Lowest Common Denominator – Texans Charged For Handicapped Fight Club

12 Aug

Ah, Texas. Big sky country, land of the longhorn steer, Shinerbock brew, and some of the best songwriters in North America.

townes van zandt

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.

texas barbecue

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.

texas flag

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.

fuck america

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.

fight club

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.

acne kid

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.

standing ovation

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.

the ringer jackass

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.

gladiatorsI implore you, Texans the world over: don’t let this shit fly. If you’re going to be stereotyped for doling out harsh justice, make sure the right people get it. Hang these assholes up to dry.

hang em high clint eastwood

8 Responses to “Lowest Common Denominator – Texans Charged For Handicapped Fight Club”

  1. Moot. August 12, 2009 at 2:09 PM #

    This seems to be another sad case in society where people given a duty to look after and protect those in need take advantage of the situation. Could be a lack of morals, could be society (which I believe to be a sad cop out) or these people could just be assholes.

    Its just like when you see police taking advantage of their power. When the people you rely on to protect you turn on you, what do you do and who do you go to? When you’re a “developmentally challenged” person confined to a health care facility there’s not much you can do. Its this extreme situation which indeed calls for extreme punishments. Sadly I’m sure these idiots wont get whats coming to them…they’ll do time, yeah. But they wont get what they deserve.

    Just dont be jumping to the quick conclusion that society is to blame. Shitty people have been doing shitty things for hundreds of years and they’ll continue to do so. Taking a species such as humans, giving them amazing brain power and giving them endless opportunities to take advantage of that power will inevitably result in a few bad apples. As the “better people” in society its not our place to cast these people to the pits of hell (and Australia went and turned themselves into their own nifty country).

    Good morals begin at home. Lots of people will see movies which have the capacity to negatively influence them, but when push comes to shove its about what kind of morals you’ve been raised with and what kind of independent character (no, its not just Mom & Dads fault) you let yourself become.

    One thing is for sure: if you’re hell bent on being an asshole there’ll always be someone who will happily put you in your place. Trust me, its a LOT of fun.

  2. Meaghan August 12, 2009 at 2:12 PM #

    I am one of those who works with kids who have special needs. And I have to point out (to be fair to the Texans, which isn’t something I normally am) that the problem is much more far reaching than Texas, or some obviously sick individuals looking to make some quick cash. Not that long ago there was a story out of (I think) Chicago. Two cops chased down an autistic teenage boy. He had been sitting on the side of the road watching the cars go past. This “weird: behaviour led the cops to try and question him, he couldn’t answer so he ran back to his parents shop, yelling, “Stop, I’m a special boy”. When the cops caught up with him, they hit him multiple times with their batons. The boy had to be hospitalized.

    I take the kids I work with out into the community every day. And the problem isn’t limited to Texas, or the US. It’s right here in Canada as well. Dirty looks because a child (with obvious behaviours such as hand flapping, waving objects, or yelling non-verbally) bumps into someone. Staf in stores yelling at a child for walking through some juice spilled on the floor (when staff are clearly trying to redirect the individual around the mess). The examples never end. I have even seen people cross to the other side of the street when they see “autistic” behaviours. As if autism is contagious.

    Part of the problem in the case you discussed is that these kids in the “fight club” were institutionalized. Statistics and research show that children and adults with developmental disabilities function best in ‘home’ environments such as group homes. They also develop more independent skills when they are able to interact in the community.

    Instead of just punishing those few who commit these horrible crimes, we need to educate society in general. Developmental delays are not contagious, dangerous, weird, or (my favorite) “just being brats who need a swift kick in the ass”. These individuals need understanding, help, a chance to learn and develop and grow, and perhaps most importantly, strong relationships with peers, staff, family, and friends.

  3. Alex James August 12, 2009 at 2:13 PM #

    Thanks for the reply Moot; it’s nice to hear you at least sort-of agree with me for once.

