Disability and stereotypes: The non-apology apology

Nicky Clark

Comedy of the Week Frankie Boyle King Georges Hall Blackburn Features Comedy The Independent 150050 248x300 Disability and stereotypes: The non apology apologyI’m something of an expert when it comes to receiving a non-apology apology. For the uninitiated, the non-apology apology is the Pavlovian response that complainants receive when they question an editorial decision on ‘acceptable’ jokes and has risen with the tide of humour, which leaves its integrity at the door.

Humour, which has no rules, seemingly has no responsibility for the misappropriation of its content by bigots, but I feel this is a cop out too far.

The non-apology apology has also been misappropriated. Broadcasters chasing ratings know that for all comedy, which embraces the mainstream; edgy sells, it seems.

‘Punching up’ through satire delivered with wit and ice-cold fury brings down the pompous, deconstructs the deluded and crucially shifts the power balance from those who control the narrative to those who elect them to office.

However ‘punching down’ to those already disenfranchised through socio-economic status, sexuality, race or gender is the last bastion of the ignorant bully. The non-apology apology I’ve been in receipt of were on the basis of “jokes” which take bullying to a new low because they target disabled people. Most particularly learning disabled people.

From Frankie Boyle to Jimmy Carr from Doug Stanhope to Louis CK in this age of austerity, disability is the new black.

As with racist jokes the humour deployed by these edgy comedians isn’t funny because it’s predicated on a stereotype, which is damaging and wrong.

The worrying part is that when it comes to human rights disabled people have the right not to be degraded. This isn’t a qualified right this is an absolute right as public bodies all broadcasters have a duty of care to protect this right yet when challenged they deploy the non-apology apology and usually hope that makes people go away. It takes the form of three lines of defence.

1.     We’re sorry if you were offended.

2.     The comedian challenged is known for their irreverent humour.

3.     It was post watershed.

The interesting thing about these tired responses is how corporate driven they are and how they are predicated on protecting the product.  It’s not about offence, it’s about civil rights. It’s not about irreverence it’s about promoting hate speech and it doesn’t matter what time anything is broadcast these days you can watch any number of catch up channels or deploy your digital recorders.

Also the tired old “if you don’t like it don’t watch” defence. To me it’s like Tobacco product manufacturers attempting to deny the dangers of smoking by smacking a warning label on the box and hiding them away behind shutters in supermarkets.

What is evidenced is that curbing the social acceptability of smoking and making it less accessible has impacted on the numbers of people who smoke. Advocates for learning disabled people get ridiculed yet second hand disablism like second hand smoke can be lethal.

That’s what I want to happen to disablist jokes. They are to me as cruel and damaging as racist humour and for those targeted by the jokes by the verbal and the actual abuse it leads to they do cause real damage. Wrapping abuse in a cloak of humour doesn’t make it OK it just makes it socially acceptable, cruelty with a smile on its face is not a reason, just a handy outlet.

For those comedy fans that appear on my Twitter timeline and will I’m sure be arriving in the comments section of this piece – you need to get your heads around a few facts. I’m not attempting to censor anything.  Unlike the R word campaign I’m not advocating a ban. Writers need to be free to represent the world in all its disablist truth and need to be able to show that horrible ignorant people say horrible ignorant things. However celebrities using these words themselves whilst being lauded and adored are a different matter entirely.

‘Self-censureship’ through recognition is what I’m asking for.  For every disabled person who finds disablist humour acceptable, there are many more who don’t. This is evidenced by the emails which deluged the CEO of Ofcom who claimed that viewing audiences have a human right to be offended in their defence of jokes utilising the word retard by Vinnie Jones complete with a mocking “retard” walk.

Comedians who use them in their act don’t want to understand the part they play in influencing and promoting hate speech either but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. This can again be equated back to smoking because that’s why smoking is curbed on our screens. Because fans copy what their heroes do.

Attacking free speech is another argument levelled at people like me asking for ’self-censureship’ by celebrities. Of course speech should be free but it’s interesting when detractors are keen to shut me up. Also people didn’t give their lives in the battle for speech to be free so that a comic can denigrate and attack a disabled child. Their minds were on higher motives like religious oppression and political freedom.

More than anything else the generic non-apology apology fails on the grounds of sense. I don’t ask for a public apology from anyone, the thing I’ve learnt more than anything else in all of this campaigning is the sheer futility of saying sorry and not meaning it.  Conversely the beautiful heartfelt apology through recognition by Jason Alexander, on using pejorative terms around sexuality will take some beating in terms of the redemptive power of a genuine apology.

All I ask is that comedians work a little harder because the disability gag reflex which makes disabled people the target of a joke not the subject of a joke, is as easy as sewing shut the eyelids of a kitten and equally as repellent.

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  • nimrodihnio

    From the etymology of the word ‘Handicap’ on snopes. Selected quote ‘Some elements of current society choose to stress abilities over shortcomings, thus terms that identify the disabled as lacking something the abled possess have fallen out of favor with them. Handicapped is seen as offensive by some because it stresses the negative, possibly leading to a continued view of the disabled as less than worthy members of the human race. Likewise, disabled is also seen as offensive to some who prefer the more ability-positive term less abled.

