If you grew up in Ireland in the last thirty years or so, that epithet has undoubtedly been hurled at you, or else by you at some other spastic. But is it really an abusive, contemptuous word or phrase?
Well, yes actually, it is.
In his live shows, Ricky Gervais has pointed out that the Spastics Society in Britain changed its name to Scope in 1994 ostensibly because the word ‘spastic’ had by then become a well-established humorous/derogatory term.
But did you know how exactly?
Back in 1981, the International Year of the Disabled, a brave young writer called Joey Deacon was invited to appear on the children’s television programme Blue Peter. Joey had severe cerebral palsy and was introduced as an example of someone who was coping with the disease.
Unfortunately, it is in the nature of man to mock anyone who is different, and in that of children to be cruel. Joey’s unusual speech and movement were a cause for hilarity amongst the viewing audience, many of whom had never been exposed to a disabled person before.
Soon afterwards, along with spastic, the word ‘Joey’ came to be used as a generic insult towards people considered to be uncoordinated, awkward or unintelligent. It was the Summer hit of 1981. Sadly, Joey died later that same year.
Since that time disabled people have become somewhat more visible in society and (we hope) are less likely to be perceived as ‘freaks’ in the way that Joey was. But someone had to be first. Rather than inviting contempt, the only way to overcome prejudice is through familiarity.
And the struggle continues to this day, with even the charming Cerrie Burnell of CBeebies being accused of ‘scaring children‘ by virtue of her only having one arm since birth.
A lot of people only have one arm, folks, it’s just that we like to hide them away somewhere so that we won’t be disturbed by the realities of life.
Strangely, while Jesus found time to heal the cripples, he never healed an amputee. Why? Marshall Brain, founder of HowStuffWorks, runs a challenging website devoted entirely to this theological conundrum (it seems very unfair of God, doesn’t it?). Visit Why Won’t God Heal Amputees for a fascinating tour of modern logic versus old time religion.
Speaking of ‘cripples,’ which is also a very politically incorrect term, I find it very curious that the action of ‘healing cripples’ is also politically incorrect to some.
Around ten years ago, a visually-impaired woman who was a former campaigner for the disabled found herself fiercely criticised by fellow activists when she underwent an operation to restore her sight. Her actions were seen as an admission that there was something wrong with being blind. (Apologies for the anecdotal nature, I’m still searching for sources.)
Whaddya make of all that, then?
Also on Bock