    I’m not trying to make the case that society is to blame, because “society” is a faceless organism individuals use to hide behind and avoid taking responsibility for their own actions. I’m 100% with you on your points that morality begins at home and everyone makes a choice — the point I was trying to hammer home with the “society” stuff was simply that yeah, we can shit on these morons for abusing their power (which we should) but we all need to take a little responsibility individually because somewhere, somebody is watching this shit, so more people are to blame here than just them.

    Just wanted to clear that up, but also wanted to thank you for your spirited commentary — believe it or not, I actually appreciate somebody disagreeing with me now and again.

  4. Alex James August 12, 2009 at 2:16 PM #

    And thank you Meaghan for weighing in on this issue. I’m aware it’s not an isolated incident (unfortunately) — I did read about the case you referenced, and an even worse one where the man in question was actually shot and killed by police. It’s disgusting and it’s outdated that we still shy away from these issues; all I can say is thank you to those of you strong enough to take up that torch and do what you can to improve quality of life for people who were dealt a shitty hand to begin with.

    Thanks for reading and taking the time to craft your response. It’s appreciated!

  5. Meaghan August 12, 2009 at 2:33 PM #

    I’m going to weigh in on the “it’s not society” point that was raised. Frankly, I call bullshit. Sure, society is a “faceless, brainless organism” blah blah blah. But “society” pays $15 for a movie ticket to watch an actor pretend to be developementally delayed and mock those with genuine challenges. “Society” protests governement funding for these indviduals to go to therapies which will help them to integrate into society (trust me, people protest the government spending money on these things). And while I will agree with you that morals are taught at home….these homes are made of people, who make up society at large. You cannot blame society alone for all the problems we face, but neither can you absolve society for the same problems by placing the responsibility on “the home”.

    When was the last time you offered help to someone with an obvious disability by opening the door, helping to carry their groceries, guiding them back into the cross walk lines, or even just being friendly? I’ll tell you, in the three years I have been in this field I have seen it happen twice. And heard about it happening 3 other times. Five times in three years. That’s a pretty sad statistic.

    I do blame society. I blame everyone who would rather pretend none of these problems exist. I blame everyone who turns away, complains about the inconvience, or tells parents to “control their brat”. “Society” doesn’t want to be understanding. The majority of people (who, incidently, make up “Society”) don’t want to change their way of thinking regarding individuals with special needs. And given the reactions I have gotten from some of them, I don’t blame them for not thinking too hard about it, they might bleed out of their ears from the effort.

    Don’t get me wrong, not everyone is like this. People work with these individuals, make friends with them, employ them, give them chances to learn new things and be independent. But the majority do not.

  6. ryan August 12, 2009 at 2:39 PM #

    The ones who need to be institutionalized are the ones doing the exploiting. Abuse of power, sense of superiority and just plain douchebagery comes as a result of feeling threatened, and that’s just what these fucking xenophobes are demonstrating.

    I completely concur with the idea that it all begins at home and your future character, morality and ethical foundation are a result of nurture above nature. (I’m reminded of this post: https://jimfairthorne.wordpress.com/2009/07/10/parenting-a-modest-proposal/)

    Like you said, the saddest part is not that people make this shit, it’s that there’s a big enough market to justify doing so in the first place.

  7. Brent Chittenden August 12, 2009 at 3:01 PM #

    I agree with some of your points with a few exception (that to be honest don’t have much to do with the overall content).

    The Ringer while not being the world’s greatest movie and to be honest classifying it as a Good movie might even be a stretch, is actually a positive movie. The general plot Alex got right with one big exception. Johnny Knoxville ends up being terrible at everything and the special Olympics guys admonish him for his crapiness. The real Special Olympics even gave The Ringer a thumbs up and it’s cast consists of real handicapped/capable/whatever the politically correct term is of the moment people.

    In short, crappy movie? Yes. Exploitative movie? No.

    Other then that I agree with the piece.

  8. Brent Chittenden August 12, 2009 at 5:17 PM #

    And for the record, I helped an older gentleman with some sort of disability (he was using those crutch/cane things like Jimmy from South Park) reach his porn in the convience store about a month ago.

    No, I’m not making that up.

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