Laughing at/with/for/about people with disabilities? No one’s laughing now

I was stunned to read that the Queensland University of Technology has suspended two Brisbane based academics, Gary MacLennan and John Hookham, without pay for six months for criticising their colleagues in a newspaper article.

In a comment rich with irony, QUT vice-chancellor Peter Coaldrake justifies the ban by saying “Academic freedom is a great privilege and it should not be used to denigrate or ridicule people.” Yet the issue the academics were being critical about was the support given by colleagues at the University to a PhD thesis called Laughing at the Disabled, and their belief that the whole tenor of the thesis denigrated and ridiculed disabled people. Whether you accept this perspective or align more with the arguments of those who say the thesis is an effort to improve understandings of how we relate to people with disabilities and to the disability itself, the University’s decision to respond to this public criticism of the institution by suspending people for six months without pay seems to me to be an incredibly draconian over-reaction which seriously threatens free speech and robust public debate.

For an outline of the original circumstances, read this post from back in April, written by Kim over at Larvatus Prodeo. She was assessing the article by the two academics, which was published in The Australian newspaper.

There is also a clip on YouTube which is a response from some in the disability community to the “Laughing at the Disabled” project. It is about 11 minutes long, but is worth watching. It includes commentary by people from Queensland Advocacy Incorporated, which is a very effective and respected advocacy organisation for people with disability. The comments thread on this is very much worth reading too. It includes comments from Michael Noonan, the researcher behind the original project, a QUT student who has seen some of the footage in question, and people from the disability community.
Chris Griffith at The Courier-Mail has also blogged about it. Interestingly, among the comments to that piece is one from Tess Livingstone, the journalist who wrote the story about the suspension for the paper, which is critical of QUT’s action.

The article in The Australian last April was quite a scathing piece. There was some extra irony in the fact that The Australian has been running a blatant campaign for many months, using a flimsy caricature of post-modernism as a bogey-man to blame a flimsy caricature of the ‘Left’ for putting moral relativism ahead of basic standards, thus causing all that is wrong with modern education. I don’t know John Hookham, but I have a passing acquaintance with Gary MacLennan, and I don’t think he would dispute being described as a hardline left winger. MacLennan and Hookham suggested post-modernism was the reason why it people could justify doing a PhD thesis which they believed was ridiculing people with disabilities (something which the thesis author disputes).

Kim at Larvatus Prodeo was not very sympathetic of their line of argument, although it seemed to me to be partly in reaction to the personal nature of some of the criticism, as well as the use of post-modernism as the whipping boy. However, she made some valid points. She is an amputee, so is able to bring the perspective and experience of life with that disability to her comments.
Other commentary made at the time included Mel at Home Cooked Theory, and Verity at The Dead Roo. As is usual for me, I can see some validity in all the varying perspectives, but none of that justifies sacking people for six months because they were publicly critical.

No doubt the people who devised, approved and oversaw the thesis knew it would be contentious and should not have been surprised if it drew some harsh criticism.

Disability advocates in Brisbane who I have a lot of respect for have been critical of the PhD thesis. There is already too much ignorance and discrimination towards people with disabilities, which causes very real and unnecessary extra hardship. Encouraging ridicule or making fun of such people, even if unintentionally, could well make that worse.

However, there is a danger that being too protective and delicate about disability issues can risk de-humanising people with disabilities, and using humour to puncture the excessive sensitivities which people can feel about topics like disability can be very valuable. One of the funniest comic performances I ever saw was Steady Eddy, an Australian comedian with Cerebral Palsy whose entire show was about his condition. It shows the double edged sword of humour- both edges razor sharp at times: it can be both very liberating and unbearably cruel.

I haven’t seen all the specifics of the thesis or the film that was produced. But despite all the competing arguments, I still believe that suspending people for six months without pay for being publicly critical is excessive and very dangerous. I’m sure QUT didn’t like being criticised so publicly and harshly, or the people behind the thesis, but it’s hard not to get the feeling that all academics are being sent the very strong message that academic freedom of speech and debate ceases to apply when it comes to any criticism of one’s own University, and presumably their funding sources and opportunities too. As the Courier-Mail editorial notes, it will make every academic think twice before speaking out.

PS: It may seem like a separate issue, but I thought I would also just note in passing that QUT recently decided to abandon the teaching of Humanities subjects.

