I hate this topic with a passion. It has come up often: the exploitation of desperate attention-addicts in celebrity reality shows, dwarf-tossing, the ancient pastime of paying geeks and the deformed to present themselves for public ridicule and dehumanizing treatment, and more. The problem is that the phenomenon is indistinguishable from other, societally-approved examples of paying individuals to harm themselves or be humiliated for our entertainment. Pro football, of course, harms more human beings in one game than all the dwarf-tossing since the beginning of time. Child actors are harmed for money, and often they don’t even get the proceeds, or give meaningful consent.
Every example I can imagine feeds directly into the vile Rationalization #22. The Comparative Virtue Excuse: “There are worse things.” The problem is that all of those worse things are legal, and likely to remain so. Yes, there are worse things than paying a drunk to dance like fool in exchange for a few dollars to buy his next drink, like paying young men millions of dollars to pound their brains into jelly. That’s our national pastime!
And yet—how can a society tolerate this? From the AP...
LAKEWOOD, N.J. (AP) — Police in New Jersey say no charges will be filed after a stranger paid a homeless man $5 to pour coffee on himself twice. Police say that’s because Ronald Leggatt consented even though he was embarrassed. The 65-year-old tells the Asbury Park Press he let a stranger videotape him pouring coffee on his head on Monday in Lakewood because he needed the money….
I wish I had a solution. I’d like to know the name of the scum who did this, but then what? Post his name for vigilante justice? I would argue that there is no valid consent when an individual agrees under duress and desperation, but then what is society saying—that a man can’t exchange a humiliating act for money he desperately needs? Continue reading →
Abigail and Brittany Hensel: Who’s exploiting who?
Circus and carnival sideshows were banned by law and ordinance over half a century ago. Silly me: I remember hearing about that as a child and assuming that it represented human progress, that civilized Americans had decided that it was degrading to both the “human oddities” displaying themselves to gawking onlookers and the gawking onlookers themselves, and that we were better than that. The ethical attitude toward people with deformities, strange maladies and unusual physical characteristics was compassion, acceptance, kindness, and treatment as equals, not voyeuristic ogling. It made sense at the time.
Of course, as a child I had yet to experience the full oppression of political correctness. The sideshows were banned because the people who had no interest in them felt that they could dictate conduct to the people who did, and that it was also somehow virtuous to forbid the human exhibits from making a living—for their own good, of course. It is certainly time to repeal those bans, which were of dubious constitutionality anyway, since the freak shows that were deemed unhealthy and degrading on the carnival circuit are now openly thriving on television, making more money and being seen by more Americans than P.T. Barnum could have imagined in his wildest dreams. The original question remains, however: Are they ethical? Continue reading →
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.