Saturday, 6 June 2020

How to stop racism and discrimination - Herman Munster's Wise Advice

At the moment there are race riots occurring across the world. The death of George Floyd in the US at the hands of a policeman has brought to the fore the history of racism and discrimination. In Australia our indigenous people are using this incident as an opportunity to bring to the fore the unnecessary deaths of their people in police custody. 

I wrote in my last blog how much I loved the Munsters and particularly Herman when I was growing up. No I wasn't a person of colour, but I was a person with a visible difference. I was born with a rare craniofacial syndrome, Crouzon syndrome. This made me stand out. This mutation in my genes, completely out of my control, meant many in society chose to not like me and let me and my family know. I experienced bullying, discrimination and prejudice. 

Over fifty years has passed since I was born and people are still not being treated equally. Today people still aren't allowed to have differences. We are all meant to fit in a couple of boxes and be content there. If we should be born with a visible difference, such as the colour of our skin or a disability, then our lot in life is to be treated as more unworthy and to suffer from judgements and discrimination.

I want to share with you this clip showing the wise words of  Herman Munster:

Do you love it as much as I do?

The lesson I want you to learn is it doesn't matter what you look like. 
You can be tall or short, or fat or thin, ugly or handsome like your father, 
or you can be black or yellow or white, it doesn't matter. 
What does matter is the size of your heart and the strength of your character. 

When you look at someone who you see as outwardly different, remember these wise words of Herman Munster. And if you are on the receiving end of bullying or racism or discrimination because you look different or act differently, then you too remember the wise words of Herman Munster. It's all about the size of your heart and the strength of your character. 

You must stay true to who you are. You must embrace your differences and rise above the haters. You were born the way you are for a purpose. Don't let the negative people in society stop you from achieving your greatness!

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How to look after your mental health - 12 Lessons from Herman Munster

When I was a child growing up with a craniofacial syndrome, it was incredibly hard. I was stared at, made fun of, pushed over and isolated. Home was my sanctuary where I was accepted and loved, and had those typical fights with my brothers. You could say it was 'normal'. A show that I loved was Munsters, and I have been watching reruns on TV and clips on YouTube to try to understand why. I was called Frankenstein and Herman was Frankenstein so why would I love the show so much when he looks the way he does? 

I quickly found the answers. Herman had heaps of great messages for me. He saw himself as the 'normal' one and the outsiders were the freaks. Marilyn was the one who didn't fit in, and she also saw herself as the 'freak' in the family. This whole flipped concept would have really helped me to cope with the nastiness of the world.

I found this YouTube video which is entitled 12 Life Lessons from Herman Munster and I love it so much that I wanted to share it here in my blog. Have a watch and tell me what you think.

I am going to list  Herman's 12 Life Lessons here:

12. Let your light shine - Bring a little happiness to others
11. Commune with nature - Go out in nature - it's good for you
10. Heroes are Zeroes - Lots of heroes are vain and good for nothings
9. Start that college 529  - Begin a savings bank account when your children are young
8. Catch more flies with honey - You'll get further with love and affection and understanding
7. Stay flea free  - Don't go with bad companions. He who lies down with dog, gets up with fleas
6. Serve and protect  - It's the duty of every citizen to protect the police
5. Respect the produce  - In the vegetable garden of life don't pinch the tomatoes
4. Target Marketing 101  - Don't start scratching until you know where the fleas are biting
3. Pay it forward  - Help people to succeed
2. Be kind - When we put kindness in we get kindness back - it's like putting money in the bank with interest
1. What matters most - It doesn't matter what you look like. What matters is the size of your heart and the strength of your character. 

Do you agree with me? The script writers were way ahead of their time. In the 1960s racism, hiding disabled children away in institutions, putting people who were considered too different in freak shows was rife. Basically if you weren't a neurotypical white middle class person you weren't a worthy citizen.

As a society we still have a long way to go as progress has been at a snail's pace. These life lessons are still relevant today and will improve our mental and make for a more inclusive society!

Please like, share and subscribe to me. I want everyone to Be Weirdly Wonderful! I date you to embrace your differences.

Saturday, 9 May 2020

What's with the Facial Scars and Subliminal Messaging in JOJO RABBIT?

Last weekend I was asked by a friend who has a facial difference, what I thought of the use of facial scars in the movie JOJO RABBIT. Now I hadn't seen the movie, as the trailer showing a child with Adolf Hitler as his imaginary friend, had instantly turned me off.

She then aroused my curiosity even more with her statement, that maybe the healing of the facial scars was a metaphor for JoJo's changing attitude towards the Jews. Anything facially related I have to see for myself - so of course I watched it - and in fact, three times.

If you are unfamiliar with JOJO RABBIT, here is a pretty good synopsis:

A World War II satire that follows a lonely German boy named Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) whose world view is turned upside down when he discovers his single mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a young Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) in their attic. Aided only by his idiotic imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi), Jojo must confront his blind nationalism.