ELSEWHERE: There’s some other YouTube videos on this topic. This one deals with the wider issue of alleged censorship of comments about the situation on QUT student websites. I assume this is being done on legal advice, and I can sympathise with that, but it shows how wide the ramifications can be once this sort of thing is started.  This is another YouTube video.  Some more background on Ethical Martini. UQ based academic John Quiggin also has some comments.

And in what I presume is coincidental timing, Ockham’s Razor on the ABC has a discussion with Professor Roger Rees from Flinders University on “the importance of humour for people with disabilities and illnesses.”

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50 Comments

  1. sadly, you aren’t able to hear the perspective of the colleagues at QUT, because of the legally sensitive nature of this case. Suffice to say though that the general attitude is not that of concern about free speech, but rather relief that two a**holes who terrorize students and staff have finally been held to account.

  2. You may be right, well.

    I don’t seek to be holier than thou on this – there’s some difficult, competing issues here. One person’s academic freedom to pursue research or action that others find others, the freedom of others to publicly attack that research. I don’t know the other academics involved in overseeing the PhD or giving it ethical clearance, but I have no particular reason to question their ability.

    However, your comment does imply that QUT may be using this incident as an opportunity to deal with people who may be very difficult to deal with. I’ve seen that happen before in a different University in a different context, and I think that approach has its own dangers. It’s not a rare workplace experience of course.

    I know from my own experience that Gary MacLennan can be very scathing of people – beyond criticism of the issue involved. I don’t want to go into that, as it makes people react based on their views of the individuals rather than the issues.

  3. it’s unfortunate that the whole debate has become about freedom of speech. Gary and john have every right to speak publicly – they do not have the right to attack a student because they disagree with him, they do not have the right to encourage students to attack him, they do not have the right to lie about and misrepresent his research, and they have a duty of care towards all students within the faculty.

    QUT has confidentiality policies in place to ensure that research is reviewed privately before it is made public. The idea is that in a supportive community of scholars, one can address sensitive topics, and adjust one’s research if it is problematic. The internal review process is to ensure that young researchers can do research in a supportive environment before being exposed to the blowtorch of the press.

    we in the faculty are unable to speak about our experience publicly, not because we are afraid of QUT, but because we are afraid of Gary and John and Rupert. And many of us remember the last time Gary and John went on an anti Creative Industries jihad with Uncle Murdoch – makes it hard to, well, speak in public.

  4. I’m sorry, but I’m pretty sure that technically, they did not get suspended “for criticising their colleagues in a newspaper article”, they got suspended for failing in their duty of care by publicly vilifying a student. And please, if enlisting the power of the Murdoch press to beat up on contemporary humanism in Australian universities is the same thing as “free speech” and therefore really needs defending, then just shoot me now.

  5. Flying blind.Havent checked out all sites.What are the number of disabled persons on the equivalent of academic salaries?Have these two dismissed ever taught or lectured disabled persons? Is the University disabled access relevant? Are their any direct connections in an organizational sense between the University ,staff or students and disabled. Have these two academics ever taught Aboriginal people up to the dismissal? On what basis where the incidents of study taking place chosen? What is the incidence of legality enforceable in the above mentioned incident of that location!? Was the incident recorded above involving a alcohol effected Aboriginal woman, a random choosing,given the extent of that particular problem!? If a thesis involving disabled persons is written without a disabled persons attachment as a secondary insight,no matter how poor or non-academic..would the thesis itself be a worthy,and repeatable insight,across different places time and events!? I cannot answer any of those,and the last question I suspect would suggest,to those who have an inkling about what the questions imply,that,while it may not be answerable,,the implication is quite specific.I will remain consistent..until further notice.. the thesis is junk.Which doesnt make anyones comments here, that.

  6. Pingback: Larvatus Prodeo
  7. Re these “intelligent & learned?” ones who may be seen by some as clowns who suspended the two academics. The chief or big clown mumbled something about academic freedom – does this freedom only go one way?
    As for the pathetic one who humiliated and degraded and mocked people with disabilities through his “masterful?” work which no doubt will live in all main University librarys for many centuries. Maybe someone will even make a musical or a film about this magnificant opus. Why can’t he be taken to a civil court. I mean we have laws against sexism, racism, ageism surely ther’s a crime for rubbishing those with disabilities. And those who backed him could be seen as accessories. Totally bemused and disgusted at the foolishness shown, R. Patterson

  8. As for the pathetic one who humiliated and degraded and mocked people with disabilities through his “masterful?” work which no doubt will live in all main University librarys for many centuries.

    you haven’t seen it, and it doesn’t degrade them.

