The subject of the one, the only, Lady Gaga, has often come up when in the company of my parents — they’re not hip or cool; it’s the TV that does it, beaming the Gaga into their living room: both are perfect examples of their generation. Both grew-up during a time when love was as bountiful as Spam email is today, yet both stare at the screen with immense confusion, gazing into Gaga’s trailblazing eyes and saying things like “Well, Chris, I tell you, if you ever brought that home then there’d be trouble,” and “what is she, actually? She looks like she was made in some laboratory,” (this from dad) “Come to think of it…well, I don’t know Chris, she reminds me of that girl from that film, er, what’s it called?”
“Well…she’s just a woman, dad,” I tell him, even though it’s pointless and clearly doesn’t sink in. I don’t look at mum, as she is now trapped in the tractor-beam stare that is Gaga’s insane fashion-sense and clearly just as perplexed as the time she tried to change the SIM card in her phone on her own — this time super-skimpy shorts and a top which makes her (Lady Gaga, not my mum) look like barely more than a blonde babe in a light-gold dust-storm (again, get any thoughts of my mum out of your head!).
“What’s that film then, what is it Chris?” Dad says once again, and he starts to lean forward in his chair with his eyes getting ever wider, his hands firmly planted on the rests either side. “Blimey, would you look at the–”
“Yes, thankyou,” says mum, shutting him up. And then we sit in awkward silence as Gaga begins to talk about how we should all be equal, every one of us the same…
I put dad out of his misery and make a wild guess about this film: actually it’s only marginally wild. Actually it’s bloody obvious. “The Fifth Element?” I say. It’s in the walnut-brown TV cabinet behind the glass doors, along with a few other on-sale-at-the-supermarket-DVDs mainly yet to be unwrapped (things like Step Up, some crap straight-to-DVD film with Antonio Banderas in and Brokeback Mountain — mum’s choice, and I will make a point of being as far as possible away when dad gets inquisitive about this one…).
Finally, now, Gaga is walking away from camera and my mum is looking slightly less suspicious. Slightly: her razor-sharp woman’s skills are still ready to flicker back to red-alert should the testosterone pick up. Dad continues to read the book he’d had on his lap — one eye open, just in case. At this point I think I may as well accept it, when or if I ever get a wife and kids, the day will surely come when ogling a strange nubile legendary woman’s breasts will be completely irresistable…actually it’ll be downright favourable to washing the car and all the other styff…
And this appearance by Lady Gaga, it stirs up my thinking, diverts me onto the Channel 4 show-of-the-moment (now over, but available to watch on 4OD): The Undateables. Remarkable and a serious turn-around from what many predicted of the show, as anyone who saw it will likely agree, the theme was a far cry from the mocking Victorian-freak-show image that the media had portrayed. And, more importantly, it became clear from the very first episode that this had less to do with the stars’ disabilities and much more to do with their universal quest for love.
Unsurprisingly, dropping by on the show’s Twitter feed after each episode, the theme was much more varied. This might, ordinarily be a good thing — opinion is free after all, and we all have the right to express it within reason in this country– were it not for some of the hateful and ignorant comments that many found so amusing, and many found anything but (though the majority was in good jest and many comments were fair enough — we’re bound to react with a mixture of humour and curiosity when confronted by something totally new; that’s just human nature). And don’t get me wrong, I love a good joke, it’s just…well, these people we’re talking about are disabled. If you fell and banged your head, would you like it if everyone you saw gave you half a glance and proceeded to take the piss? OK, so the fact of the matter is that you might not get it (it’s true that much humour on The Undateables was derived from the morally dubious standpoint that the jokes were sometimes on the stars rather than shared with them) what with the brain-damage or whatever, but is that a good enough reason to bother? Personally, I don’t think so. I just don’t see the point, really. It’s not that I think these people — maybe you, if you’re reading this — are particularly bad human beings, either. I don’t, and it’s a fact that we have all made mistakes and said things while behind our computers which we’d likely not dare say to someone’s face (for example, when I was ten I told a black girl in the queue for lunch that she had hair that looked like it had come out of a vacuum cleaner; a truly despicable comment without any malice and born out of pure innocence which I then regretted for…wait, let me see, the rest of my entire life off and on?). So this isn’t about judging anyone, is my point, like I said, this is just my opinion and opinion is free, do with it what you will.
And this is where we come back to Gaga once again: when we are so very accepting and tolerant of a global superstar and her frequently strange behaviours — a living legend, if you will — then how can we be so totally against the behaviour of an element of society which shares similar foibles? Perhaps it’s something to do with Gaga’s intensely-held vision and how designed it is; an attitude which modern free-thinking has made a kind of philosophy for all in this age of we are all unique. Be different. Look different. Say different. Or perhaps it’s purely a fashion thing: the fact that Gaga merges style, iconography and innovation with the romantic cinematic dreams of every girl (or boy) who wants to be herself. So, OK, it’s true that The Undateables and other disabled/disadvantaged people lack this design of Gaga’s, this pre-emptied vionary status, but what about what they give? In the last episode of the series — see the review here but be warned of spoilers — Kali, who suffers from Williams Syndrome, was one of the standout stars. Kind and abundant with manners, for me, she stole the show and proved that there is one huge, gaping difference between many able-bodied and disabled people: by default, many of the latter simply haven’t learned how to be mean, as is the mark of disabilities (behaviour that has never been learned, rather than behaviour that was once there and later lost). Or, if they have, their skills at implementing this ancient art are considerably lacking when compared directly to the harshness of some others. Quite simply, it may be fair to say that a lot of disabled people — if it’s possible to generalise about such a thing in broad terms — are more in-tune than most when it comes to being kinder.
I’m not a huge Gaga fan, but I’m sure that if she did see this show — who knows, maybe she did and it’s all over the web and wouldn’t I look like a right wally — she’d have wanted to be educated and become more informed (if she wasn’t already). Somehow, I can’t imagine Lady Gaga taking the piss or making some flippant statement sheerly for her own amusement. Maybe we should all try and learn a thing from that, is what I’m saying. I won’t deny it: when Gaga first appeared I was dubious about her everlasting attitude of niceness, but as time moves on, I find myself coming to a more firm conclusion: Gaga is just a person like you and I, and she’s someone who can see the differences, no matter how many millions of dollars she might make.
If you’ve looked to the left or right of the screen then you will have noticed — I mean, it’s impossible not to! — my debut novel standing firm in the background. And this is another reason why I found The Undateables so completely compelling: having written the book to smash stereotypes about disability, depression and facial disfiguration — as well as entertain the kind of readers who fell so head-over-heels in love with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time — I felt close to the idea of these people finding their way in the world of love and all the struggles that came with it; not to mention I had also suffered a serious illness, leading to total loss of my legs and a long road to recovery which involved learning to walk completely from scratch. As with the TV series, my book, although very different, also contains a love-interest (and that’s about where the similarites stop to be honest…oh, aside from the lead protagonist having Cherubism and his sidekick Wonky being THE FIESTIEST GIRL IN A WHEELCHAIR AROUND!). Which leads me to ask this final question: why can’t disability and entertainment go hand-in-hand without there being an unsavoury undercurrent?
So let’s try and move forward, people, no? Yes? Maybe? I’d settle for a maybe. All of us do quirky things from time to time — and besides, I’m pretty sure I can name a few people who Sam and Jolene from the series have made jealous with their 5-week-relationship…