Thursday, 20 October 2011

Don't be such a "Mong"

What does the word "mong" mean to you?

Does it simply mean "idiot"? Or is it a derogatory term for those suffering with Downs Syndrome or other forms of disability?

Well this has been a hotly argued debate on twitter recently after Ricky Gervais' regular use of the word when addressing his followers. When fellow comedian Richard Herring wrote about it on his blog, that there are some words with horrible meanings relating to disability that are now so easily used but that words relating to race are still rightly frowned upon, some of Gervais' followers didn't take too kindly to it.

The thing is, not all disabled people are able to kick back when these words are used; call someone a n****r or a p**i and they can turn around and respond. Call someone with a learning disability a mong and not all of them will be able to hold you accountable. People say it & go "oh it wont offend them, they don't understand…" But what about when they say it to someone that can turn around and say "what did you say?" - the fastest way to get out of it without looking like an arse? "oh I don't mean it like that, it just means "stupid". And that's when the word changes; people get away with saying it, it becomes more widely used as a substitute for "stupid" and fewer people link it to it's previous meaning.

Now, I don't think Ricky Gervais meant it in a derogatory way - he's far from being an enemy to those with any form of disability. Watch any of his shows - especially Extras - and he has found some extremely talented actors who aren't afraid of using their disability to challenge and humour people. My sister has mild Cerebral Palsy and her favourite moment was someone blindly accepting when a woman with the same condition as her says she'd just been tap dancing: "I was joking.. Me…? Tap dancing…?" - cue fits of giggles from my mum, sister & I.

Yes, Gervais bravely challenges the "oh we shouldn't say anything about disability" mentality that a lot of people have. People like my sister don't want pity - they don't want to be tip-toed around. As a child, I constantly had kids coming up to me and going "sorry if this sounds rude…but…what's wrong with your sister?" and found it hilarious seeing the shock on their faces when telling them "you can ask her yourself, she won't mind!" or the relief when I told them without the slightest show of offence. Gervais has pushed boundaries and given people with a disability a spotlight, showing that although they have the label "disabled", they are not less-than-able to entertain and out-wit someone "normal".

The thing is, as said before, not everyone with DS can turn around and say "I don't like you using that word" when Gervais says "mong". If a joke goes too far with someone with Cerebral Palsy, they can turn around and go "um…yeah that's a bit much…" & Gervais can go "no problem, sorry about that" and scrap it. It's not so easy for people with a mental disability to speak up for themselves.

So, when Richard Herring said that perhaps he shouldn't be using that word because it may still offend people, I thought that was a nice thing to do. Gervais' response? "The meaning has changed". Yes, for him and many others it has, but for a lot of other people, it hasn't. Meanings don't disappear until everyone forgets them & that will be most difficult for those who have been hurt by it's usage. Gervais didn't mean it in a bad way, but his continuous use of the word may mean those who do use it offensively can justify themselves by going "but Ricky Gervais uses it all the time!". Luckily, with all this blowing up, Gervais has clarified what he meant by it, so arseholes cant do that anymore.

For his defence, Gervais said "gay doesn't mean what it used to". However, we still listen to and sing Christmas songs that say "make the yuletide gay", but we don't mean make Graham Norton host every TV show on Christmas Day (although that would be amazing). I love the fact that words change their meanings, that the harsh meanings can be taken away and words being made to be just silly insults, but you must remember that not everyone associates it with the new meaning straight away. Oh and I don't want to sound snobbish, but referring to an online dictionary doesn't settle the argument - words often mean different things online & being on some sites can feel like you're reading a whole other language. Even now, online (and more increasingly offline), gay doesn't just mean homosexual, but also widely used as a replacement for "rubbish". Many people just use it meaning "rubbish", but it stemmed from the homosexual meaning by saying rubbish things were 'gay', thus interring that gay people were rubbish. So, when you use it to mean "lame" and don't want to upset your homosexual friends, make sure you are very clear you are not using them as an insult.

But anyway, my real gripe is not with Gervais's use of the word, or his initial reaction - he honestly did not mean for that word to be offensive. What it was was the line "they're not offended by what I said, they're offended by my success".