  9. Sen Andrew Bartlett,

    Thanks for you incisive article. You will note I was sadly the only QUT colleague of Gary and John to support them publically (youtube etc) , not on all counts, but their right to freedom of speech and question the appropriateness of relecting on those with disabilities in this way. I have since given a interview to C9 and feel this harsh penalty is almost unheard of within Australian universities. It’s the equivalent of being fined about $50,000. For an alleged misconduct offence? I wonder what QUT would do for plagiarism? Send someone to Canberra for 100 winters? All academics should be fearful. No wonder the Australian media leaders on 10 May unanimously cried “Foul” and said Australia was indeed losing its media freedom. Time for our pollies to speak out too. Thanks Andrew.

    Phil Castle, Brisbane.

  10. Philip Castle wrote: “You will note I was sadly the only QUT colleague of Gary and John to support them publically (youtube etc) , not on all counts..”

    well either you are saying that all QUT staff are idiots for not supporting them. or it might be that people took offense to hookham and maclennan’s behaviour. my sense is that the majority of their colleagues found their behaviour inappropriate and offensive. I’d challenge anyone who thinks to the contrary.

    i’d be extremely surprised if you could find someone at QUT who would say that Peter Coaldrake was an unreasonable man. The issue here is that the issues are not being reported anywhere, ie the actual complaints which were made against hookham and maclennan, which had nothing to do with their objection to the film/phd. It’s time for a bit of truth as the ‘good story’ is wearing very thin.

  11. Flying not so blind..,, The two older gentlemen,with their soft tones of voice certainly seem like terrorists!? Especially if they stay on the payroll and have opinions that frighten the shit out of people,because they found some sort of fault in a lack of sensitivity. Gee!? All those young well-muscled film-makers would see their muscle shrink from,what is that disease that inflicts the young.. Yooffull-muskillExtra -EgoTendersitis!? Now push your heads sideways ,gentlemen,like its a old mechanical typewriter!? See you on the Dark Side of the Moon!?

  12. Well here’s an issue that’ll have you luvvies tied up in knots for years. Is it OK to laugh at the disabled if it;s from a postmodern perspective? Should defending the vunerable be subject to villification? Bloody hell, there’s a whole thesis here just in the convulsive attempts to be diversity-aware and respectful of difference shown in this whole tacky episode.

    While I’m purturbed that such action is used to silence dissent (and where’s Robert Manne, David Marr et al when there’s some real repression of opinion going on?), the idea of booting out academics for lengthy periods without income has a lot of merit, and can only lead to vast improvements in both learning and reasoning at our august tertiary institutions.

  13. Andrew, I am so glad you are informed of this issue and are willing to have an open discussion here..thanks!

  14. Thanks for discussuion Andrew.

    There are SO many issues here:
    1. Is it reasonable to set out to deliberately “offend” (the film was titled “Laughing at (now changed to “with”) the Disabled: creating comedy that confronts, entertains and offends”)?
    2. Is it reasonable for the candidate, his supervisors or indeed the university to get upset if the thesis is so successful that it achieved its stated aim of offending?
    3. Is it reasonable at a University to spend public money on creating comedy that sets out to “offend” the disabled and others who are conected with them?
    4. Is it reasonable that the “comedy” comes from the very sincere reactions of two intellectually impaired young men placed in the “comic” context not of their choosing of an outback pub; and asked to ask questions not of their choosing (about min min lights and how to find a girl)?
    5. Is it reasonable that – oh too many more questions – and I haven’t even got to the question : is it reasonable to effectively “fine” people about $40,000 each (lost income) for being offended by university research whose sole aim was to offend?
    QUT – Of course there are boundaries to ‘academic freedom” – but you seem to have taken an “all” (for the PhD candidate) or “nothing” (for those who spoke out) approach.
    Surely you can do better in moving around this issue.

  15. I’ve come to regard all academics in the Humanities as the enemy.

    So as long as some academics are being harmed, it’s all good.

  16. Wanda – the thesis is not setting out to offend. It explores the complex terrain around such issues. There is a big difference. The incredible irony in this, is that in 5 years time, this PhD candidate would be the expert commentator on this issue. He will have done the research. People are so quick to judge without any knowledge of the facts. This PhD candidate, above any armchair critic in all these blogs, is the person to ask about the lines between offense and entertainment. That is the subject of the enquiry itself!!!

