Dwarf Tossing Is Back. So What?

The traditional "throwing out the first dwarf" ceremony....

Dwarf tossing, a bar sport or spectacle or satire or something, was briefly in the news early last decade. Helmeted and padded little people were used as discuses or bowling balls by large, burly, often intoxicated men. It was weird; it could arguably be funny. Advocates for the unusually small got the activity banned in Florida and New York, and in Canada, while bills to ban it failed, public opinion opposing the games pretty much made dwarf tossing obsolete, like making fun of Paris Hilton.

Now comes the news that a strip joint in Ontario is reviving the sport, and  has scheduled a competition. Critics are horrified and outraged, because, well, they are horrified and outraged. Dwarf tossing, they say, is unethical.

Why?

Here is Jamie Danforth, the father of four little people, explaining:

“It is insane that in today’s society we still have this going on. I don’t need my daughters thinking this is the type of thing they have to be subjected to. We wouldn’t consider throwing the elderly or people in wheelchairs.”

Let’s examine that statement. “It’s insane.” Well, I think skydiving, body-piercing and voting for Nancy Pelosi is insane. So what? Being irrational isn’t unethical, and the dwarves get paid to be tossed. I’d say anyone who pays to see a dwarf get tossed is insane, but hey, it’s a mad, mad, mad, mad world. “I don’t need my daughters thinking this is the type of thing they have to be subjected to.” Now why would Jamie’s daughters ever think that? When they watch people run idiotic obstacle courses that have things rigged up to hit them in the face and knock them into pools, do Jamie’s daughters think men with guns will come to their home and force them to be on “Wipeout”? Or  by “be subjected to,” does Jamie just mean being forced to watch dwarf tossing? Who forces anyone to watch dwarf-tossing? If someone wants to pass a law forbidding people from compelling unwilling spectators to watch dwarf tossing, I have no objections; maybe Ralph Shortey will draft one.   So finally we come to, “We wouldn’t consider throwing the elderly or people in wheelchairs.”  This debate technique is called “changing the subject” or “confusing the issue.”  As far as I know, there is neither an audience for geezer-tossing or a group of willing projectiles in wheelchairs, but if there were, and if it could be made safe, and if it was voluntary on the part of the thrown, what’s the problem?

Other than being mind-numbingly stupid, of course.

Another  outraged critic described the event as an “offence against human dignity and decency.”  You know, as outrages against human dignity and decency go, dwarf tossing is far down the list, below almost all of reality TV, for example. I have a hard time sympathizing with those who are offended by presumed offenses against parties who not only aren’t offended themselves, but who actually encourage and consent to the theoretically offensive conduct.  The same critic argued that dwarf tossing “degrades an entire class as lesser people.” I’d say it distinguishes an entire class of people as smaller people, and that’s their unique advantage. If a dwarf or midget chooses to make his or her living as a sports mascot, or a little clown, or as R2D2, or as a projectile, that choice is only making use of a unique feature that other, larger people don’t have. That’s only “degrading” if one wants to regard it that way, and if a dwarf thinks so, fine: don’t be a projectile.

The objection to dwarf tossing is another example of the Ick Factor, the impulse to call conduct unethical when it is merely strange or distasteful. Dwarf tossing harms no one, entertains some, and can profit the tossed dwarf. What truly degrades little people as individuals is the idea that they need to protected from the consequences of their own autonomy, like children.

They aren’t children. They are adults, and some of them are willing to be thrown through the air by big drunks.

It takes all kinds.

_________________________

Note: Periodically I realize that I have written on a topic before, and usually I am cheered to discover that my views have not changed. I’m not sure they have really changed in this case, but an Ethics Scoreboard post from 2004 on “William Hung and the Ethics of Ridicule” might provide some ammunition for the anti-dwarf tossing coalition. I still agree with it most of it, as I read it again. As the quote goes, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” See which me you agree with more, the 2004 version, of 2012. I can’t lose!

29 Comments

Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Business & Commercial, Ethics Scoreboard classics, Law & Law Enforcement, Professions

29 responses to “Dwarf Tossing Is Back. So What?

  1. Do little people object in droves? Their opinions are the only ones that matter.

    • tgt

      Why do their opinions matter more than other opinions? Do only jews get to decide what when the term holocaust can be used?

