Guest Post: Cerebral Palsy Humor? Not so Much.

Esté Yarmosh has Cerebral Palsy. She holds a B.A. in English from Eastern Connecticut State University and is currently studying for her Master of Arts degree in English at Simmons College. Her previous guest post, Disability Dismissed, was published in October.

I was surfing the Internet recently for (good-natured of course, not mean-spirited) humor about disabilities, particularly in the form of graphics and slogans. I found the website Café, which sells t-shirts, hats, and other items with funny and clever (I suppose) sayings and images on them. I was curious to see what would appear when I searched for “disabled” on the website. I found a lot of what I thought were amusing items, some with very suggestive slogans and pictures, but I laughed at them anyway. We’re aware that disability is a serious issue in our lives, but it can’t be too bad to sometimes laugh at certain things related to disability.

I wanted to get more specific in my website search, so I typed in “Cerebral Palsy,” which is the condition I have. When the results came up, I started reading through them and I was deeply offended. The graphics were very depressing in the way they perpetrated stereotypes about disability: the charity case; attempting to find a cure; let’s make friends with the different kid, etc. The funny thing is whoever designed these images and phrases (they were clearly able-bodied) got the facts about CP completely screwed up.

Cerebral Palsy is life-long, yes, but it’s a non-progressive condition, so a cure can’t be found for it – claiming you’re trying to do that is simply absurd. Also, I found a graphic which stated, “Cerebral Palsy Survivor,” which angered me because CP is not a chronic illness; and besides, people with disabilities are trying very hard (and have been for a long time) to reduce the importance and influence of the so-called medical model on able-bodied thinking and even more importantly, in our own lives. We are also trying to rid ourselves of the long-held stereotype of the charity/pity case, one of the most damaging stereotypes about us that has existed. It is all too obvious that it still exists about Cerebral Palsy through images such as those on Café a teddy bear in a stocking, with words next to it which read, “all I want for Christmas is a cure.” The sentimentality and maudlin nature (which is such a component of the charity case stereotype) of the graphic made me cringe. It sets us back at least one-hundred years in terms of progress; and moreover, the slogan is completely wrong about CP, because as I said it is not an illness or a disease, so a cure will never be produced – knowledge of that is not supposed to leave somebody in despair; it is just the way it is. In other words, talk of cures for CP is irrelevant and ridiculous. I should know about Cerebral Palsy, because it is part of me.

It is very unsettling to me to think that items like this teddy bear shirt are continually created and then bought and worn by an ill-informed, naive and/or idealistic (most likely able-bodied) public who are wooed by a sentimental, repressive message which is totally fabricated and is based on thousands of years of disability stereotypes. I still want my Cerebral Palsy humor!

23 thoughts on “Guest Post: Cerebral Palsy Humor? Not so Much.

  1. A while back I searched for ‘autism’ on Zazzle, and it’s really a mixed bag.

    There are some brilliant humorous shirts by autistics, and even some wonderful shirts made by pro-neurodiversity NTs.

    And then there are Animals 4 A Cause.

  2. And no, those aren’t the only pro-cure shirts regarding autism. But those were the ones that had me particularly headdesking.

    Though this one, which I saw more recently, is just as bad: Beat Autism

    Interestingly, the thing that stands out at me for both of these is that these users have created variants on these shirts for various disorders. In the case of the latter one, autism and Alzheimer’s are the only neurological conditions (and the latter, at least, I can understand wanting a cure for). But in the case of Animals 4 A Cause, even ADHD isn’t beyond the pale.

    (And this is what counts as ‘awareness’, according to the users’ own store pages? Really?)

  3. Hell, I’m not even sure I’d want my chronic pain condition cured, it being something of a central aspect of my identity and all. It’s complicated. I wouldn’t find research for a cure for that offensive the way I do the focus of (pause) certain individuals and organizations (pause) on finding cures and preventions for autism spectrum disorders.

    codeman38, the Animals 4 A Cause t-shirts are fucking appalling. Also not funny. ‘course I’m humor-impaired but shit. It can’t be just me.

  4. I forgot to mention this in my article — that CP is also a neurological condition. Hope I wasn’t too didactic in the article.

  5. @Este: I totally understand; the store I was referring to, where autism was only one of two neurological conditions covered, didn’t have any CP-related stuff.

  6. @ Anji: After I saw your comment, I went over to Youtube and watched a few videos of Blue’s stand-up routine. I think he’s great! He’s really funny, and I could actually relate to many of the disability scenarios he brought up.

