I was very honoured this week to be asked to join Hammie and her son Boo to go and see the film UP with them yesterday. I love animation movies, I am quite a fan in fact, and have been for a long time. Truth be told, I probably not only never “grew” out of them, but enjoy them more as time goes by: the level of sophistication, on the technical side of course, but also in the way most of these films are so cleverly designed as to appeal to the whole population, irrespective of age, simply gets me.
Up is no different. No, actually, it is different. The 3D effects are simply brilliant, the graphics are superb, and the adult-viewer-destined nods and winks along the way are very subtly but very surely sprinkled throughout.
What has this got to do with Racism et al. as per the (sub) title above, I hear you ask. Well now, let me explain.
On Friday, I was having one of those coffee-break chitchats one has with colleagues on a regular basis. You know the type:
- So, anything planed for the weekend?
- Couple of things. But what I am really looking forward to is seeing UP.
- Yeah, you know the film coming out this weekend.
- Look here (pointing to a newspaper on the table, open on the very page showing an ad for the film), it’s a new animation film, just out, and it’s supposed to be brilliant.
- …But, it’s a kids movie…?
- If you want to call it that. But I’m really looking forward to it!
- And you’re bringing a kid to it?
- Actually, I am accompanying a friend and her son.
- And you don’t mind going to a kids’ movie?
- Mind? What do you mean mind? I love them…
The look on my colleague’s face had gone from surprise, to scepticism, to pure and simple incomprehension. So I ploughed in:
- Animation films can truly be Art. Some of what comes out sometimes borders on pure genius. Take Wall-E…
- Wall-E. Surely you have heard of Wall-E!
- Well, I did not see Wall-E in the cinema, unfortunately. But I was given the DVD by my son…
- He is an adult, right?
- Right! And when he gave it to me, he said it contained the best non-dialogue 20 minutes to be shown on film in years… and he was right, it’s simply, simply, brilliant!
Look of total blankness on my colleague’s face. He just simply did not know what I was talking about. And I thought “Pity the kids he might have one day!”
So, to drive the final stake into the heart of the matter, I simply said before taking up my mug and going back into the office:
- UP is made by the same people who made Monster Inc. If it’s half as good, I will enjoy it. Because you don’t need to be a kid to enjoy animation films. They are just simply for everyone.
This conversation got me thinking, as it echoed several conversations I had in the last few months. And all have a common theme: Attitudes to labels.
In this first part of my reflection, three of these labels just up at me, Ageism, Racism, and Abilitism – I made up that last one, and quite like! ;-)
As I see it, putting forward the idea that, just because we are adults, we are not supposed to enjoy so called “kiddies” movies, is in my opinion a clear example of Ageism.
Here is another one: Only a few days before, I found myself drawn into a discussion where one person was arguing that some women should watch what they wear, because, let’s face it, they are ridiculous, like sheep trying to pass off as lamb. I listened patiently while (younger) women around me argued that age has nothing to do with what we wear, that the important thing is that the cloths we wear suit us and we feel comfortable in them. Notably, the only man at the table kept very, oh so very quite! I eventually had to butt in and asked exactly what she was referring to. She hesitated and eventually she said could not understand how someone who is a mother with teenage daughters could go in those “trendy” shops for cloths for herself, and dare to wear them! I answered that I am not sure what “trendy” shops she was referring to, but I am in my early 50’s, a mother AND grandmother, and I shop in River Island, Next, Sasha, etc… and somehow I don’t think I look like a sheep in lamb’s clothing. At least I would hope to be told if that was the case. As all eyes fixed on the poor woman (I felt for her then), she just shrugged her shoulders and kept chewing on her lunch. I wonder what she will make of my new mauve shoes?
(Could not resist it, had to show them!)
Ageism, or the perception that age means dressing a particular way.
In the same vein, I have been at the receiving end of Racism during my time on Ireland. In fairness, the incidents in question were not numerous. But they each left a deep mark, mainly because they came in series, and from people I became close to, or had to work closely with. In the first one, I eventually had to threaten to involve the Managing Director and put through a formal complaint, as the remarks had gone too far. This was a long time ago, at a time when “immigration” was a fairly new concept in Ireland. But being called “froggy” and told on a daily basis to go back “home” was not pleasant. Arguments that over the years my taxes had paid for this young arrogant pup’s education and enabled him to become an engineer did not have any weight. The threat did, fortunately.
Another incident came from someone I had come to call a friend. I held this person’s opinion quite high, and as a result had increasingly started doubting my judgment on some things as, over time, she seemed to colour my views and how they were perceived by others in an increasingly negative light. My eyes opened, painfully, when one day she eventually said: “you know, people like X and Y say that they appreciate your view points and tell you that you have good ideas, but at the end of the day, what they really mean is that they are quite taken by the way you can express yourself so clearly in English. After all, it’s not your mother tongue!”… Needless to say, that was that of this “friendship”. Strangely, to this day, I am still on excellent terms with X and Y, and do consider them amongst my closest friends!...
What about Abilitism?
Let me give you two examples: during a conversation sometime ago, where someone was describing some new skill her baby had just discovered, and I was exchanging similar prowess about Cathal (as I do, so proudly, worst than any new parent with his or her new child! Grandparents can be fierce in this way), saying he does this but not that yet. The third person present piped in: “Ah but sure, that is to be expected, he is delayed!”
I felt myself getting very angry: what right has anyone, who has not met Cathal, who knows of him only what I tell them, to pass such judgment on his abilities, or lack of, just because of his diagnosis of DS?
But this person surprised me even more since: during a discussion centering on the lack of facilities for Speech and Language Therapy, the question was asked by the same person:
- Why does Cathal need Speech and Language Therapy? He is deaf?
- No, he is not.
Ok, to be honest, when I first heard of signing and Lámh, I did ask Cathal’s Mammy why it was necessary since we knew that he could hear – in my defence, it was only a few months after his birth and I was still catching up on basic information. So one could understand the reaction? Please read on. Because what came next is priceless:
- So, if he is not deaf, why does he need S&L therapy? Has he a cleft palate?
… And this from a trained nurse… who worked for years in Ireland’s leading paediatric hospital (in Crumlin)… in the Cardiac wards where half the patients have DS … in the cardiac ICU where a lot of the patients have DS!
Abilitism in full swing!
This is for part 1 of this post. Centering on what I have witnessed in others.
But what about what I witnessed in myself? See you in Part 2!