Simon Cowell is the man that so many love to hate and with good reason. Some of his acerbic comments on “American Idol” are beyond cruel. Some claim to love him because he says our uncensored thoughts; however, it is my belief that if he really functions as society’s subconscious ID, we are in a lot of trouble. When I learned that he was being sued for humiliation my first thought was that it was a nuisance lawsuit. Anyone that stands in front of him and sings, has got to be prepared for his nasty behaviour; it is after all what he is famous for. It is kind of like taunting a dog and then wondering why he bit you.
It seems however the headlines on this story are actually quite misleading. There is a lot more at stake than a contestant who is bitter after a Cowell smackdown.
Cowell and his TV show are being sued by contestant Emma Amelia Pearl Czikai, who claims she was humiliated and degraded on the show in a broadcast in May 2009.
Czikai first lodged her complaint of unfairness and discrimination with a British employment tribunal in January.
The tribunal action emerged in the press following a pretrial review at the central London tribunal court.
Czikai, representing herself, accused the show and its judges of “exploitation, humiliation, degradation and barbarism.”
She also claimed the show was guilty of disability discrimination because it had not made adjustments for her, such as lowering the level of backing music and microphone levels.
Czikai said: “This program makes a select number of rich people very, very rich on the backs of the ordinary man and woman in the street through exploitation, humiliation, degradation and a re-emergence of modern-day barbarism with all its inherent cruelty.”
The one-time nurse reportedly told the tribunal she suffers from cervical spine neuritis, which can cause head and shoulder pain, which in turn caused her singing to suffer.
The pretrial review, which will decide if a full hearing will go ahead, was told that she was seeking 300,000 pounds ($458,000) for injured feelings, compensation of 1 million pounds ($1.5 million) and loss of earnings of 1.25 million pounds ($ 1.9 million.
“Britain’s Got Talent,” may be a talent competition but if it does not make allowances and or accommodations for people with disabilities, this is discrimination and in my mind Czikai has every right to sue. Too often people with disabilities are expected to play “super crip” and rise above, while TAB pretend that the playing field is level. When we fail to live up to their ridiculous standards the issue is never about the failure to off proper accommodations, instead it is about our inability to force our bodies to do the impossible.
Thomas Linden QC, representing Holden, Cowell and Simco, called for the case to be thrown out. He said it did not fit the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act as the show was a talent contest, not a recruitment exercise. [source]
Convenient isn’t it? This talent contest is open to the public and by having such restrictions, this necessarily bars the differently abled from competing, but it is not at all exclusionary is it? If these so-called contests are not forced to make a change they won’t. The TAB have already proven that they see any form of accommodation as giving the differently abled an unfair advantage and an unnecessary nuisance. It would be far easier for them if we would just stay in our homes and pretend that we don’t have a right to lead an active life.
“Britain’s Got Talent” is not the only so-called competition that is exclusionary. “So You Think You Can Dance” has had various people with disabilities apply for the show, and each time there is a thundering roar from the audience and then a good bit of paternalism from the judges. Nigel Lithgow told one man that he was “inspirational”, but of course he didn’t mean to patronize the man. Every single time a disabled person has applied for this show they are told that they are an inspiration and sent on their way.
“The Amazing Race” has had one little person appear on the show. None of the contests that have become a regular feature were altered for her. She was forced to complete the tasks that they designed for able bodied people as though her body functioned like the TAB. She was forced to rise above and no one even commented on this. I admit that I have not seen every season of CBS’s “Big Brother” however, as far as I am aware, the only disabled contestant was Eddie who won the first season. I have yet to see any disabled contestants on “Survivor” as well. I am sure that their excuse is the rough terrain that the series is filmed in, but accommodations can and should be made. “America’s Next Top Model” and “The Bachelor” have never had a disabled character. These contests are specifically designed to exclude people. Making the differently abled invisible is a purposeful strategy of the TAB to discriminate and yet night after night, people are viewing these shows and no one is commenting on the phenomenon.
Even regular sitcoms which more than have the ability to offer accommodations will use TAB actors to play disabled characters rather than allowing disabled actors to play those roles. It is believed that representation is what is important, but how can we really call this representation when we are once again privileging TAB over the differently abled. The media is rife with disableism and it is time that we recognize this. How can we claim to be an equal society when disabled people daily erased by the media? Even the reporting on the lawsuit against Cowell et al, is framed as a whining contestant, rather than really acknowledging the disableism that is occurring. This tells me that whether it is television or print media, the primary desire is for the differently abled to pay our money in support and stay quietly in our homes. I for one think the media needs to be forced into better representation and accommodations when needed. I see no reason why they should continue to benefit from our money when they are so unwilling to treat us with human respect.
Editors Note: I was informed that Survivor has indeed had a deaf contestant and that America’s Next Top Model has also had disabled contestants in the comment section. I can at this time only confirm the deaf contestant on Survivor.