When Sol Trujillo accused Australians of being racist; we told him “Adios’ and proceeded to have a debate amongst ourselves nationally about whether we are in fact racist.
When The Chaser aired the skit attempting to humourise the plight of kids with cancer and the charities supporting them; healthy debate (whatever the result) flared up about the use of black humor or humor generally in mainstream media.
Both these debates rightfully got media attention. Both of these debates, rightfully got attention and comment from the public and political and social leaders of the country. Both of these incidents, which perhaps started as silly playground-like antics, led to national discussions, of our character as a country. A healthy self-examination important for a mature and maturing nation-state. A process by which we ask ourselves how tolerant or welcoming we really are of diversity.
Yet when an an accomplished, extraordinarily able man who has represented the nation proudly over many years and in many ways is publicly teased and effectively abused on commercial radio, the silence from leaders , and the public was deafening. Perhaps now that that comment has been followed up again by Todd McKenney making that “appalling” comment last night on television that was clearly both cruel and unnecessary, we can enter this debate.
Gerard Gossens, paralymian, adventurer and father is also one of the current batch of “stars” in Channel 7’s “Dancing with the Stars”. Gerard is also congenitally blind.
As I was traveling into my last day at my most recent job working in disability policy, I switched to Mix 106.5 for 10 minutes of music. What I heard was 10 minutes of what might be considered disability- related vilification in the name of humor. Perhaps the most alarming element was that two of the djs that were being quite rude are now heavily involved in the show; one as a judge the other a host. Todd McKenney was heard remarking that he wanted the producers to “dress him up in funny clothes for” the entertainment value.
When I wrote this, the show was in the media spin cycle that precedes most Channel 7 shows. It was a novelty then. It is reality now. And it is clear that the judges are out of their depth, much more than Gerard.
Last night’s dancing by Gerard was probably far from technically correct. None of the dancing was. The objective of the exercise is not to create brilliant professional dancers, otherwise the stars would not be “keeping (their) day job”. I watched all the dancing last night and whatever stooping he might have done, he made more of an effort to dance during his solo than at least 2 of the other male stars (one of whom effectively slid on to the floor and clicked his fingers. It was always going to be hard for the male “stars” to do solos because of their role as partners to the girls.
If the judges are marking and commentating Gerard down because of the dancing then why did Adam Brand’s partner get congratulated last week for incorporating his singing into their performance? Either its about the dancing or its about the performance value.
I’m not a fan of online calls to have a different set of rules for Gerard and for the other contestants. That to me belies the inclusion that Channel 7 showed in inviting a man they knew to be vision impaired to take part in the show as a world first. That’s right they invited him. Then from week one they have consistently dressed him up figuratively and literately (silly glasses one week, chopping vegetables another), to entertain those of us who can see him and once again draw attention through slapstick to his disability perhaps as an explanation to his apparent “poor” dancing. I have my own disability, different from Gerard’s and I and others I know with both disabilities and senses of humor are insulted by the repetitive nature of this slapstick. I might yet take action.
I remember Derryn Hinch on this show one year who had the moves of an ironing board and didn’t seem to improve getting harsh but kind commentary from the same 3 judges about his entertainment value and lasting to the end. The problem this time is that the judges aren’t entertained. They are embarrassed and they are at a loss as to how to respond. They are used to a physical and visual lifestyle and profession. Gerard calls all that into question. Perhaps they can’t imagine his as a lifestyle and aren’t sure if they should. Despite the fact that McKenney was the primary insulter last night, all their marks and comments reflected at least tacit agreement with Todd’s assessment that it was “appalling” and that it was his time to go. The novelty’s clearly worn off the judges if not the public.
Is dance more than just about how it looks and the lines that are drawn by the legs, even on TV? Is it also about the communication between the dancers, between the dancer and the audience, the dancer and the music and even perhaps the dancer and themselves? Is it not about communication and dare I suggest fun?
Gerard has taken what little useful feedback the 3 judges have given him and run with it. He has improved. Even that was noted last night.
No don’t create special critera for him. Respect him without the slapstick. Judge them all on improvement and storytelling. Let their performance speak. Provide them all with feedback they can use. The speed bump feedback was a good effort in that direction.
Maybe the producers want to jazz the format up and can’t swap partners and play silly games until after he is eliminated. Whatever the reason apologies are due. Not just to Gerard and Jessica but to the rest of us who are just trying to get on with life whatever we look like in dancing shoes.
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