Are you offended? Is that the point?

Just over a week ago, I got a call from the BBC. A producer from the show World Have Your Say had read our post on the Hey Hey Reunion blackface skit “scandal” and wanted to know if I would be a guest on the show that afternoon. The world press had taken the story and it was promising to have an international impact as chat shows, blogs and editorials fulminated on whether the act was “racist or not”. As it turned out, “that afternoon” meant staying up until 4.30am Australian time so, after he rang me later at 2am to confirm the details, I politely declined as I was already starting to drop off.

Some of my best friends enjoy harmless family entertainment

Some of my best friends enjoy harmless family entertainment

One thing he said in that conversation, however, has stuck in my mind. He asked me if they Hey Hey sketch had offended me.

My reply was that I didn’t find the sketch personally offensive and said for me to do so would be silly,  as to be offended on behalf of others seemed immensely presumptuous. I did, however, see how some people could well be offended by it and, given the reason for that offence was fairly easy to identify, I didn’t feel the sketch should have been aired. I also added that, should people wish to flirt with barriers or boundaries and wish to push them in the name of comedy, they had better make damn sure they were being genuinely funny and revealing a deeper truth. My two cents added, I went to bed.

Then something else happened. (And I would urge you to read and watch my post here before you read further) At the Spring Racing Carnival at Cranbourne Racecourse, three dwarf actors were paid to dress as jockeys and ride three members of the public along the course as a promotional event between races. The reaction of the Victorian Premier, John Brumby, was perhaps predictable when he stated that “What occurred may well be humorous to many people but I think the test is whether it’s hurtful to people and what occurred is quite hurtful to a number of people. So I think it’s tacky.”

Dubbed the “Little Cup”, it produced a slightly more muted reaction from the press this time who, fresh from the spike in sales generated by the Hey Hey controversy, struggled to whip up the same degree of outrage. Eventually, as if by mutual agreement, the story angle evolved into a defense of the dwarf actors and the branding of the John Brumby as a politically correct blowhard.

One of the actors in particular, Jeremy Hallam, thrust himself forward as the group’s spokesperson and slapped down any suggestion there was anything other than good old fashioned family fun on offer. “I think there was nothing wrong with it, it was all in good fun, it was just a bit of a laugh, a bit of entertainment, which is what we were there for. It wasn’t too over the top… I didn’t see it as degrading,” said Hallam.

With a new business, DwarfMyParty about to launch the next day, Jeremy Hallam got a tremendous amount of sympathetic press coverage. And unlike the blackface sketch, the “Little Cup” seemed, to many readers and watchers to be nothing more that an attempted media beat up that fell flat. Here are two reactions I got from personal friends…

There was nothing wrong with it. The dwarves got paid to do what they did. I don’t see them complaining.

You can’t stop people from doing stuff just ‘cos the PC brigade want to stop us all having fun.

Fairly typical of the sentiments expressed by most commentators on the matter. But one thing stood out…

The Herald Sun held a live blog with Jeremy Hallam (you can read it here), no doubt to give their readers the opportunity to reassure Mr Hallam and the Herald Sun that no, they were’t offended, and to give them a platform to complain about the “fun police”.

Here’s Jeremy…

The media take on this has been impacted by  public opinion. My take on the matter, because I was involved, is that I am a professional actor that was hired to do a job. The job was to dress in a character, being a jockey, and be involved in a race to entertain.

And here are some of the comments in support….

[Comment From JasonD] public opinion is distroying whatever cheeky acts of fun we have left. F OFF and let the Dwarfs ride into the sunset.

[Comment From Daniel] How could anyone find this offensive?

[Comment From FionaMorgan] Public opinion, going by the many comments on the HS and ninemsn, is that everyone is in agreeance with you – it was a bit of fun. It’s only those who need to be seen to be politically correct that are creating the uproar.

And there’s the politically correct establishment, flying in the face of popular opinion. Surely someone is going to use the phrase “Fun Police” any minute…

Jason, i agree. The fun police seem to have jumped on this. Mr Brumby himself has been quoted saying “it was tacky”. Well, my answer to him is that I’m an actor, I was hired to do a job as would any other actor (whether a dwarf, or normal sized), and I performed to the best of my ability. The crowd was entertained and the gig was fun

Thanks Jeremy. Looks like everyone agrees with you.

[Comment From James] I’m wondering what part of this can be construed as offensive. If it was children riding adults is that offensive to children?? If anything, are the people being ridden like animals not the ones being demeaned?

[Comment From Rusty] Jem, you have heaps of support and hopefully soon people stop being so precious and just realise your trying to make a living. I think it should be encouraged and your hard work starts to pay off….