    Andrew, you are obviously a thoughtful and intelligent person. I am sure that, if you were appraised of the facts in this case, you would be 100% satisfied that QUT were doing the right thing here.

  17. Dougie:
    It is true: I do not know what Michael’s thesis is about – I was going by his title – and assuming he knew what he was doing when he created a title which announces a very clear intention: “Laughing at (now changed to “with”) the Disabled: creating comedy that confronts, entertains and offends”)? And also the descriptions of his project, not refuted by him, which definitely seemed to confirm that he chose his title with care for his aims.
    I do hope QUT finds a way to solve the present problem that restores our faith in its research processes, its treatment of its staff, and its treatment of the disability community. Of course, it can find a way. In the present situation of creating “enemies” and “maintaining and enhancing opposition” nothing is gained by anyone. Some calling together of all the parties (which now includes senior advocates for the disability community)in an open discussion and negotiation would help. Despite all the bitterness on every side, and the desire “not to lose face”, I’m sure in the end everyone would welcome openness, fairness and a renewed confidence in the process of research at QUT.

  18. It is very strange that only two people in a room of 40 or 50 found the PhD work offensive, and that they wound up going to The Australian with a criticism of their colleagues, not for the first time. I suggest their motives are not as pure as they suggest.

  19. Wanda, thanks for the considered response. What has to be realised here is that when you get a complaint, or in this case, a series of complaints, to be fair to all parties, you must uphold the principles of natural justice. One of those principles is that you protect the parties involved in the complaints by imposing requirements for confidentiality around the issue. This provides an unpressured space to consider the complaints fairly.

    Now in this instance, you will see that QUT are reluctant to speak to the press, as they are attempting to uphold the principles of natural justice. Unfortunately, that is not happening in the case of H and M, who seek to try and use the press to mount an attack against the complainants and QUT. They’ve done this very successfully, but its a very dirty game to play and certainly does not garner respect from those closer to the action. Newspapers such as the Australian and the Courier Mail seem to enjoy a good mud sling, especially where universities are concerned. At times like this it suggests they are in the business of entertaining rather than informing their readership.

    The irony is that the press campaign has been more successful that it should have been, because QUT have being quiet as they have refrained from conducting the enquiry in the national press. This is to be greatly admired, as you might see how damaging the unanswered conjecture has been to their reputation. It’s a case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t. They should be commended for upholding the principles of natural justice in the face of some extremely unbalanced and irresponsible press coverage, which has been designed to cause maximum offense.

    As anyone who works in a university will tell you, ethics clearance processes are extremely rigorous. It involves a detailed submission to a panel of experts. This is a good measure of protection. However, it can’t protect people from a situation where the research is mis-represented in a press campaign

  20. I think the post from the Irish indymedia makes a valid point about the capacity to get informed consent from someone who has a significant mental difference. As we don’t know everything one has to assume that it went through a rigorous ethics process… but then why the name change? strange

  21. QUT statement of facts, June 15

    http://tinyurl.com/yud5r6

    I wish they had come out with this earlier. It may have silenced some of the critics who took the Hookham and Maclennan version of the events as ‘the truth’.

  22. Douglas – thanks for the link, but it raises more concerns about QUT’s ethics approval process.

    First, the project is based on n=2 individuals. So the sample size is tiny – so tiny that I would question whether it is possible to draw valid inferences from the results.

    Second, the panel reports that they “found no evidence of harm, discomfort, ridicule or exploitation to the participants”

    This is irrelevant. The issue is whether or not the participants are placed at unreasonable risk of being exposed to harm, discomfort, ridicule or exploitation, when considered in the light of the potential benefits of the information that can be obtained. If the study is unlikely to produce useful results, then shouldn’t the case against exposing the participants to harm etc take priority?

    I’d like to hear the NHMRC’s opinion on how well QUT’s Human Research Ethics Committee has adhered to NHMRC guidelines.

