Before I make my point I’d like to straighten out a point that is hardly ever touched upon: People do not SUFFER from Down’s syndrome. It is not an illness. It is a condition people have. And they live long, happy lives on the whole – if they’re allowed to.
Sadly current media portrayal of the condition have on the whole been negatively angled as well as factually incorrect (despite writing into numerous publications to correct such facts I’ve yet to receive one response, let alone any form of action to address these discrepancies).
Recent examples include The Stylist‘s article about a woman who decided to abort her baby upon hearing there was a high chance the child may have Down’s Syndrome. I don’t want to dwell on this, as everyone is entitled to make that choice, it’s a personal choice that should always be accepted without judgement. However, no mention in the very same article about those who do decide to keep their child with Down’s Syndrome. I wrote to them and asked them why, also suggesting that as a counter-argument maybe to write a piece about my 25 year old sister who has Down’s Syndrome – who reads the fashion magazine herself, shops in Top Shop and loves going to the pub/movies like anyone else her age. The response was a “Thanks, we’ll keep this on file and be in touch.” – I’m still waiting. What a shame no one out there wants to push the boundaries and make people with learning disabilities feel more part of the world. Even in Eastenders a baby born with Down’s Syndrome was given away for a little while because the mother was unable to cope….
Another example is of course the case of Sharon Smith, who wrote a now infamous blog venting her frustration during a Frankie Boyle stand up gig where he dedicated part of his routine on people with Down’s Syndrome. Now I didn’t see the gig so can’t comment specifically, but am familiar with Mr Boyle’s somewhat controversial style from television shows such as “Mock the Week”. But I am here to stick up for Sharon Smith, who has been accused of being over politically-correct and not “getting” Boyle’s humour. Quite the contrary it seems, as clearly stated at the beginning of her blog she is very aware of his humour and is a fan.
It appears, sadly, people have gotten the wrong end of the stick regards Sharon Smith… she merely was saying it took her surprise that the jokes caused offence. Probably because the 5 minute onslaught in Boyle’s routine about Down’s syndrome was just so backward thinking and dated. I think she has a point.
“He made fun of their parents being old and out of touch, he made fun of the way people with Down’s syndrome speak.
“He made a number of references to people with Down’s syndrome dying early” Smith continued; “OK, he can be cutting, but he will often be using his humour to make a point, whereas the type of jokes he was making about people with Down’s syndrome I don’t see there was any point being made.”
Opinions displayed in his routine are cliché and naive comments that belong back in the 1970s – what’s new about what he said? My mother was in her mid-twenties when she had my sister and a very young and a hip, happening TV producer at the time. It can occur in mothers at any age, and affects 1 in every 1000 births each year. Also, the average life expectancy for someone with Down’s Syndrome is now well into the 60’s thanks to further research and understanding of the condition. Apparently he is a talented, quick witted performer and one of Britain’s best comics, I’m disappointed.
Just as with his “hilarious” spoon face joke, a jibe at Olympian gold medallist Rebecca Adlington who according to Boyle resembles ‘someone who’s looking at themselves in the back of a spoon’. I’m not sure where I see him displaying this apparent brilliant wit he has… have I missed something?
Frankie Boyle is just out there to cause controversy and offence. That isn’t clever or witty. It’s just obtuse humour. If he fancies challenging the stereotypes people associate with Down’s Syndrome or tackling the onslaught of ignorance that people like my older sister have to battle with then I’d applaud him for highlighting the issue and not only doing that, but rising the level of humour that sounds jokes about people with Down’s Syndrome.
I’m running the London Marathon on Sunday to raise money for the Down’s Syndrome Association – a charity that battles to combat stereotypes and welcomes the idea of people with Down’s Syndrome being integrated into society – not cast outside as something people don’t understand. I hope the money I’ve raised will help educate people like Mr Boyle (who is welcome to donate to their cause!!) in how to accept everyone and develop this into highbrow humour… not just fire cheap shots.
Susannah Seyman from the Down’s syndrome Association responded to the story saying: “Clever comedy should challenge the stereotypes and preconceptions that people hold of minority groups… Sadly Frankie Boyle’s recent routine about people with Down’s syndrome was neither clever nor intellectually challenging.”
My sister is just another member of society – I accept that and Sharon Smith accepts her daughter is too – but just like anyone else they deserve dignity. At the end of the day there’s ignorance and there’s humour. I know which side of the fence I think Frankie Boyle is quite happy to sit on. He’s welcome to stay there.