The fact that people were voicing their opinion and trying to speak on behalf of myself and the other dwarves is unprofessional. We’re people just like everyone else. We wouldn’t have participated in the job if we felt it was demeaning

Right on. Looks like Jeremy feels he knows what’s demeaning or not. Let the dwarves speak for themselves, right? Oh, hang on… who’s this chick?

[Comment From Stella] Jeremy, the problem with it is that short statured people are already visciously ridiculed in society. It might be fine to encourage people to laugh at us in these circumstances, but what about when we’re doing our shopping, or taking our children to school or going to work? Unfortunately, it’s hard to get people to take us seriously in our lives while we encourage them to laugh at us because we “look funny”. I’m in comedy, so I support your right to be a performer, but don’t you want people to laugh because of the insightful, intelligent things you have to say, rather than because you’re a physical spectacle?

Er, awkward. Jeremy…?

Stella, that’s an interesting point. However, the gigs I do, I’m always dressed in characters. I’m not going out as Jeremy Hallam. I do these gigs as Mini Me, or an Ooompa Looompa, or as a jockey. It’s the same as any actor or entertainer going out and doing their job. We’re doing the same thing.

[Comment From Stella] But if you were really doing the same thing, the jockeys would have been a mixture of short statured and average height people wouldn’t they? And if you were really doing the same thing, then you would be able to play roles that didn’t have anything to do with your stature? You wouldn’t be limited to playing an Oompa Loompa, or Mini Me. I think that the contact you make with the public in this circumstance perpetuates negative stereotypes of all of us. It makes us all look as though we have no contribution to make other than a laugh at our physical appearance.

I was not in charge of the marketing idea behind this gig Stella. You cannot blame me for that. The idea came from someone else, who ran it past me. It was run in a professional manner, involving the spring racing carnival theme, and having us dressed as jockeys. The reason why I’m doing the work I’m doing is to make a point that we are not just shorter than everyone else. We can get out there and act, and work, and socialise and participate in everyday activities as any other person would.

[Comment From Stella] Yes, you do it very well. And you should be able to continue to do it. You’re right, we’re not just shorter than everyone else. We’re also deeply discriminated against on a daily basis, and in your own way you work to break down those barriers. Unfortunately, not in this case. And sure, it wasn’t your idea. But it’s us who suffer the repercussions of this, not the organisation who hired you.

I can’t control each and every person’s opinion but this is why I’m doing things like this to try make those understand that we are more than just actors. We are human beings just like everybody else. The more you resent against it, the more the public will create bigger stories out of it.

Not keen to be sidelined, Jeremy’s fans leap to his defense.

[Comment From Chris H] Stella u need to become comfortable with who you are and not take offence at someone similar to you that is comfortable and gets out there and has fun. Stop with the negativity or you’ll live a dull life. Maybe u should try joining Jem at one of his functions

Hmm, smackdown required… Stella?

[Comment From Stella] It’s ok thanks Chris H, I have a disability rights show on Channel 31, and on Triangle TV in New Zealand, plus I have a full time job where I’m employed for my skills rather than my physicality. But thanks very much for the life coaching.

Zing! Anyone else?

[Comment From Big Fella] Great point Chris H, you cant play both cards stella…. the small people dont get a fair go and are constatntly discrimanted in everyday life vs bringing down Jem and his mates for getting out there and running what will be a sucessful entertainment business.

[Comment From Rusticals] I really respect you for who you are Jem. Your a bigger role model that what you think young man. Your building the future for small statured people, hopefully in having someone as great a role model as yourself, todays children will grow up not thinking you “look funny” but enjoying you for who you are and what you stand for.

[Comment From Culprit] The way the thought/fun police have carried on I get the perception that any person with any affliction cannot have fun with people without the same affliction. We are all humans and we all can have fun together. What next segregation?

Seems like Stella’s point has somewhat been missed and, boo, times up… the last word goes to Jeremy then: Any last thoughts Jeremy, you may wish to address Stella’s points in more depth perhaps?

I hope through this blog, I have enlightened you on the event at Cranbourne Race track on Sunday. Know that it was handled professionally as an actor and if you wish to continue to support my cause, log onto in a couple of days where you can understand what our work is all about.
Jeremy (The People’s Dwarf)

Oh, I forgot. You, like the Cranbourne Racecourse, have a business to promote. Well that’s alright then.

And here we go back to my point. Jeremy’s supporters didn’t feel they were offended, and why would they?

But to think that, because you aren’t offended, then nobody else possibly could be, appears to be the kind of blinkered thinking that gets people hurt.


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