  23. Douglas:
    I am somewhat MORE worried after reading Michael Noonans research proposal.
    He claims that he is exploring through a sort of experiement how “In our laughter we often laugh with those affected but at times a line is crossed and we can find ourselves laughing at the characters, their predicaments and the crass impacts they are having on others.”.
    Yet there are problems here – which seem to mirror the problems raised by Maclennan and Hookam.
    2. The two young men have not written the script, not chosen the scenes, nor at least to begin with, been kept informed of the controversy surrounding what they are doing (the last point from something I read where a student said Michael Noonan answered for the young men present in a class that he hadn’t explained the issue to them yet. Which all seems to mean to me that they are NOT the comics who have a “crass impact” on others.
    3. So we are NOT exploring the same line that occurs in comedies such as Chaser.
    4. Instead the “laughing at/with” experiment is on an entirely different terrain (when does “laughing with” – change to “laughing at” or vice versa) when two intellectually impaired young men create comedy through their own genuine responses to a ludicrous and demeaning “comic set up”. Isn’t this dangerous? As well as bad research in terms of the original stated aim?
    5. I wonder if the review committee or any other person commenting saw the film that was shown at the confirmation? Perhaps they saw his earlier work which appears to have only earned praise from all.
    6. I wonder if Michael Noonan is being paid for his first film (and perhaps his second) – if the two young men are being paid Actors equity rates?
    More questions arise.
    Surely QUT can call in a senior well respected mediator to discuss this with all concerned.
    May kindness prevail rather than the “winning” of any side.

  24. What exactly is the purpose of the study?

    If it is being conducted as some form of experiment, or, as Senator Bartlett says above, “an effort to improve understandings of how we relate to people with disabilities”, its design looks to be invalidated due to the apparent absence of any point of comparison.

    To produce meaningful and interpretable results, it would need to include responses to other young men who do not have an intellectual disability, and who were placed in similar social situations.

    And in a PhD level study, I’d expect to see a few elaborations, such as investigating the contributions of visual and non-visual cues in social interactions. So including subjects who appear ‘normal’, but have disabilities, or subjects who appear as though they might have a disability but don’t.

  25. The defender suggests that Peter Coaldrake is a reasonable man and defies us to find anyone at QUT who would say otherwise…

    Well, defender, it’s like this. At QUT, it is not what people are willing to say, it is what they think of Coaldrake that counts and there are a lot of staff and students who think he is uninterested in people who get in the way of his grand plans. Just ask the staff and students whose degrees and school he is closing down. Did I mention that he is SO reasonable that he aired that proposal to the media first, rather than to the people most affected?

    I have never really met the lecturers who spoke out against this thesis, nor have I seen the footage. However, claims that the student should have been protected, as the lecturers have so much more “power” is ludicrous – a Ph.D student is just about ready to play with the big boys. And there are a lot of students who respect those two lecturers for their outspokenness. There are always going to be people who love lecturers and others who hate them – but regardless of that, their punishment does not fit the crime. They should have been a slapped on the wrist, not bludgeoned about the head.

    Peter Coaldrake is a terrible VC – anyone who cannot freely acknowledge others right to speak, whether they are right, wrong, good or bad, clearly does not belong in an academic arena.

  26. i must admit i do not ‘know’ the facts of the matter. based on what i saw on the tele’, i think it is a bit of hyper-fluff all round.

    should academics be able to criticize a phd student? y not? i had a bit of an issue with the initial title “laughing at people with dis-abilities” that was changed to at=with; it seems fine to me.

    wrt to evil pun-dit above, i agree in part, as usual. at least the evil guy/gal is clear & preciseLY wrong.

    i am not against academics or ANY person, i am against neg ideas=increase in social friction in exchange markets.

    for the most part, academics in the social sciences are brain dead & parade their ideas [generated from building on old inert ideas from guruSSS in the past] as the truth, or at least a close to the truth.

    the big sin of all gurus of any cap, is that “truth” exists in social exchange systems.

    i recently made a comment on r. kohn of the abc/rn. her problem is that she is an incompetent ‘nice’ person [in her own eyes].

    i a similar vein vain, the dalai lama has lost the plot. i not he meet bindi – who would i prefer to chat to?

    or, any child? well, i would prefer to talk or spend time with ANY child of ANY race at ANY time rather than ANY world guru of ANY class or type or breed etC…

    at least evil is clear & precise [in my view some times evil is on the money & other times not]. further, evil serves as a counter-point of view & enhances debate.

    so, keep up the good work evil gal/guy!

    cheers.

  27. That’s right, the Dalai Lama certainly has lost the plot. I saw him do the National Press Club address last week.

    He thinks we live in a compassionate, caring society. I’m not sure what planet his head is on, but it’s certainly not the same one as his body.

