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.
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!