Romina Puma enters the room using her wheelchair, stands up to get on stage and declares ‘a miracle’. Setting an extravagent tone for her latest show, Cook It How You Like, It’s Still a Potato. Puma quickly discloses as having muscular dystrophy - just in case we are under any illusion she's faking it. Self describing as a crip, walking like a horse doing dressage, Cook It How You Like, explores language and political correctness
Historically, language has been stolen and turned against those whose language it is to demean, insult and to disempower. One only needs to look at the language of the Black or LGBT communities to see this. This linguistic theft denies people their language, history, culture and ultimately identity. Reappropriating pejorative language, turning an insult into a positive term, resists a ‘community’ being defined by their persecutors. By exploring political correctness Puma attempts to reclaim the identity and language of an extremely marginalised section of a population, the disabled.
Thankfully in most situations it is no longer socially acceptable to be racist, sexist or homophobic. Unfortunately it is still open season for language around disability. Whilst socio-political movements positively changed the situation regarding race, religion and sex equality, now firmly embedded within the wider cultural framework; the same cannot be said for disability.
Disability Equality didn't just happen because someone thought it would be a really good idea. It was struggled for, demonstrated for, people risked their lives for it. Unfortunately the social climate has seen all this progress turn retrograde. The portrayal of disabled people as scroungers and cheats with extra bedrooms and too lazy to work has contributed to the massive rise in hate crime against those with disabilities. A freedom of information request by The Independent revealed a 41% jump in reported incidents to police in the year 2014-15. The true figure is acknowledged to much higher.
Are we as disabled people just making too much fuss and should just ‘get over ourselves’? Is the PC brigade making it more difficult for disabled people? Disabled, Non-Disabled, Disabled Bodied, Abled Bodied, Invalid, Handicapped, Cripple, Person with a Disability and the list goes on with varying and increasingly abstract or perjorative language.
The historical view that a disabled person is somehow an imperfect version of a perfect self or that they are being punished by God for sins, perpetuates negative constructs around disability. This often translates into disabled people being devalued or seen as unable to make a worthwhile contribution to society.
What Romina, and others like her such as Laurence Clark are doing is reclaiming the language. Equally importantly, however, is that they are challenging these outmoded views. Not only can disabled people contribute to society but hey, they can be funny too. (AM)
Cook It How You Like, It's Still A Potato is on at 12.00 at Laughing Horse @ Finnegan's Wake until August 27th (not 14th or 21st). Wheelchair Access, Level Access, Wheelchair Accessible Toilets - https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/cook-it-how-you-like-it-s-still-a-potato
On language as culture: http://www.disabilityartsonline.org.uk/why-we-are-disabled-people-not-people-with-disabilities