Ah, Texas. Big sky country, land of the longhorn steer, Shinerbock brew, and some of the best songwriters in North America.
I used to spend a lot of time around that area, and I genuinely loved it. Unfortunately Texas gets a bad rap – between oil magnates and the Bush family, as well as its public face as a predominantly “red” state, Texas has become the butt of countless redneck jokes and has wrongly earned the disdain of the liberal left. In reality, the people in Texas are pretty awesome, surprisingly liberal, and serve some of the best barbecue in the known world.
I am constantly defending the Lone Star State back home in Canada against my more liberal friends who buy into the cliches – yeah, everybody owns guns, but in all the time I spent there I didn’t witness a single lynching, abortion clinic bombing or pro-war rally. Goes to show that things aren’t always what they appear to be.
However, sometimes the stereotypes are well-founded – at least as far as America is concerned – because I can’t imagine something like this happening anywhere else.
Apparently jury selection has just begun in what I can categorically say is the most bizarre trial I’ve seen all year. According to Fox News (and yeah, I feel as dirty as you do for referencing Fox News) six guys who used to work at a Corpus Christi State School for the mentally disabled are up on charges for staging and filming Fight Club-esque brawls between the residents.
Let me be perfectly clear: these guys took the Bum Fight framework and applied it to delayed people. At the risk of sounding crass, which I don’t mean to be, they’re monopolizing on an extremely vulnerable subset of our society to bring Retard Fights to the masses? Are you fucking serious?
Let’s break it down. I don’t pretend to have anything more than a cursory understanding of the nature of developmental disabilities. Like most people I went to a school that housed a “special education” class for those with mild to serious delays, and again like most people, I didn’t pay an awful lot of attention to what went on in that class – it was sort of an oddity, I guess; not a carnival sideshow, nothing to be gawked at or ridiculed, just a group of people with some very difficult challenges to overcome.
I’m not going to lie and say I was perfectly comfortable interacting with the special ed kids – it’s not that I was afraid of them or anything like that, I just didn’t know how to interact with them. They were all friendly people, but the way they associated with the rest of the school population was understandably stilted – if they were able to associate at all, because obviously the more pronounced their disabilities, the less able they were to communicate in a (and I cringe as I use the term) “normal” way.
That said, I never agreed – tacitly or overtly – with the way a lot of my peers treated the special ed students. I never got on board the standard pubescent band wagon that preaches intolerance to anything remotely different that inserted itself into our day-to-day paradigm. I didn’t rag on people for any reason that wasn’t their own fault: acne, awkwardness, nerdy tendencies, sexual orientation, and certainly not developmental delays. If you were an asshole that deserved to be taken down a peg or two, fine – I’d do that. Otherwise I never saw it as fair or reasonable to castigate somebody for so-called deviances that separated them from the general school population, but were just part of their makeup.
I have several close friends who work with special needs children: one who runs a group home for autistic teens, and one who has worked closely with kids who have generalized delays. I have the utmost respect for them, because in my opinion, it takes a very dedicated and empathetic individual to be able to do that kind of job and do it well. These two amazing women have worked very hard to positively influence the growth and lives of their clients (which isn’t even really the right word, given the relationship that has developed between my friends and their charges more closely resembles family), and I consider that reason for applause.
What sickens me most about this case in Texas is that it undermines all the work my friends (and hundreds others like them) have done. A big part of their work has been to change the popular perception of developmental delays and mental disorders – to educate people about the challenges faced by their charges every day, to put to rest the decades-old stigmas attached to those challenges, to humanize the issue so we no longer look at these people as sideshow freaks or objects of ridicule.
And yet, everywhere we turn, the general perception in media is still polarized. For every “I Am Sam” there’s a “Waterboy” or worse, “The Ringer” that makes light out of a serious situation. I don’t understand why it’s funny to see that Jackass jackass pretend to be delayed so he can compete in the Special Olympics. I’m all about making fun of just about everything, because I truly believe it’s dangerous to take everything too seriously, but there’s a limit. There’s comedy and then there’s exploitation, and if you cross that line, I stop laughing and start looking for my sniper rifle, because it’s not cool.
That’s the worst part about this case. These guys wouldn’t be making these sicko asshole videos if there wasn’t some kind of market for it. People want to see this stuff, just the same way they want to see Bum Fights and Saw part 17 and Passion of the Christ and extreme sadomasochistic porn and everything else. I hate to rag on the obvious, but the parallel is too clear to ignore – we’re at the point where we’re bored with the gladiators and have taken to throwing people to hungry lions – and we’re cheering for the lions. Somebody out there wants to see this go down, and I think that’s the root of the problem – not the people providing the service, but the people asking for it.