By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

“Little People,” big review

I’ve written an essay for Slate on the TLC reality series “Little People, Big World.” The show is about a dwarf couple, Matt and Amy Roloff, and their four kids. Please have a look.

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  1. Mark

    Dan, I’ve watched this show and found it to be thoroughly entertaining. I’m not a dwarf, nor is anyone in my family, but I related to the typical family dynamics. As a Boy Scout leader who has gone on many a camping trip, though, I was shocked they were out in the woods chainsawing trees down and shooting off guns (I know they’re not Scouts, but…). Oh well.

  2. Anonymous

    I read your essay on Slate. How can you implore others to simply treat little people like people, and in the same breath dismiss a man suffering, and ultimately dying, from alcoholism as, “a drunken loser?” Is the irony there lost on you?

  3. Dan Kennedy

    Anon 4:36 — I was criticizing Hank for the choices he made as an individual, not for his membership in a group labeled “alcoholic.” Nevertheless, you make a fair point. I am not in the habit of referring to alcoholics as “drunken losers,” and I shouldn’t have done so in my Slate piece. I asked my editor for a change, and it’s been made.

  4. Leslie

    Thanks for the link, enjoyed the article, thanks. Undoubtedly you heard this interview, but just in case you didn’t… Terry Gross interviewing Peter Dinklage on March 21 in connection with new Lumet film Find Me Guilty (speaking of getting parts just for his good acting ability and not for his dwarfism…)I found this a thoroughly enjoyable conversation between two smart people.

  5. The Liberal Avenger

    Great piece in Slate!I’m glad you mentioned Peter Dinklage. His movie The Station Agent was one of the best indies of the 21st century, imo. What a talented guy.I’m glad that Slate provided a link to your blog here.Thanks, – Manshake

  6. Nick Grossman

    I enjoyed your piece on Slate and checked out the show last night. However, I found one part curious. You said that the term “midget” is “approximately as popular among little people as the “N” word is among African-Americans.” I am unfamiliar with little person sub-culture; do you mean that little people often refer to each other as “midget” (i.e. “What’s up, midget?” or “Y’all my midgets!”), but find it offensive when others use the term? In PC-terms, has the word been “reclaimed?”

  7. Dan Kennedy

    Nick — Good question. My sense is that the “M”-word isn’t anywhere near as close to being reclaimed by the dwarf community as the “N”-word has been by African-Americans — but there are some moves in that direction. Mainly, I just meant that the word is seen as a really nasty epithet.It’s complicated. Not that many years ago, “midget” was seen as a perfectly acceptable word to describe people with proportionate forms of dwarfism. In fact, the very first meeting of Little People of America, in 1958, was held under the banner “Midgets of America.” So its status as an insult is of fairly recent vintage — but it’s absolutely real.

  8. device

    Hi,I’ve worked a bit with little people in some of my films and met Billy BArty once. I just reaad your article in Slate and was interested in your statistic on dwarfism in the United States. I’ve lived in France for 14 years? Here we only have one name for little people ‘nain’, dwarf, no equivalent for ‘midget’ even when that was acceptable (at least I think it used to be, maybe I’m wrong but I used to know a little guy who called himself one, I even got the idea there was a difference)…Anyway, my question is this: In the States, I don’t think I ever saw a little person without actively seeking one out. Here in PAris I see them several times a week on the streets. And not just in Paris, or even just in France. Is it just because the population is denser here in Europe? Or are there truly more little folks here than in the States?

  9. Neil

    I saw a few minutes of this show on the weekend. As Dan mentioned it seems a net positive even though it panders to our urge to gawk. After a few minutes of watching the Roloffs functioning more or less normally, the initial “stare response” if that’s what it is pretty much evaporated and I was left wondering why I was watching a show featuring a mom chopping vegetables in the kitchen and people, a couple of whom were short, coaching soccer. It didn’t take long for my initial curiosity to be satisfied.Last night TLC had a show about the extremely tall. One woman 7’7″, in a wheelchair, said she enjoys when people ask her about her condition, so she can show them she’s a thinking feeling person just like everybody else, and not some “alien from outer space”. She was pretty cool. They’ve also had a show about a “woman with half a body” (an amazing woman), conjoined twins, the extremely obese and other rare conditions. TLC does a service with this type of show even as it exploits these people for ratings. They let you look as much as you want, while treating them with dignity.Overexposure, or exposure at least, can be a detriment or benefit to that which is rare. Slate had an article a while ago about how pornography, whose appeal has been at least partly, and maybe mostly, due to its inaccessability, has become boring now that it’s always available via the net. It’s been demystified. If you can see it whenever you want you lose the frisson of illicitness, and it just becomes a matter of mechanics on display as if in a barnyard.(It brings to mind a program in Switzerland that allowed heroin addicts a free fix whenever they wanted, in a clinic. Thus stripped of the illicit outlaw associations of the typical addict’s life, and the need to hustle for the next fix, most users gradually saw the addiction as simply a not very interesting medical condition which they were able to manage and in many cases eventually kick.)With people with these various unusual disorders, demystification through exposure, by seeing them going through their humdrum routines, seems like a real benefit. Just another shape or size, getting through life. I don’t usually watch TLC but was waiting to see the show about the guy “whose arms exploded”. 🙂

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