so, i just watched David Lynch’s The Elephant Man…
and i am not ashamed to say that it was absolutely touching, i definitely teared up a little bit…but then again, given the right week (ladeez know what im talkin about) ive been known to cry at that scene in Poltergeist, where the mom gets the chance to talk to her daughter, and has to tell her to go towards the light. UGH, makin me weep.
so the story is, Joseph Merrick, the elephant man, is in a Pinocchio type side show situation where hes being abused and mistreated by his Stromboli-esque manager. so a doctor of anatomy, Anthony Hopkins, sees Merrick and wishes to study him since he has never met with “such a perverted and degraded version of a human being such as” Merrick.
so Dr. Hopkins takes Merrick to the hospital and turns out hes a well-versed gentleman, polite and sensitive and all around lovely. he ends up meeting all kinds of socialites and even Queen Victoria but the Dr. starts wondering if he hasn’t inadvertently created another exploitative environment for Merrick. hes well taken care of at the hospital and has a much better quality of life, but Merrick is still an amusing novelty of the upperclass, he’s still being “looked at”.
this debate reminds me of the ethical questions surrounding “Hows Your News?“, a news program starring people with mental and physical disabilities. it has been picked up by Mtv and is being produced by South Park creators, Matt Stone and Trey Parker.
…………ominous silence as one thinks about what this could entail…………..
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the creator and director Arthur Bradford gives his 2 cents in an interview for Boing Boing
“Does this show really belong on MTV? Aren’t all those kids going to laugh for all the wrong reasons?“…let me just say that I think this line of questioning does a sort of disservice to both people with disabilities and the kids who watch MTV. People with disabilities don’t really need a bunch of watchdogs looking out for their “best interests”. They are most often able to do this themselves and I can assure you our cast is extremely proud of the work they did on this show, as are their families. And the kids who watch MTV are much smarter than we are giving them credit for. They deserve something like this, a show that doesn’t assume they can’t decide things for themselves.
i agree with Bradford. i think that once a viewer gets over the fact that, “my goodness, im staring at people with disabilities”, you realize that they’re just people. they’re exciting, vibrant and sincere; they’re funny and interesting and you can tell they all enjoy being part of the show. my mom does not agree with me however. shes still hung up on how the audience could perceive the program as a joke or as a freak show; shes concerned about protecting the stars from the assholes who will be laughing AT them rather than with them. i understand that fear, but i hope that the show succeeds in humanizing and demystifying people with disabilities rather than highlighting and warping their differences.
so back to the Elephant Man…
the film!: it was touching but not too cloyingly sentimental. and you can tell David Lynch directed it, via: lots of trippy dream sequences and a piano-hammering soundtrack. A+, gold stars all around.
the man!: in 2003 scientists conducted DNA tests on Merrick and were unable to determine exactly what he was suffering from. it might be a combination of Proteus syndrome (a congenital disorder that causes skin overgrowth and atypical bone development) and Neurofibromatosis type I (a tumor disorder that is caused by a gene malfunction which is responsible for the control of cell division in bones and eyes)…it makes you look like this
there is also an Elephant Man play written in 1979 by Bernard Pomerance. the lead was played by many actors including David Bowie and Mark Hamill. Pomerance’s play was notable because the actor portraying Joseph Merrick didn’t wear any make up. i suppose this was to create an effect of true empathy for the character. with no make up, Merrick was just a normal looking person being ostracized and abused for no immediate reason. however, in this clip of Bowie playing Merrick, he does limp around and slur a bit…
at least its not a musical like the revisioning of Gray Gardens. awful awful awful. i have no respect for it.
i still havent seen the HBO version though…