    So I know now that we do have somebody (who’s very talented) out there representing us in the humor department, and who is, most importantly, visible.

  7. This is really interesting to me, as my dad has CP. It’s always just been a part of him, and yeah, it’s had its complications, but the idea of being a CP “survivor” just made me do a big “BUUUUWHAT?” It simply doesn’t make any sense to me, at all.

    The interesting thing to me, considering how I feel about physical diversity (whether it’s in regard to skin colour or body size or ability or neurology or whathaveyou) is how pervasive this idea is that we must *eradicate* things. There is this pressure to *cure* stuff or *end* stuff. Which may be appropriate when you’re discussing something like, say, cancer, but which spills over problematically when it comes to ways of being that are simply variations on…being human?

    I dunno. I’m still working my way through this whole thing, very confusedly.

  8. I searched “polio” and found two cute things. The first is a t-shirt with the orange triangle that says, “Caution: Slow Moving Person.” The only reason didn’t already buy it is that (a) it’s $33, a ridiculous price to pay for a t-shirt, and (b) the logo really needs to go on the back–where the orange sticker would be if I were a tractor. People are so often stuck behind me in hallways, on stairs, etc. waiting for a passing zone. . .

    But the other is the one that (almost) cracked me up. It’s a mug with two polio viruses (virii?) on it. One has a polo mallet and ball, and the other one is saying, “You’re a polio virus!” Unfortunately, they ruin it by using an ableist word.

  9. so a cure can’t be found for it – claiming you’re trying to do that is simply absurd.

    I confess to being completely ignorant about CP (other than having heard the term before, and knowing at least one person with rather mild symptoms). It didn’t take much of a skim of a Wikipedia article to understand why talking about “curing” and “surviving” CP makes no sense — and yet, the Wikipedia article does state more than once that there isn’t currently a cure, as if it’s something that somehow could be “cured,” like the common cold.

    Wag of the finger to the editors of that article.

    As far as humor: I have a(n eventually) terminal brain tumor. People are absolutely APPALLED that this is the subject of many jokes in my household (as are the silly things it/meds occasionally make me do). Then again, these tend to be the same people who are always telling me to “stay positive” and that a “positive outlook helps.” Well, wtf is more positive than laughter?

  10. Le sigh, no particularly funny stuttering ones and a bunch of offensive. And although there are a bunch of offensive autism ones… there are a bunch of brilliant hilarious ones as well, and I might have to buy this one: You call it stimmin’, we call it GROOVIN’! I just keep staring at it and laughing. Although I don’t usually stim very noticeably, but still!

  11. Oh yeah, and can I join the “wtf do you mean, cure?” queue. Even if I wanted one, how exactly do you plan on rewiring my brain?

    …wait, don’t answer that.

  12. Julian – be positive, but in a tragic way. You should smile and not complain, but taking control in such a way as to *laugh* at your problems?

    People really don’t understand “we laugh so as to not cry”.

    One of the things I remember most about my grandfather’s death is the hysterics we were in after leaving the hospital. (He died after we left, we were just giddy and silly.)

    People think that making fun of your “problems” means you don’t take it seriously.

  13. @ Codeman, ewwwww! Those Zazzle shirts are so beyond horrible!
    If I actually saw someone wearing a “Piss on Autism” or “Bully Autism” shirt, I’d probably throw a screaming fit. Does he not realize that wearing such a shirt is kind of an invitation to bully autistics and generally just so… wrong?

    @ Esté, thanks, I didn’t know much about CP, that it is a neurological condition for example and how similar the cure issues are to autism. Uncanny.
    .-= Kowalski´s last blog ..WTF? Kowalski went AWOL =-.

  14. My dear, dear nephew has cerebral palsy. He can’t walk, can’t talk, and has difficulty breathing sometimes due to not being able to swallow his own saliva. He is a treasured member of the family, and I doubt we’d get by without a good sense of humour. I know I have to laugh at my own (chronic) condition or I go mad.

    One day, I was playing with Johnny (my nephew with CP). We had a Stephanie doll (from Lazy Town, the TV show). It’s a show all about being active and getting exercise and eating right. You press buttons on the doll’s back and she plays phrases. “Bing bing bang, and I’m ready to go!” You know, bouncy stuff like that. We helped Johnny press the button.

    Then she says, “Get up and GO!”

    I gasp and say, “He can’t, you heartless twit!”

    Which Johnny found quite amusing. I thought I’d share the last bit of disability humour I enjoyed. Good luck in any future searches.

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