New DH contributor Debbie Caulfield reviews and provides her personal thoughts on a controversial new reality show called Seven Dwarves broadcasted on the UK’s Channel 4.
This seven-part documentary, screened recently to UK viewers on Channel4, was about “seven little people with big personalities”. Billed as “The real tales of the seven dwarves”, think Big Brother meets Disney or The Truman Show meets Teletubbies.
The seven actors, all serious performers, or professional show-offs if you prefer, knew each other from previous gigs. They were appearing in the ever-popular pantomime, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, in Surrey, England. For the purpose of filming their ‘everyday’ lives, they were billeted in a house nearby for the duration. The aim was to “break through panto stereotypes” to watch the actors “face the challenges of ordinary life head-on.”
I hate pantomime. They’re total stereotype, sugar coated with cheesy songs and corny slapstick. I never understood the point of the seven dwarves and if I did, I’m sure I wouldn’t approve. The dwarf characters are defined in terms of their names, e.g. Sleepy, Dozy etc. They’re creatures, not really human, whereas, the lovely ebony eyed Snow White is perfection personified. The dwarf’s role is to work a shift down the mine then go home and look after Snow White until a handsome prince whisks her away.
The trouble with stereotypes is that there is sometimes a strong basis in reality. Not the reality of the person being stereotyped but the reality of other people’s perceptions. Stereotyping is a projection of the images and stories inside other people’s heads.
In the documentary, the panto shots were few and brief, so we saw little of the old Dopey/Sleepy Disney stereotyped dwarves. However, we saw plenty new ones such as Blowsy, Bawdy and Boozy.
Ordinary or not, their lives were certainly full-on, and there were moments of head-on challenge that many would recognise as part and parcel of living with disability. But these occasions of name-calling and intrusive curiosity were dealt with chiefly by showing the post-incident discussions between the actors, which I found very interesting – and real.
Larking about featured heavily on Planet Small. Likewise, getting drunk, swearing, smoking and silliness on the sofa. However, we were also shown their achievements, location shots with the actors doing their day jobs, being themselves in the real world: Max talking to customers on the phone; Laura swimming; Josh being the only dwarf drag queen; Ryan, drumming in a rock band. And so on. Already successful, all seven have aspirations, big ones. Playing Peter Pan would be Craig’s dream job while Max dreams of quitting tele-sales to be a full time actor. After 12 years in panto, I reckon he deserves a break, a medal even.
In the parents’ slot there was thankfully no violins, just fact-filled reminiscing about their baby, complete with medical diagnosis (Achondroplasia). It was reassuring to know they weren’t pretending.
Karen’s friends call her the fake dwarf. She doesn’t have Achondroplasia. She’s “just little” on account of having stopped growing very early. Incidentally, dwarfs (inter-changeable with dwarves) come in a variety of sizes, ranging here from a 4′ 1” to 4′ 8″. Another fact I learned is that most ‘little people’ are born to average height parents. Is it helpful to know these things?
For the pathologically and insatiably fascinated members of the audience (99%?) every episode featured a love/sex interest. After all, pulling a girl/boy has got to be the acid test of normal/ordinary, hasn’t it?
Throughout the series, the spotlight was on Max and Karen’s relationship. Started long before the programme, it blossomed under the lights and cameras. Ryan’s girlfriend was bussed in specially and it was jolly nice to see the two love-birds cuddling on the sofa under a blanket. With Josh. (Honest!)
Josh had no girlfriend, see. Then (surprise!) the nice Channel4 people found him one of normal size (Josh didn’t mind, he said) and sent them out for a meal together (not a date, said Josh) and brought them back to the house afterwards for a de-brief. But the poor lass overheard Karen and Josh talking about her in the kitchen. She didn’t like it, called a cab and left.
In the final episode, all agreed their six weeks together had been a positive, life affirming experience. I’m not sure the same can be said for the viewers.
By Debbie Caulfield