    Not having read the thesis in question, it’s hard to comment on the actions of the QUT.

    The QUT has a long track record of protecting its students in a fairly conservative fashion – not so at UQ.

    I’ve had one son attending each of these universities, and I thought the courses, practices and interest in students were much better at the QUT.

    I once went head to head with the Registrar of UQ over a serious problem with a particular sect on the campus (stalking/harassment).

    The pompous ass was insulting, but ended up having to take their meeting room away and ban their leader (not a student) from the campus, after I was backed by a succession of other parents.

    I also worked for UQ many years ago. The place had some overcompetitive, sometimes unscrupulous academics who didn’t care what they did in order to make a name for themselves – sometimes neglecting their students in the process.

    It is therefore hard to know if the QUT had a particular agenda in relation to the 2 academics they suspended.

  28. Once again EP comes out with an unfeeling statement that shows he doesn’t take people seriously. By saying you don’t mind other people being harmed shows how insensitive you are.

    I don’t like to see anyone harmed. I just don’t want some of their policies enacted. Big difference.

    And when I studied Humanities, the school may have been dominated by lefties, it did contain some Liberals and an ex National Party President – who I might add, said some very sensible things.

  29. I agree with ‘muzzled’. I wish our academics would send a “boycott News Ltd” message, rather than clamouring to appear on their pages.

    28 & 29: Did you actually go to hear the Dalai Lama speak? I did, and his message of peace was very compelling.

  30. Megan:

    I watched the address on ABC TV. I thought the Dalai Lama was doing his level best to crawl up the backsides of people of all religious belief systems, including atheism.

    I’ve never heard such naive rubbish in all of my life.

    Then the next thing, he was using Bindi Irwin to increase his public profile.
    That’s what his visit was all about.

  31. Coral,

    You thought he was “doing his level best to crawl up the backsides of all religious belief systems, including atheism.”

    Totally disagree with you on that. When I saw him at empty container, he spoke of tolerance and peace between all peoples, regardless of other allegiances.

    As I am no apologist I cannot comment on the Australia Zoo visit, but if the same message of tolerance was received and welcomed as it was in Brisbane, then I really would be interested in your list of harm it would visit upon us.

    Peace and love, Megan

  32. Thanks Terry for posting news of SC’s contribution across so many blogs. It’s great to hear how well things are going at QUT, but odd then that such a scrupulous observance of internal technocratic process could lead so swiftly to a situation where “the reputation of the institution is at stake”. Perhaps this can happen when universities are busy choosing their own poison. Still, doesn’t much address the issue of M&H’s “virulent criticism” of a student’s work, and on from that of the supervisors, system etc. Is criticism, once it becomes virulent, banned outright, or can accuracy of criticism be a mitigating factor, as inaccuracy could be an aggravating one? If the substance of the criticism could have relevance to the disciplinary process, then why didn’t the tribunal look at the footage? Does it matter whether or not the work -the footage- is ‘amoral trash’ or not? If not, why not? Is the tribunal informed by an advanced theoretical position which sees ‘amoral trash’ as a relative and thus vacuous concept, or which privileges the form of a communication over its content? Couldn’t QUT refrain from playing into M&H’s criticism at least briefly?

  33. Megan:

    It would take me too long to answer you, so I can only suggest you study up on social psychology and group dynamics – also mind control and manipulation – then you will understand where I am coming from.

    I also thought the Dalai Lama showed signs of dementia – quite apart from any language barrier that also appeared to be holding him back.

  34. I am concerned that, primarily because this has become a civil liberties and academic integrtiy issue, that many well intentioned people have not only supported the two academics, but they have also become defensive of a conservative and patronising attitude towards people with disabilities as articulated by the academics.

    “Disability”, especially when described as vulnerable and incapable is an illusion used to justify the withdrawal of rights and options from some people.

    Here is my critique of MacLennan and Hookhams article

    http://paradigmoz.wordpress.com/2007/07/23/laughing-at-the-disabled-power-perception-and-prejudice/

  35. Too bad we can’t take a look at that film for ourselves.

    I’ve read a book on Asperger’s Syndrome and known a couple of kids with that diagnosis.

    I think that labelling people with Asperger’s Syndrome is often little more than an insult to very highly intelligent people with heightened sensory perception.

