Where have all the spastics gone?
4 November 2002
The question occurred to me Friday morning on the train. On the local news not a day goes by without a suitably concerned human interest report on an unfortunate little girl with a hole in the heart, a teenager in desperate need of a bone marrow transplant, a jaundiced dialysis enthusiast. But what about all the mencs and vegetables? Where are the spaccers?
Inflammatory and politically incorrect, I know. You'll take me to one side and advise me that we're not allowed to use those terms anymore, just as I am forced to call Big Issue vendor scum "accomodationally challenged". The most effective playground insult is "Refugee". No-one is disabled; the formerly disabled now either have learning difficulties or are "differently able"; most of them work in Starbucks or the British Library.
How powerful is the terminology? If you call someone one thing, and then call them something else, are they transformed? Does a menc find things easier now that he has only learning difficulties? Can words alone turn a dribbling sack into someone who has trouble adding up? It's an attractive concept.
Let's revolutionise the healthcare system, then. Rather than wasting money training doctors, researching cures for cancer and HIV, purchasing expensive respiratory equipment, pay hundreds of thousands of people like me to grab hold of both whimpering hypochondriacs and the genuinely afflicted, tell them that they're already better, and frog-march them out of the hospital.
The alternative is that they haven't got better at all, and that thought is far too unsavoury even for someone with my imagination. It begs the question, "If all the spastics haven't got better, what's happened to them all?". The word doesn't exist anymore, so neither can they - right? So the next question is, if the signifier isn't powerful enough to transform the signified, where does the signified go?
Probably down a laundry chute on the Uttoxeter ring-road. Certainly I haven't seen so many of them on telly.
In the Eighties channels battled for ratings with stories of triumph over mutilation. Simon Weston's burns fascinated, the Boy David's face and PC Philip Olds' attempts to walk again titillated. We no longer see that much even of Stephen Hawking. On Jim'll Fix it there was always some kid with cerebral palsy who wanted to meet Shakin' Stevens. The most up-to-date technology allowed them to bang a computer keyboard with a metal rod clamped to their head. Where have all that lot gone? Have they all got Hawking's software now? Not bloody likely.
Come to think of it, all the kids who wanted to meet Shakin' Stevens had cerebral palsy.
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