Sunday, September 07, 2008

Almost Slipped By Without Notice

Almost by accident we came across the Paralympics opening cerimony in China. The fanfare surrounding the games certainly hasn't been deafening (pun intended). I admit to almost having forgotten that the games were even happening. Here in Toronto, with the film festival under way, we are getting coverage that amounts to 'It is rumoured that Brad Pitt farted today and although his publicist denys the rumour sources close to the actor confirm that Brad was fuming' kind of in depth reporting - there hasn't been time for mention of much of anything else. God forbid George Clooney burps, what a tsunami that will unleash.

So, flipping by, we found the coverage. A three hour spectacle editted down to less than an hour. The coverage focussed on Canada entering the stadium. The atheletes looked truely buzzed by the experience. It was cool to see people with a variety of disabilities making their way along. I loved seeing our flag bearer, a blind guy, carrying the flag with his father at his elbow - see that and not tear up. Nice.

The announcers just simply didn't seem to know what to say about individual atheletes or the show itself. I hauled ass up and off the couch, an olympic effort, to search on the web about the show, while we were watching it on television. There was a beautiful performance where a wack, or perhaps a double wack, of women in bizarre white dresses moved in unison making designs that were lovely. They were moving their hands almost like they were signing. There was no mention of what they were doing, in fact there was little in the way of commentary at all. A quick search told me that the women were all 'hearing impaired' and that they indeed were signing. Wow. It would have been nice for the announcers to have made even the slightest mention of that fact. It was like no one told the announcers ... 'um these are games for people with disabilities, it's ok to notice that fact.'

Then the torch came in and, if it was planned it was planned well, it moved through the stadium in all the various ways that disabled people move. It was carried along variously by wheelchair, by prosthetic limb, by guide dog ... there was a moment that I loved. A guy with an arm but no hand, carried the torch along with the hand that he did have. He used his other arm, minus hand, to wave to the cheering crowd. Disability on display without shame. I saw a guy, yesterday, coming out of the corner store trying to hide a hand that was formed oddly. This guy just waved what others scorned. Then. THEN. When he passed the torch to the next guy, who was in a wheelchair, they high fived, except there were wasn't a five. But they touched, hand to wrist, wrist to hand. Lovely.

Finally, the torch was lit after a guy in a wheelchair pulled himself up to the top of the stadium, via a rope, wheelchair and all. Then, swinging from a pulley, he reached over and lit the flame. Un-freaking-believable. The announcers were astounded.

And I suppose that's what the games are about. Disabled people reaffirm our 'truth' and in doing so astound others.

But truth has always done that.

I suppose.


John R. said...

great post....

Please watch the film Murderball! It is all about the USA vs Canada(essentially that rivalry) Wheelchair Rugby Teams in the Athens '05 ParaOlympics.

The film takes the slogan, "Piss on Pity" to completely new levels of understanding. It is all about what you describe; yes, we may have disabilities, but as athletes we are athletes first, then a person with a disability next! The way it should be in all areas of life.

Glee said...

g'day Dave,

Our Australian Broadcasting Commission ABC TV broadcast the whole thing with two crip commentators (one being Louise Savauge) and one abloid sports commentator. They explained everything well and it was a gorgeous spectacle! We will have 3 1/2 hours of coverage each day as well which is much more than past Paralympics and I am watching it now.

I noticed with irony the torch lighting bit. The wheelie athlete had to HAUL HIMSELF UP on a rope (with his wheelchair hanging off his arse) to reach the lighting point. While this was an admirable feat I contrast it with the abloid Olympics where the torch lighter ran up some ordinary abloid stairs and lit the torch.

The irony is that the access was not equitable and they made the crip do a monkey trick for the entertainment of the masses.


Belinda said...

I called my mum and brother in England for our weekly chat yesterday, and it was 10.00 am here, 3.00 pm there. Rob said that mum was watching the paralympics and she said, "I thought YOU would be watching." Since she had a stroke in 2003, the fact that she made that connection and thought that I would be watching, meant a lot to me. I wasn't watching==didn't know about them being on--don't watch much t.v.--can't turn it on--too many remotes! :) But it was a great thing that Mum remembered my work and one of my passions--and cool that she was watching and enjoying.

Penelope said... is a IPC sanctioned website doing approximately 8 hours of live coverage a day. I believe that they are also archiving what they show. They did most if not all of the opening ceremony yesterday live, I think for that they used the BBC coverage, although for the live events it seems like they've been using their own commentators.

Anonymous said...

The BBC is doing some better coverage than I expected - a couple of hours yesterday and today. Okay not as great as the coverage given to the olympics but a vast improvement as you can also access it online.

The paralympics have also been mentioned in the news and the reporters seem to be expressing as much pride in the gold winners as they did with the able bodied athletes.

There are some detailed reporting of individual athletes as well - and I am enjoying watching murder ball - what a game!


moplans said...

Dave that description just gave me chills. What an event!

naath said...

I was at the gym when the Paralympic Opening ceremony was on BBC 1 (so I watched it, even though I had previously not been watching Olympic things because of Boycotting China) - they had pretty decent coverage really; better than what you describe.

I think there is hope...

Elizabeth McClung said...

There is something about this post, the conclusion that disturbs me, and I wish I could figure out what it is. Perhaps it is that there is such a show of unity when actually there is great segmentation in those at the paralympics and those not (an organization which still has a classification called, "The others" - which is what I am by the way, an "other"). Do the olympics need to say, "Wow, and not they are handing it from a white guy to a black guy, and then, wait, wait, to a CHINESE guy, wow, it is really everyone involved!"

Was the guy pulling himself up the stadium "inspirational" or an athlete. Some years ago they had an archer light the torch with a flaming arrow. The thing is, there were six world class archers who were asked to stand at X, pass within a few feet of the flame, and have thier arrows land in a small box outside the stadium. It wasn't the one who succeeded who did the act....because they ALL did it - they were after all, world class archers. So they just picked one. How many guys could pull themselves and thier chair up the side of the stadium - quite a few. Now without the rope and bring thier wheelchair.....quite a few.

Why are people so amazed at what is possible, and why are so many people excluded from the paralympic (unless there was the lupus women, and the EDS', and 30 year of MS individuals). I guess becuase it was formed to be the "nearly abled" games by the army. Or for the same reason Ms. Wheelchair America is disqualified if she ever stands up in public, though SCI and many full time chair users can.

Still wish I knew what made me so irked. Sorry.

Ettina said...

CBC has recently started doing a lot of paralympic coverage, and I think they're doing a great job! Not 'ooh look at these special people doing their special sports', but rather treating them like real athletes, as they are. They didn't try to cover up the disabilities and in fact mentioned what each athlete they interviewed had in at least some detail, but they didn't go 'oh, they're so inspirational' like they usually do when covering disabled people.
They had this one story about someone who's been in *both* Olympics - she was a regular Olympic athlete (is that an oxymoron?) and then I think she lost a leg or something, and she made it into the Paralympics. They didn't go 'inspirational person overcoming their disability' like they could so easily have done, but instead just told her story in a manner of 'this person is an excellent athlete to get into the Olympics *twice*'.