      • What? Tgt,in the immortal words of Jesus Christ you strain out a gnat and swallow a camel.

        • tgt

          I’m not familiar with that analogy and I don’t understand it.

          • If you have a gnat in your cup,you’ll strain it out but you’ll swallow a camel. In other words you criticize inconsequential matters and accept what to many of us should be unacceptable.

            • For instance,dwarf tossing is wrong but partial birth abortion is okay.

              • tgt

                The abortion discussion doesn’t relate to the topic at hand, and your comment, as I now understand it, doesn’t actually respond to my attack on your comment at all. It was a non sequitor personal attack.

                I also haven’t given my opinion on dwarf tossing. I’ve paralleled it to prostitution (as Jack’s reasoning against prostitution is almost exactly the opposite of his reasoning here) and I’ve attacked your dismissal of every non-dwarf opinion, but I haven’t said whether I’m for or against the tossing of dwarves.

                I’m not even sure why you thought to post that attack on me.

                • Abortion is off topic but I was just using it as an example in my illustration. In fact,my comment about you was in relation to all the comments I’ve seen you make that applied. I assumed you were comparing the ethics of dwarf tossing with prostitution(or abortion,etc.) and holding them as equal. If you didn’t intend that,then I apologize. I don’t see my gnat/camel illustration as an attack,merely an observation but if I gave offense then I apologize for that to.

                  • tgt

                    I was trying to compare the reasoning used to back dwarf tossing to the reasoning used to reject prostitution. No, they’re not the same thing, but you can’t use “X is bad so Y is bad” and “X is good so Z is good” without my head exploding. You can say “X is bad, which contributes to why Y is bad” and “X is bad, but is mitigated by V, so Z is still good”.

                    If you didn’t intend that,then I apologize.

                    Excellent apology. If your interpretation of my posts was accurate, you weren’t going to take it back. If your interpretation was inaccurate, then you convey that what you said wouldn’t apply. I like it. Apologizing when appropriate and sticking to your guns when not.

                    I don’t see my gnat/camel illustration as an attack,merely an observation but if I gave offense then I apologize for that to.

                    Less good apology. You apologized for an action because I was offended? Honestly, that offends me.

                    How about “I didn’t mean it in reply or as an attack. It was supposed to be a general observation. Why do you think it’s an attack?”

                    From that, I could have politely responded “That observation wasn’t an observation, it was a judgment that I am on the right side of trivial issues, but don’t see the obvious large issues. Basically, calling me an ethical idiot.

                    As that comment was direct reply to my attack on your supposition, it looked like your response in attempt to defend your position. Now that I know it was a general comment, I disagree (I tackle the large issues like abortion head on). Also, I still want to know what’s so special about the little people’s opinions.”

                    • Tgt,since when have you become thin skinned? Can I not say,in my humble opinion,that you at times make a mountain out of a molehill or that you construe and twist what others have said so it bears no resemblance to what they’ve actually said?
                      If a little person has no problem with being tossed then it’s nobody else’s business to start some campaign to end dwarf tossing. Yes,one may have an opinion that it is unethical and make an issue out of it but if little people enjoy being tossed who are we to prevent them?
                      Anyway,as I’ve said before,I like you. I apologize for my misconception of and comments about you.

                    • tgt

                      If a little person has no problem with being tossed then it’s nobody else’s business to start some campaign to end dwarf tossing. Yes,one may have an opinion that it is unethical and make an issue out of it but if little people enjoy being tossed who are we to prevent them?

                      What if the majority of little people were against it? Would their opinion override the minority that were for it?

                    • “What if the majority of little people were against it? Would their opinion override the minority that were for it?”
                      Not unless there were a no dwarf tossing law passed. If it were then I suppose dwarfs and their tossers would have to do a speakeasy kind of thing.

  2. “We wouldn’t consider throwing…people in wheelchairs.”

    Well, no, we wouldn’t throw them, because they have disabilities and could be hurt, but we sure as hell can race them.

    Dockworkers are big and heavy, spokesmodels are attractive, and people who get thrown for a living are small and lightweight. People don’t throw dwarves to degrade or humiliate them, they throw dwarves because they’ll go farther.

