The news pierced the silence like the frantic, desperate wail of a homicidal Persian having served her last plate of onion rings at Dave & Buster’s: if the Little People of America — a group so named as to prove that history long ago entered the bloodstream of farce — have their way, the FCC will have the power to prohibit the use of the term “midget” on network television. Presumably, the organization’s reach — painfully limited and resembling the blunted stump of a deformed raptor though it may be — will not end at the big four, and eventually, it will extend its un-Constitutional shroud to the whole of the media. From HBO to the New York Times, authors, anchors, and artists alike will be prevented, with legal sanctions waiting in the wings, from uttering what is now labeled the last acceptable epithet. In order for this to hold water in an increasingly hyper-sensitive culture, it must be argued that “midgets” is as offensive, humiliating, and ultimately, as powerful, as any of the numerous racially obnoxious turns of phrase that all too easily leap to mind. Taking this outrageous point further, it must also be believed that the very word that normalized lynchings, segregation, and unfair stereotype for decades on end is comparable to the harmless terminology of a circus or freak show. Does it dehumanize? Perhaps it does help to marginalize the wee ones, but if this wish is granted, if this line is crossed, then we will at last have removed the only real (and necessary) barrier that separates civilization from savagery.
In essence, ‘midget’ is as vital to our national dialogue as ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ and arguably the one word remaining to us that so encapsulates its definition that no further discussion is warranted. To utter “midget” during a lonely evening of coffee, or at the height of a teeming cocktail party among mixed company, is to break away every conceivable tension that exists between humans. Immediately, and without exception, those on the receiving end of this utterance will conjure some undoubtedly hilarious imagery, usually in conjunction with a catchy ditty of unknown origin, and chuckle accordingly. Frowns become smiles, sorrow turns to joy, and depression, as if coated by a magic elixir, will yield to brighter tomorrows with forecasts of sunshine. There isn’t a man or woman alive of normal intelligence or trunk/limb proportion that isn’t instantly transformed by the thought of a midget. What else have we that springs forth such instantaneous mirth? If ‘little person’ takes its place, not only have we perverted language beyond belief (what, then, shall we call children?), but we have denied the whole of us a source of distinction that deserves preservation. More so than ever, I believe, given the increasingly twisted desires to level each and every playing field before us.
Take Billy Barty, arguably the world’s most famous midget. He played Nazis, police sergeants, gangsters, and assorted toughs. He was brutal, cynical, and contemptuous of all virtue, but he never failed to entertain. He was a midget through and through. ‘Little person’ no more applied to this rough and tumble Weeble than ‘hunk’ or ‘romantic interest.’ Even if the famous name fails to register, once you say, “He was that midget actor who often wore an eye patch,” you’re bound to see that glow of recognition. And while you’re spending hours trying to find a polite way to describe him without offending the LPOA, your conversation will have long drifted away into the ether. Midget is the only word that could ever make sense, especially if we are to preserve our heritage and sanctity of the adjective. And who, by all that is holy, could ever be intrigued by “Little Person Porn”? It’s doubtful you’d even borrow the DVD out of curiosity. But Midget Porn? It all but begs to be viewed, and with as much alcohol and onlookers as possible. One is safe, goofy, and perhaps a bit edgy, while the other is sick, depraved, and strikingly indecent. One we might see on a whim, the other commands our attention like an interstate pile-up.
When the do-gooders came for the midget tossing competitions, I remained silent. I was not a midget tosser. Then they locked away the cannons that shot our midget brethren into the sky; I remained silent. I did not shoot midgets from cannons. Then they came for the wrestling matches and boxing bouts; I did not protest. I did not attend these events. Then they came for the scatological midget porn with busty bombshells and stepladders; I did not speak out. I was not fond of midgets having sex with willing females. When they came for midget itself, there was nothing left to defend. It’s the last hurrah, the final shot, the Alamo of our times. If history is to be our guide, midgets, while technically human, are a wildly woeful sub-strata of mankind. Few, if any, are successful outside of an entertainment context. Most die violently, predominantly by their own hand. Amidst the suicide, alcoholism, drug abuse, and depression, there are no real midgets worthy of admiration or hero-worship. And if a midget deigns to write, paint, or sculpt, it is only from a midget-centric perspective, rendering whatever amateur production the double whammy of irrelevance.
To bow to the forces of reaction and sanctimonious humorlessness is to grant agency, empowerment, and hope. Just this once, let our Mexican brothers to the South guide our thoughts and actions regarding the midgetry among us. Mexican television never met a midget it didn’t poke, prod, push, or set on fire, and few have any personality at all save the mustached little bugger who pinches unsuspecting women, steals everything not nailed down, or puffs out the already puffed-to-the-maximum chest before waddling away from responsibility. Strip away ‘midget,’ and we lose the last, best pin cushion for our national despair; as well as one of the best lines from the unambiguously midget-unfriendly Bad Santa. More than that, we lose what’s best about the American experiment, the very nation that gave us jazz, the National Parks, baseball, and the radical notion that if you paint a midget orange and have him sing, a cinematic classic can be born. Fight the power. Stay the course. And keep our midgets as midgets, forever and always.