  • nimrodihnio

    I direct you to websters dictionary Main Entry: hand·i·capped
    Pronunciation: -ˌkapt
    Function: adjective
    sometimes offensive : having a physical or mental disability ; also : of or reserved for individuals with a physical disability

  • nimrodihnio

    From conservapedia a right wing leaning website I’m sure you love equates it in the clearest term ‘. In the past the term “crippled” was perfectly acceptable and not considered offensive. At some point, Americans like Senate Republican leader Bob Dole decided “crippled” was degrading and the preferred term changed to “handicapped.” This, too, was eventually deemed offensive and “disabled” became the preferred term. Today, even “disabled” is considered degrading to some and “differently abled” and “physically challenged” are used by those people. The same can be said for the changing uses of terms for Black Americans: “Negro” and “colored,” once perfectly acceptable terms, became offensive during the 1970s and “Afro-American” and “Black” came into use, which in turn gave way to “African-American,” and in broader usage, “people of color.” One perceived problem with “Negro” is that many persons, especially Southerners, seemed to have trouble pronouncing it, enunciating it as “nigra.” there you have it. Now troll off and tell your Joey Deacon elsewhere.

  • thesonofmyrahindley

    A Con, B Con, C Con…

    Well thank you for the lesson in the vocabulary of the politically correct, and by the way I’m not a conservative of any kind. You’re barking loudly up the wrong lamp-post. And I would never dream of calling any of my black pals anything other than that (Afro Americans are very short on the ground in South Manchester)

    I’ve now come to the conclusion you’re one of the people who would slap down a pensioner for calling his friend bald instead of “follically challenged”

    You’re part of the problem and not the solution, I’m afraid – it’s attitudes like yours which prevent people calling people “fat” – instead we now have an obesity problem on a truly American scale, where morbidly obese people have been pandered to with all sorts of “it’s glandular”, “it’s praader-willi” nonsense instead of being told to run round the park twice a week and stop eating so much damn chocolate.

    We have adults who only have basic literacy because they were told “ah, he has learning difficulties” etc. In my day, thick kids were told they were thick, and they pulled their socks up.

    But there’s no use arguing with a former public sector worker, as they’ll only come back quoting chapter and verse from the Human Rights Act. Or Ken Livingstone’s autobiography.

    Take your overblown ego and arrogant opinions down to the Wimmins Centre.

  • thesonofmyrahindley

    You’ve used Webster’s, which relates to American English.

    Stick that in you fanny pack.

  • thesonofmyrahindley


  • nimrodihnio

    I should take lessons in arrogance from you with your Daily Express old white male angst ‘back in my day..’ BS. I could almost have predicted the ’some of my best friends are (insert your racial profile here)’ to try to disguise a serious problem with anybody that doesn’t fit into your narrow worldview. You really do have an anger management issue with the PC crowd, unfortunately the lefty PC femeno anarchist public set or commie drone is as far away from me as you really can’t imagine given your limited ability to empathise with anybody else experience. I run my own business in sales, perhaps the least un PC environment given that you are paid on your own efforts and ability and I have never, ever worked in the public sector. If somebody’s fat their fat for a reason whether its over consumption or genetics if they are bald it is down to genetics, alopecia or a choice with the barber. However i don’t have your arrogance to judge them and say it’s because they are stuffing their lardy asses with junk food because they just don’t know any better or it might it actually be because of a genuine medical issue but really you don’t know, you just see it as you call it and whatever you think its the truth woe betide anybody having the arrogance to think differently and are part of the ‘problem which you are too lazy to elucidate. and i won’t despise them for it that seems a product of your rage and impotence about a section of society that you hate. But do I get annoyed when i see someone parking in a disabled bay without a blue badge then lights up a tab, and think that the disabled should get any special privileges and equally despair at your lazy stereotyping of the ‘handicapped’ because you can’t understand that children do learn differently and don’t fit your Victorian dad ‘cane them if they can’t learn’ dysfunctional thinking. Your the one frothing at the mouth because your puerile controlling fantasies on what people can do or not do in there own lives don’t conform to what you judge to be right or wrong. You come to lazy conclusions based on your own prejudice and fallacious assumptions. You’ll be sending them to work camps with starvation diets to fit into your normal society ‘that’ll learn ‘em’. I have to deal with clowns like you thinking Autism is just bad behaviour and they should snap out of it and that the “handicapped’ should stand on their own two feet (irony intended) because fair access to society is just political correctness to you. I have two disabled children, one of whom will not reach adulthood because of her degenerative genetic condition and the other with Autism, I fight everyday on their behalf to get access to education and medical services and have to endure the sheer breathtaking arrogance and stupidity of the likes of you who think jokes about children’s disabilities are funny and have no idea of the pain it causes. So stick your attitude where the sun don’t shine and tell your Joey Deacon jokes to your ‘Black’ Pals (why are they not just pals?) bet you won’t tell them racist jokes will you, but you do think that you have a right tell them if you wanted to because nobody can tell you what to do too can they?

  • thesonofmyrahindley

    You love your Viz references, don’t you?

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