Live Loud!


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20130811.Live Loud

“If you ask me what I came into this life to do, I will tell you: I came to live out loud.”

–Emile Zola

Have you seen the movie Coffee Town yet?

I was curious about the movie after seeing a scene in the trailer that involved a character with Down Syndrome.  The character was played by actor Josh Perry. The character – and the actor – have Down Syndrome.

Josh Perry’s portrayal  was like no other that I’m aware of.    He portrayed his character as a brash, edgy, raw, comical, and multi-dimensional young man.  He made me laugh my ass off: if Perry was going for funny, he achieved his goal. (Admittedly, the humor in this movie is very raw, so if you don’t like that genre, this may not be a good movie for you at all.)

At first, nobody in  the family really knew what to think of Perry’s character.  Momma Bird and I visibly cringed when Perry used the word “retard” several  times.    Sister Bird? She’s in a stoic phase, so her reaction to everything is “Meh.”  Yankee Bird –  who typically has no problem thinking for himself – turned to ask me, “Is that ok?”

I didn’t know how to answer him at first.  Ponceman’s portrayal of the character challenged a lot of my own developing thoughts about Down Syndrome and the language used to talk about it.

I told Yankee Bird the only thing I could at the time: “He is a really good actor.”

That’s the truth: there are some funny characters in “Coffee Town”, but in my opinion, the best acting  was by  Josh Perry. (I would love to tell you how, but don’t want to spoil a couple scenes for you).

The next day, I got on the internet to learn about this actor, Josh Perry. Turns out, he’s got a website, a YouTube channel, and a Facebook Page.  He goes by the pen name “Ponceman”.  Ponceman does some really raucous and edgy skits which will probably offend a lot of folks.  He and his brother, a producer, call their brand “Abnormal Comedy”.

I liked what I watched, though.  I particularly liked Ponceman’s stance on the word “Retard” – check this video out and let me know what you think.

What I really like about this is that Ponceman is joining a trend among actors and actresses with Down Syndrome.  The trend I see is the portrayal, by actors and actresses with Down Syndrome, portraying characters that bust the mold  set for them by “Disability Advocates.”

Remember Andrea Friedman, the actress who did the voice of the girl with Down Syndrome  in Family Guy? The character that poked fun at Sarah Pailin?  She caught a lot of flack for making fun of people with Down Syndrome – despite the fact that she had been diagnosed with Down’s in real life.  Read her response to Pailin’s criticism of her:

In my family we think laughing is good. My parents raised me to have a sense of humor and to live a normal life. My mother did not carry me around under her arm like a loaf of French bread the way former Governor Palin carries her son Trig around looking for sympathy and votes.

Then there was Lauren Potter, the actress who portrays a character with Down Syndrome in the popular TV Show “Glee”.  Remember the flack she took when she made the decision to use her character to tackle the issue of gun violence?

The  “Down Syndrome Community” – which is largely composed of people without Down Syndrome – often protests the loudest when these actors push the edge of the envelope in their work.

On one hand, the community insists that people with Down Syndrome be fully included in all aspects of life – presumably this includes acting, too.

On the other hand, when these actors/actresses make their own decisions to play roles like those mentioned above,  their is inevitably a backlash from the DS Community question whether they “…reinforc[e]  a belief that people with Down syndrome aren’t normal.”

If you have Down Syndrome, and act, you can’t win.

To my knowledge, not a single National or International Down Syndrome Advocacy Group  has a governing Board Member with Down Syndrome.  There are several honorary Board Members, but Honorary Board Members are more about image than operation.

Nor am I aware of a National or International DS Group that has an active Corporate Officer with Down Syndrome – which speaks volumes about what organizations REALLY think about full inclusion of people with Down Syndrome.

After all, these are the organizations that drive policy and perceptions of people with Down Syndrome. They are the groups that tell us how to think and talk about Down Syndrome.

I guess my point is this: I’m glad to know that actors like Ponceman exist.  Actors and comedians like Ponceman challenge us to think beyond the boundaries of current social norms – in fact, they change and grow the social norms.

Bill Cosby challenged us, through his comedy and his acting, to confront the reality that black families in America are no different from -and in fact every bit the same as –  white families.

Carroll O’Connor, through his  racist blue-color character Archie Bunker, forces us to confront the reality that bigotry and prejudice is still alive and well in Hometown, USA.  Given the continued popularity of the show “All in the Family”, it may even be in a house next door.

Josh Perry – raw and biting though his comedy is – forces us to confront a lot of assumptions and beliefs about how we talk and think about Down Syndrome.

20 years from now, when more actors with Down Syndrome are nominated for, and winning,  Academy Awards, Oscars,   Tony’s, etc., we may look back and see that the stage was set by actors like Josh Perry, Andrea Friedman and Lauren Potter.

Thanks, Ponceman, for “Living Loud”.

****

By the way, if a movie theater can Trademark the phrase “Silence is Golden”, can I Trademark the phrase “Live Loud”?  Well, I did.  My phrase now, Emile Zola.  T-shirts coming soon. 🙂

Live Loud.™

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