Ok, I know Gervais loves himself & makes a joke of it, but someone says "er…maybe don't use that word" and you jokingly say it's because they're JEALOUS…? I've been on the receiving end of stuff like this - I made a joke on YouTube that someone had been playing Halo for too long because they were miles better than anyone in the game, that maybe they should take a break and do something more useful with their time. The response? "OMG you're only saying that because you SUCK at gaming! You're just jealous cause he's better than you!" Even if it's said as a joke it's infuriating; it is the very definition of "jumping to bloody stupid conclusions". No, I'm not jealous of someone who is an expert on Halo, and I expect Herring didn't call Gervais up on something that could easily offend people because he was jealous of him. Then on top of this people said they didn't know who Herring was, so they don't care about his opinion. Just because you don't know someone, it doesn't mean their opinions are worth less than yours or some celebrity; Bin Laden was pretty well known, do you think his opinion is more important? Also, if you don't know who Richard Herring is, you should do - he's well funny. Mmmmm…cress...

So, to every single person that tweeted Richard going "so who are you?" or "um….have you won any Emmys recently?", grow up. You may think there was not any need for Richard to say anything, but he was just voicing his opinion & looking out for other people - that certainly doesn't grant the sort of abuse some of Gervais' less-intelligent fans have been throwing his way.

And no matter what people say, Twitter is a public forum that anyone can read and just because someone isn't following you, doesn't mean what you say is any less offensive. Saying, "if you find me annoying then don't follow me" makes sense because it makes the follower's life easier. Saying, "If you find me offensive then don't follow me" is stupid: if someone says something offensive in a sound-proof room, just because no one hears them it doesn't take any of the malice out of their words. It's basically saying, "I want to say whatever horrible stuff I want and I'm fed up of you actually holding me to account".

I don't want comedy to feel like a minefield, with comedians poking the ground ahead with a metaphorical stick of their material, too scared that they'll offend and have everything blow up in their face. Herring is no stranger to pushing boundaries and as a Christian fan of Gervais I'm used to taking a few things he says with a pinch of salt (mainly the bits where he infers that I'm an idiot for believing in any form of deity). I think it's brilliant that we can challenge people through comedy & change their perceptions - when it's done right, comedy is never dull. I'm currently really looking forward to "Life's Too Short", Gervais' new show written with Stephen Merchant and starring the brilliant Warwick Davis, which I think is the only reason Gervais started tweeting regularly and caused this kerfuffle. It's just that if you're going to say something that used to mean something else, make sure that people know for certain you're not taking the mic out of actual disabled people.

But hey, my opinion isn't the be-all-and-end-all. I think the best person to say something is someone who actually has DS. So, Ponceman, what do you think about the use of derogatory words like "mong" and "retard"?

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Bloody Students...

Thought I'd start writing a regular blog for things that would maybe not fit into a video. Not sure how regular this will be but thought I'd start out with a mild rant...enjoy!

I'm a recent graduate, and I live in Fulham. Having been away at university for the last four years, I've missed the steady influx of students during term time & now find myself surrounded by them.

Now, my reaction to this was "ARGH! STUDENTS! WHERE THE HELL DID THEY ALL COME FROM?! GET OUT OF MY BOROUGH!!" But this was not due to the fact that they were just students, instead that they were the "Oh Em Gee, look at how cool and indie I am. Now I live in London we can go take over Camden Market, yah" type of student.

No, students in themselves do not annoy me - being a graduate, I was obviously a student once, *wipes a sentimental tear from eye*, so it would be a tad hypocritical to say they did. But once a student, you somehow magically become different from a normal person. Somehow, when you become a student, you join a very special category; not "young adult", not "newly independent", but "student". You studied at school for 14 years but now you're a "student".

Right, ok, you're a student (I think I've put the idea across enough now…). Now that you're labelled with this, what does this mean? Do you gain the respect you feel you deserve from your peers? Getting into Uni is bloody hard these days, surely the majority of people will think, "wow they must have worked their arse off at school…"

No. They don't. I've seen it many times but I saw this most clearly in Dec 2010. When the students were protesting the fee hikes, twitter was filled with tweets of support, but also tweets spouting "bloody students, they should just force them all to jump off the bridge they've been kettled onto".

Err…ok. So you bust your arse trying to get the grades to get into uni, then when you take part in a peaceful protest, people complain & tar you with the same brush as the idiots down the street smashing up stuff, just because you all have the same label of "student". We're all students, so we're all the same? I think not - I can tell you I've never had a detention in my life & my criminal record is as clean as the lower half of that penny soaked in that old Cillit Bang advert.

