative thing that all of his time is spent trying to be fight it? How can society be shaped to make all of these people’s lives easier and fairer? These types of questions are key to changing how disability is thought of in society and I do not think it would detract from the show’s direction to bring up the deeper issues.

So as the Paralympics and Channel 4’s push to get more disability on TV gets closer, I hope that those involved in creating this output wants to explore those deeper issues. I have always wanted to see a show that goes into why so many newly disabled people turn to sport as an outlet. Mainly as I dived into the world of music and art after I started using a wheelchair, and truly thought “Yippee, no more sport” when I was told I’d never walk again, but also as I want to understand the psychological reasoning behind the choice. It’s the world behind the what we see that TV can help us understand and by doing so it can make a real difference to all of lives. And do it while creating entertaining and enjoyable programs everyone wants to watch. I also really expect some serious documentary programming that delves into how disabled people really live in modern Britain, and not just a load of positive puff pieces about super sports personalities and how great everything is.

Well that’s the end of my exploration of disability and it’s portrayal on our TV screens for now. It’s subject I know I will come back to in the future, especially when I see something that I feel misses the mark. I know that it is a subject that is high on the agenda of many disabled people out there, and I would love to know what you feel about this important subject, so please comment below. I also plan to examine how disability is covered in the print press, magazines and other forms of media in the near future, as well as why we seem to be so poorly represented in industries like music and fashion. Please watch this space.

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A visit to Cambridge – what a difference a day makes.

This week my wife Diane and I spent a day in Cambridge. We went there to have a look round as it is one of the places Diane would like to study for her doctorate in Physics. It is a lovely city and we had a great time wondering round it’s historic streets and strolling through it’s colleges. One of the high points for me was the Fitzwilliam Museum. It’s funny, that while it is a smaller museum than many of the ones we visit here in London, the quality of it’s exhibits are superb. The Egyptian rooms were especially great, filled with wonderful artefacts that gave a real insight into what life was like back then.

While we were walking around the pottery and ceramics rooms we met a friendly and charming guide called Sam. We started talking and he gave us a real insight into what studying at Cambridge would be like. He had studied there for his degree into Philosophy, and he was about to go to Durham to do his masters. Funnily Diane had just come back from studying up there and so the conversation deepened. At some point Sam asked me what I did, more out of courtesy I think as I had obviously less to say in this conversation of academics – being the “blonde” in my relationship – and so I gave him a potted history of Mik. Of course he had never seen me on TV, but then I guess that at no point in his studies did he feel the need to combine Philosophy with kids TV or disability magazine shows. However when I started talking about my writing we found that his Philosophy studies and the subjects I wrote about crossed over.

Eventually we got to the big Philosophical subject of the minute for disabled people, assisted suicide, euthanasia and mercy killing. We chatted about what society seemed to think, what I felt and what Sam’s studies and beliefs had led him to believe about the issue. He was very anti-abortion, and while both Diane and myself are pro-choice, we soon reached an agreement that the problem with this issue of terminating life was lack of information. Sam thought that abortion was like destroying beautiful objects, like the ones we were surrounded with. While the status of a foetus could be open to debate, it was still something to be cherished, and so should not be destroyed. We felt that while this was correct, the person carrying the foetus should have the choice. I brought up the problem of aborting disabled foetuses, and how I believed that this was wrong, and realised that I might be arguing for both camps. This made me see that maybe my stand point might be wrong, and that I needed to re-examine where I stood on abortion. I hope that our discussion made Sam revalue his more pro stand on euthanasia too.

The main thing to come out of this exchange was the realisation that disability and it’s ramifications are not part of academic study. While there is the subject of disability studies, and it is included in some other subjects, there isn’t enough literature on the topic to ensure that any discussion around disability can be carried out from a position of knowledge. I know from my own experience that some subjects are still teaching theories about disability that are years out of date.

Up until earlier this year I was taking a Psychology degree, but when we got to the area of the psychology of identity I found I had a problem. The way identity was explored was using the identity of disability. Ha, I thought, this will be an easy module. As I began studying however, I found that the only model of disability being used was the medical one. Time and time again, disabled people were described and described themselves via their medical conditions. While I understood how a subject like Psychology would have an interest in the medical aspects of disability, I could not see why the social model and how society makes our physical differences disable us was totally excluded. Surely when exploring the psychology of identity the two models were of massive importance, especially as they have changed how disabled people see themselves, which is pretty much what identity is. When I raised this issue with my tutor, well lets just say I am no longer of uni.

But of course, if there are a small number of publications that explore disability at an academic level, how can academia start to understand how disability colours so many areas of study? Not just the obvious but everything. So many historic figures had disabilities, yet we hear little about that. Julius Caesar was an epileptic, and his desire to hide this from the Roman people led him to form close bonds with all who worked for him. Hence why he treated them so well, and why they felt such a bond with him. This was one of the reasons why he rose to be the leader of the Roman Empire – and he is just one figure of many. (Any TV producers out there, I have a TV show I have researched on this subject that would be a fantastic show). How has disability influenced the world and how we are?

With this question in mind I am planning to research and write a book exploring disability and it’s many facets. I want to cover the many issues surrounding disability and gather views and experiences of disabled people through out the country and of all ages. I want to create a reference point that can be used by everyone to explore how disability effects the world we live in, and how it effects us. So if there is anyone out there who would be prepared to be interviewed by me could you please contact me via my website? The book is in the planning stages but if you feel you would like to contribute, please just drop me a line and we can take it from there.

www.mikscarlet.co.uk

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