    • You win the “cutting room floor” award. I had a paragraph about wheelchair racing, AND the “they go farther” line…and I cut them. Now I’m second guessing myself, because you made them look good.

  3. If we banned all things that were demonstrably stupid, then the popular culture would cease to exist, the entertainment industry would collapse, people would be forced to sit around the table with friends and family to provide their own amusement… and Jack would be totally out of a job.

    Hey… write your congresscitter!!

    “NOBODY tosses a dwarf!”- John Rhys-Davies

  4. Nell

    Participation by dwarfs in this activity is voluntary. It would be unethical if a dwarf were forcibly tossed into the air against his will. Personally, I think most activities at bars are pretty ridiculous, so I choose not to go to bars. However if an individual dwarf chooses to earn a living this way, that is his own business. Live and let live.

  5. Dwayne N. Zechman

    Best non-dwarf analogy that I can think up: A dunk tank.

    –Dwayne

  6. I’m quite small and I love being tossed.

  7. tgt

    So, prostitution should be legal, right? I think I could rewrite your post with stragetic replacement of women for dwarves, prostitution for dwarf tossing, and prostituted for tossed.

    • Saw that one coming a mile off…and no,

      You know that scope and scale matter. Dwarf-tossing at worst will only involve the tiniest proportion of the population and can have no net effect on the culture or society whatsoever. The minimal degree to which allowing the activity will cause public degradation and disrespect of little people generally fails any utilitarian test.Nobody is likely to slur Robert Reich by calling him a “bowling ball.”

      But “whore” is a condemnation as it denotes alack or character and decency. Marriages and relationships are destroyed by prostitution, and its availability entraps women who without that as a legal option will seek a more promising path. The profession is dangerous, as prostitutes are historically targets of misogynists, and it requires women to be by definition in a role subordinate to men.

      It’s a utilitarian balancing act, in in such calculations, details matter. Yes—the autonomy arguments are similar, but the rest of the equation is very different, dictating a different result.

      A necessary question, though.

      • tgt

        Dwarf-tossing at worst will only involve the tiniest proportion of the population and can have no net effect on the culture or society whatsoever.

        It’s negative, but it’s okay because it’s rarer? I have a strong feeling that a larger percentage of dwarves get tossed than women will become whores.

        The minimal degree to which allowing the activity will cause public degradation and disrespect of little people generally fails any utilitarian test.Nobody is likely to slur Robert Reich by calling him a “bowling ball.”

        But “whore” is a condemnation as it denotes alack or character and decency.

        I don’t think you need a term for someone to be degraded. If people think of him as a bowling bowl without human worth, that’s enough, right? If we agree that prostitution is ethical, won’t whore lose it’s insinuations?

        Marriages and relationships are destroyed by prostitution, and its availability entraps women who without that as a legal option will seek a more promising path.

        First, marriages and relationships are destroyed by cheaters. Whether it’s a paid transaction or not isn’t really the issue, but, if anything, paying a third party seems alot less important that forming an emotional bond with said third party or attempting to woo them.

        Second, are you saing that prositution is more seductive than being thrown around a bar? You don’t even have to be attractive or risk diseases to be a projectile.

        The profession is dangerous, as prostitutes are historically targets of misogynists,

        That’s an argument for a safe environment, not the shutting down of an industry making it less safe.

        and it requires women to be by definition in a role subordinate to men.

        That would be female prostitution to males. Like all other service industry jobs, all combinations do exist. Being a waitress requires women to be by definition in a role subordinate to men.

        It’s a utilitarian balancing act, in in such calculations, details matter. Yes—the autonomy arguments are similar, but the rest of the equation is very different, dictating a different result.

        The details? Gender subordination vs. genetic disorder subordination. It will still occur even if banned, and be more dangerous if banned vs. it likely won’t occur if banned. You find it icky vs. you find it less icky.

        Detail 3 appears to be dominating your reason.

      • A Critic

        “It’s a utilitarian balancing act, in in such calculations, details matter.”

        Utiliarianism is merely an excuse for tyrants to destroy other people’s lives.

        • Well, both democracy and capitalism are utilitarian systems, and they’ve managed to keep tyrants at bay fairly effectively. True and fair utilitarianism tempered with common sense isn’t perfect , but it’s the best system there is.

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