    In the case of children, labelling is a good way for schools to gain more funding, and (in some cases) a good way for parents to “buy” their kids a soft ride through the education system, with minimal responsibility for their actions.

  36. John Tracey:

    Thanks for the link to the clip. The instructor was certainly trying to help the disabled man improve his physical co-ordination and he seemed to be enjoying it.

    Unfortunately, the clip is too short to be a significant indicator of the film’s general message.

  37. Yes Coral, such a short clip tells little of the rest of his work. However in this he indicates the nature of his questions about laughing at or with.

  38. Thanks JT. I tried to access the footage but it was an exercise in frustration.

    I’ll need to wait until the teenage expert is available in the hope of giving it another shot.

  39. I wonder how many people are aware that people aged under 65 with disabilities are now having to pay tax at a much lower threshold than those over 65?

    They have joined the ranks of the unwanted -the unemployed, women over 50 and people parenting alone.

    Isn’t it nice to know that I now fit into ALL FOUR of the unwanted categories?

  40. I’ve looked at the footage now, but we still only have 10 minutes’ worth to go on, including the parts taken up by the student talking. He could have selected only the least offensive bits for us to see.

    I thought the old drunken aboriginal woman being “all over” one of the young men was a bit off. She clearly made suggestive comments we could not hear, which embarrassed him.

    The rest seemed okay.

  41. Coral,

    There is a 17 minute video on the Courier mail site which is the whole footage shown at Noonan’s confirmation hearing. If you go to the video on the above link there are related videos displayed underneath. The 17 minute one is there.

    The 10 minute one has all the scenes criticised by MacLennan and Hookham.

    It’s important to remember that these are not the finished work, just rough segments of footage.

    The scene discussing sharing a woman in the CM footage is in “Unlikely Travellers”. When it is put in the context of the story line and character development it is much funnier and transparently innocent.

    Having said that, I disagree with you about the pub scene as it stands. I think it was great for two reason. 1/It was funny (although apparently its not going in the movie) and 2/It challenges stereotypes of Aboriginality and disability.

    James has a big grin when he is “mauled” and the woman is obviously enjoying herself too.

    What is distasteful about this? I see it as a spontaneous moment of unconditional love and acceptance that crosses so many different boundaries.

    Also, why is it assumed that this woman is drunk? Drunken Murris get kicked out of the Boulia pub pretty quickly.

    She was affectionate and she was certainly drinking beer, but this is what adults do in pubs. However her speech was broken english, not a drunken slur. Too often people hear Aboriginal people speaking and assume they are drunk because of the way they speak. Same thing for disabled people and this is spoken about in “Unlikely Travellers”

    I have spoken to Noonan about this and he has read my comments about the footage on Paradigm Oz. The Boulia footage was a spontaneous thing, not planned so he was not looking to deal with issues of Aboriginality.

  42. JT:

    With all due respect, I think you may have missed a couple of things about the pub scene.

    I don’t think it challenges any stereotypes, and that there are good reasons why it has been scrapped. Do you happen to know what they are?

    If the woman wasn’t drunk, that makes her behaviour even more offensive. My objection has nothing at all to do with her colour.

    If the two academics have criticised all of the scenes, I would say they’ve been hypercritical of what they’ve seen, and I am holding the centrist position.

    I have another social worker friend (yes, she does exist) who has a disabled child. She sits on some kind of advocacy board – can’t remember the exact name. I must ask her what she thought of the footage.

    Her child has mild cerebral palsy, vision impairment and epilepsy. He has been a friend of my son’s for about 10 years.

    I think it would be true to say that some people who work with or parent disabled children are highly reactive to slurs (whether real or perceived).

    Their reactivity may be on a par with those who perceive every comment relating to indigenous issues as racist slurs in some instances.

  43. I am happy to disagree about the pub scene, everyone reacts differently to all movies, not just this one.

    The scene was spontaneous, not part of the plan. The movie is a pretty slick production and because it deals with touchy areas and everything is monitored, they have planned each scene meticulously. The intention is to stick with the original plan I believe.

    The unplanned footage was presented as part of his academic research into the issues, not as a preview of his movie.

    Thats the other thing to remember here, this footage is a part of academic research. The original Phd thesis title was Laughing AT the disabled and it includes exploring all sorts of attitudes including negative attitudes to disability.

    His finished film “Unlikely Travellers” which includes some of the contraversial footage was put together very sensitively.

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