Mental gymnastics and TV soundbites / 22 March 2013
Towards the end of last week, I was asked to do an interview this Thursday for regional television news, who are doing a series of reports next week on DLA/PIP, bedroom tax, council tax, etc. I’m under the duvet as I write this, my words slurring, sentences resisting the keyboard; not the best week. I pushed the interview as late in the week as possible, trusting that adrenalin would kick in enough that I can deceive the onlooker.
And there is the ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ at the core of Bedding Out. When adrenalin serves me well and I can muster enough coherence to explain PIP – if I can set it within the complicated context of ESA, ILF and local authority cuts to services, of broken promises and political manoeuvring, if I can even hint at the terror it strikes, if I can be that coherent – then I’m going to look and sound as healthy as the healthiest of viewers and those healthy viewers may well be left doubting my claim. And if I present as ill as I am, then there will be no possibility of my bringing coherence to the discussion.
The job – in interviews, protests, grassroots research, art-activism - is to reach the general public, again and again, until they discover their own outrage at what is being done in their name. And in the impossible trade off between stereotypes, I opt every time for the line of best coherence, knowing all the while that that lies about how it really is to be me, about how it is to be so many of us. Whichever way I act risks undermining our claims for support.
As the week unfolds through emails, I realise that my assigned role in this interview will be to provide the ‘human angle’ on the benefits onslaught. It feels a risky game in which my ability to convince the viewer that I am ‘deserving’ will reflect on the validity of every other claimant and every other disabled person. This is a medium that relies on symbol and soundbite, on two-dimensional versions of who we really are. It is a style of reporting that almost guarantees I will be seen as either ‘saint or scrounger’ (to echo a current programme title), but almost never that more complicated, contextualised, living whole.
So what if, instead, I used my own story in context, as a way into the bigger picture and its impact on all of us? What if, for once, we tried a different kind of reporting? It’s not that the producer didn’t get what I was saying, more that she didn’t want the story I was offering, and I couldn’t give her the story she wanted. It’s funny because I just might have been able to speak quite persuasively. In turning to the work of others, I can see how, in the right circumstances, it is entirely possible to do. Penny Pepper and Laurence Clark’s recent interviews on ILF and DLA/PIP have the context and complexity of real life woven right through, and they speak volumes more than the usual individualised ‘human interest’ or distanced analysis. They have succeeded in converting the story that most of the press wants to tell into the story that most needs to be told.
In the end I realise that, this week, this ‘not best’ week, I haven’t the brain capacity to do such gymnastics. In a week where these 600 words take five days to compose, to be asked one question but answer another takes a dexterity beyond me. So the producer and I agreed to differ (for now) and part ways. I don’t know whether this counts as failure or whether a little bit of me is proud for allowing myself, for once, to be as ill as I truly am.