In Spain, Putting Little People Out Of Work In Order To Save Them

The cognitive dissonance created by the use of little people, aka. dwarfs and midgets, to make normal size people laugh has bothered me for a very long time. I remember attending the final game of Baltimore Orioles great Brooks Robinson in 1977 (he retired when he decided he could no longer play up to his standards, rather than hanging on and collecting his contract salary to the bitter end. Those were the days…). As a part of the ceremony, the crowd was treated to the spectacle of a 3’8″ man wearing Robinson’s number re-enacting some of his most famous fielding plays at third base.

The audience roared; my family and I were appalled, but then, that was Baltimore. I decided, after pondering the matter, that eventually the bad taste of such performances would make them obsolete, which would be a boon to civilization, but if height-challenged individuals consented to participating in the acts and were paid, the “entertainment” was at least arguably ethical. It wasn’t unethical. And sure enough, when the Orioles franchise was sold a few years later, the use of Little People as gags and mascots ended.

Now comes the news that Spain’s parliament last week banned bullfighting featuring dwarfs in costumes, including routines where the the Little People pretended to be bull-fighters. In those instances, they “fought” small bulls and calves but didn’t hurt them, unlike the full-size matadors who stab and kill the full-size bulls. Little People also have entertained bull-fight crowds in Spain for decades by performing like American rodeo clowns, chasing and being chased by the bulls. As with the Baltimore Orioles’ small performers, the practice is slowly losing support and popularity.

The law approved last week was in response to the complaints of disability rights activist. “We have overcome the Spain of the past,” said Jesús Martín, the Director General of Spain’s Royal Board on Disabilities, which advises the Social Rights Ministry responsible for promoting the new law. “People with dwarfism were subjected to mockery in public squares in our country, passing down the idea that it is okay to laugh at difference to so many girls and boys who go with adults to see these shameful performances.”

Not surprisingly, the few remaining little bullfight performers did not appreciate being put out of work. And, of course, nobody in Spain apparently perceives the absurdity of banning the little entertainers who are attempting to make the spectators laugh, while allowing the bullfights themselves to continue, an example of cruelty to animals that is perhaps grander, but no less disgusting and wrongful, than dog fighting and cock fighting.

I also believe, though we can’t know for sure, that bulls would be far more positive about the banning of their roles in the events than the small beneficiaries of last week’s edict.

6 thoughts on “In Spain, Putting Little People Out Of Work In Order To Save Them

  1. I’ve read biographies from the days of the Sideshows and freak shows, and the amount of vitriol from the performers at the “do-gooders” (as they often referred to them) was astounding. One dwarf performer lamented that they would as often get run out of town from do-gooders trying to protect them as they would from the police, stamping out the crime which invariably followed the carnivals. Small wonder that a band of folks with limited capacity for cooperating with society at large resented having a solid career path stripped from them, just because folks were certain that they must be being victimized, and needed to be saved from themselves.

  2. Another odd, coincidental Baltimore connection. Poe wrote a not-so-well-known short story, “Hop-Frog”, about an abused dwarf court jester who got his revenge on the King and his cronies by setting them on fire after convincing them to wear flammable “ourang-outang” outfits to a masquerade. A more severe resolution than these recent events entailed, I suppose.

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