The media focuses on the mad stuff, because people prefer watching mad stuff. They don't want to worry about the issue of fees (I mean, less subsidised fees means that less comes out of the taxpayer's pocket, and for some that's all that matters, no matter what economical benefit comes out of it for society - or the fact that graduates are usually higher earners in their lifetime & pay higher taxes in return, thus paying back their subsidies in another way) or the fact that a huge chunk of these young voters voted for Clegg in the misguided trust that he would keep a campaign promise. (First rule of politics: don't expect politicians to keep all their promises, or to tell the truth in the first place…)

These people were fighting against injustice, but not all for themselves & their wasted votes. The fee hike didn't actually affect the majority that were there, but the generations to follow them who had no say in the elections - so they were fighting for others to have the same rights as them, isn't that nice? No, media? They're all freeloading idiots who don't care about the rest of society and should pay for their own fees and you're not going to listen to me "lah lah lah"? Oh…ok…

But political rant over (kind of…), advertisers seem to be even worse when it comes to building the stereotype of the lazy good-for-nothing student. When KFC launched their "snack boxes" they actively aimed at "grazing students", literally depicting students as animals nibbling on finger-licking-good chicken and chips whilst wandering around green parkland like it was a safari park. Ok, I understand that this was supposed to be humourous, but it was a little patronising - assuming that all students like fast food & lollop around eating it in public going "nom nom nom I love chicken…derrrr". And why is everything "cheap & cheerful" aimed at students? I've always loved cheap & cheerful, I don't need to be signed up for higher education! Yes you tighten the belt at uni as you rack up debt for your degree, but there is no need for advertisers to go "hey students! cheap stuff!". Students are intelligent enough to hunt for a bargain themselves and other people shouldn't be put off buying it because they're not the type of person the product is being aimed at. It also annoyed me cause I do like KFC as a once-in-a-long-while treat, but there wasn't a KFC within 10 miles of the town where I lived, which was just plain mean when they advertised directly to us students in our student union…

We've been told all our educational career that if we go off to university to get a degree, we'll be richly rewarded with lots of respect and a high-paid career. When we become students, however, we are subject to congratulatory cards telling us "uni is the best time of your life! Drinking, drinking, drinking…oh, and work!" and everyone thinks we live off baked beans. We're apparently all going to leave with destroyed livers but fantastically well-oiled bowels… A degree does not always seem a priority when talking to others…

Well my uni career consisted of working my arse off in a computer lab for two years, running societies, reading tonnes of articles, writing dozens of essays, teaching dance classes for free to fellow students…and I wasn't one of the busy ones! So many students work their arses off for years to get a degree of some form or another, doing tonnes of stuff to fill up their CV. They run events, run shows, run debates, run societies - and is it good enough? No. We're still taken the piss out of as "lazy students", being told that we're never at uni anyway. Well we didn't design the university calendar…it's not like we demanded extra holidays. I'd have been fine if term was longer - I'd have got more teaching hours for my money!

Then, many jobs that you were promised you'd get with a good degree turn round and go, "sorry, you need at least 6 months experience…". But that's a whole other rant...

So no one respects us, and we don't get the job we want because we don't have enough "experience". And often we get the same job you could get 10 years ago without a degree, but they upgrade the pre-requisites cause they know there are enough graduates - so instead of "opening up new opportunities", you feel like all your degree has done is edge other people out of averagely paid jobs, people who didn't have the opportunity to go to uni but would be just as good as you in those positions. Because of this we're then resented, not respected: "you didn't need a degree to do that - what was the point?"

So, what happens is a picture is painted: the picture of a lazy student who spends a few years rioting, drinking, comfortably defecating and eating fried chicken in public spaces, then comes along and steals jobs from people who went straight into work and have already been paying taxes for years. No wonder people hate us.

But please, that is a horrific stereotype. We are not like that. Yes, there are the occasional idiots who seem to base their uni career on The Young Ones because they don't understand the irony, but the majority of us work our arses off; days in the library or stuck in front of the computer, late nights reading, all nighters because that essay got corrupted the night before it was due (thanks Microsoft >_<)… Being a student isn't all fun and games. All I'm asking for is for an ounce of respect from those who look at us and go, "bloody students". Enough of us WILL repay society, the money spent on us by government will be worth it in the end; I plan to climb the career ladder and pay my taxes.

And to those who complain about people taking "useless" degree subjects - don't take it out on the student, take it out on the person that promised them it would make a difference to their career.