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Expert comment: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs - what is acceptable?

Snow White Dwarfs Wednesday 6 July 2016

Disability and Education Lecturer Erin Pritchard looks at whether alternative names for the Seven Dwarfs would be socially acceptable today.

Everyone has heard of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. You can probably recall all the names of the several characters as well as some of their distinguishing features. It is one of Disney’s most famous animated films. The Guardian recently featured an article about the 16 other dwarfs that did not make the cut for the animated classic. They include: Jumpy, Deafy, Dizzey, Hickey, Wheezy, Baldy, Gabby, Nifty, Sniffy, Swift, Lazy, Puffy, Stuffy, Tubby, Shorty and Burpy. The article questions whether or not some of these characters would still be socially acceptable today had they been chosen. Whilst it is possible that some of them such as Dizzey would, it is interesting to question whether or not characters such as Deafy would still be acceptable had he made the final cut. I argue that they would for two reasons. Firstly Dopey is still a popular character and secondly the dwarfs themselves have always been acceptable. When Leicester’s De Montfort Hall tried to change the name of their pantomime to ‘Snow White and her seven little friends’ it was met with public outcry, including from dwarf actor Warwick Davies (Brooks-Pollock, 2015). The change in name was deemed patronizing. Although it can be argued that it is incorrect to assume that the term dwarf is offensive, it demonstrates how political correctness in relation to disability can be met with hostility.

Dr Catherine Williamson, director of entertainment memorabilia at Bonhams, is quoted as saying: “I think the guys at Disney will be relieved that the names of the dwarfs were changed at the last minute” (Shoard, 2016). I find this difficult to believe considering the fact that Disney still used “Dopey” as suitable character. Dopey is described as an “idiot” and has “Down’s syndrome like features” (Schwartz et al., 2013). Yet he is still an acceptable character, so why not the others?  It is often argued that disabled people are still more acceptable to mock than other minority groups (Martin, 2010). The audience is encouraged to laugh at Dopey’s supposed impairment. Why would Deafy be any less acceptable to laugh at than Dopey? Is it perhaps because there exists a hierarchy of impairments, or is the article just incorrect in assuming that disabling humour is now unacceptable?

Despite the argument around the acceptability of the characters that did not make it into Disney’s 1937 adaptation of the classic fairytale, the article does not question the acceptability of the dwarfs themselves, or indeed Dopey. It is argued that humour in relation to dwarfism has a strong history and is still evident in contemporary humour in a way that other minority groups are not (Martin, 2010). It often seems as if society, including liberal media, still accept dwarfism as a form of amusement without questioning what effect this may have on dwarfs themselves. Perhaps it is because some people with dwarfism in the entertainment industry still perpetuate the myth that people with dwarfism are happy to be ridiculed for the entertainment of others. In my doctoral research, it was found that cultural representations of dwarfs do affect how they are perceived and treated within society. Several participants spoke about how they had been asked where Snow White was or had “hi ho”, the famous song the dwarfs sing in Disney’s classic, whistled at them:

"I got a few ‘Hi Hos’ whistled at me in the street…" (Naomi, face to face interview, in Pritchard, 2014)

Thus it is hard not to question whether or not the seven dwarfs are still acceptable due to the effect they can have. Whilst I am not calling for story to be withdrawn, I would like to see dwarfs being treated equally within the media and for the acceptability of particular representations to be questioned in the same way others are. The same goes for learning disabilities. With the dwarfs and Dopey still acceptable characters, it is not hard to see that other characters, such as Deafy and Shorty would also still be acceptable had they be chosen.

 

References:

Brooks-Pollock, T. (2015) Snow White to be accompanied by 'friends' after theatre deems 'dwarfs' offensive The Independent [online] Available from: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/snow-white-to-be-accompanied-by-friends-after-theatre-deems-dwarfs-offensive-10492685.html (accessed 05/07/2016)

Martin, N. (2010) A preliminary study of broad disability related themes within the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Disability and Society 25 (5), 539-548 

Pritchard, E. (2014) The Social and Spatial Experiences of Dwarfs in Public Spaces, PhD thesis, Newcastle University

Schwartz, K., Lutfiyya, Z.M. and Hansen, N. (2013) Dopey’s Legacy: Stereotypical Portrayals of Intellectual Disability in the Classic Animated Films, In Cheu, J. (eds) Critical Essays on Race, Ethnicity Gender and Disability. London: Mcfarland and Company. pp. 179-194 

Shakespeare, T. (2015) 'It's time dwarfs stopped demeaning themselves in public
The Telegraph [online] Available from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/11394321/Its-time-dwarfs-stopped-demeaning-themselves-in-public.html (accessed 04/07/2016)

Shoard, C. (2016) Burpy, baldy, deafy … auctioned artwork reveals rejected Snow White dwarves The Guardian [online] Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/jul/01/burpy-baldy-deafy-snow-white-seven-dwarfs-auctioned-artwork-disney?CMP=twt_gu (Accessed 04/07/2016)

 


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