It is interesting that the majority of synopses I read, did not include a mention of the facial scars JoJo receives, and nor does the trailer.

I could tell straight away that JoJo Betzler was a fanatical 10-year-old Nazi youth. There were a few laughs at the Hitler Youth training camp, though Rebel Wilson's comedy did not come across well. I saw that JoJo's face was 'normal' so I was waiting on the edge of my seat for when the accident or incident would occur.

Spoiler alert!

The accident came soon after JoJo was told by the leaders to twist a rabbit's neck and kill it. He refused. They then killed the rabbit in front of him and bullied him about being weak... Now I must say I didn't see the funny side of this scene at all. It actually horrified me. JoJo ran off upset, had a chat to his buddy Adolf Hitler who pumped him up and sent him back to the throng feeling strong and courageous. JoJo grabbed a hand grenade and threw it. It hit a tree and ricocheted back to his feet, exploding.

The explosion affected the left side of JoJo's body from his face down to his leg (he limps).

Over the rest of the movie JoJo's face slowly heals and his limp recovers.

The story continues with JoJo, due to his injuries, not being able to join the troops and being put to work on jobs around the town e.g. putting up posters, collecting metal etc. After seeing a crack in the floor boards he finds a Jewish girl who's been hidden by his mother. Of course JoJo's mind is full of propaganda and lies about the Jewish people so he isn't very happy, but over time he gets to know Elsa and love her. I must say that JoJo has a well developed character arc. His mother is caught for her anti-Hitler advocacy and hung (I couldn't see the satire in that either).

I do wonder how a child becomes so brainwashed as JoJo was with a mother who was the complete opposite. How did JoJo become that way?

Anyway, back to the facial scars which is what I want to focus on.

The left hand side of JoJo's face is crisscrossed in scars. To me he looks okay - I've seen a lot worse, but I tried to put him in the context of the day.

In his bedroom, JoJo looks at his face and his mother comes in.
JoJo says, 'Your son is ugly like a monster.'
She replies, 'Hey you're no monster. Besides your scars will heal and you'll get most of the movement back in your leg.'
JoJo retorts, 'But I'll never be in Hitler's personal guards.'
And she responds with,  'Ah, you're fine as you are. I'm just happy to have you back home.'

I have no complaints whatsoever with this interaction. Rosie, his mum is comforting and loving.

In the next scene JoJo is dressed in his Hitler youth uniform to go outside. At the door he tells his mother, 'I don't want to go out there,.. I look stupid. People will stare.'
She replies, 'Enjoy the attention kid, not everyone is lucky enough to look stupid. I for one am cursed to look incredibly attractive. Now you're going to pluck up your courage, walk out that door and have an incredible adventure.'

This took me aback. I guess Rosie is trying to tell JoJo that facial scars are a good thing, but there was no denial in his thoughts that he looked stupid or that he would be stared at. Why did she agree with him? And to say she was cursed because she looked so incredibly attractive - what the???

As a child having grown up with a 'deformed' face as I was told, being stared at and pointed at, nasty comments made about me and trying to prove I wasn't stupid, on a daily basis, this hit me hard. I wasn't impressed.

I did though like Rosie's final words of telling JoJo to suck it up and go out into the world because she could have let him stay hidden at home which is more realistic of the time period.

Next when JoJo is at the rehab pool with other legless adults and children, Rahm (Rebel Wilson_ stretches his leg, saying, 'Soon your leg will only be a little bit deformed and pointless. I'm going to recommend another month off school though, because your face might scare the other kids. It's kind of ugly.'

Again the message is, that if you have facial scars you are ugly and shouldn't be seen out in public. Yes put in the time period this would have been the norm, but this movie is being shown today and that's not the message we want to be sending. Children need to be shown people with facial differences so they are not frightened when they see someone and facial differences need to be portrayed in a positive light. The subliminal message needs to be one of positivity.

The next scene occurs when JoJo is in his bedroom talking to Adolf and he asks his imaginary friend, 'Do you think I'm ugly.'
Adolf replies, 'Yes.'

So again, it is reinforced and by this stage I am shaking my head trying to make sense of why. And anger is boiling in my belly!

The final referral to his facial scars occurs towards the end of the movie when Adolf is upset with JoJo because JoJo has feelings towards Elsa the Jewish teen. Right in the beginning of the movie Adolf calls JoJo 'really good looking,' and now he tells JoJo that Elsa is too old for him, he is ugly and she's going to leave him.

What message does that say to you? To me it says once again that facial scars make people ugly, and you won't be able to maintain a relationship because of them.

After this JoJo lets Elsa out of their house and she sees that the Americans are now in control and they both dance.

Now obviously I have left out a lot of the story which does not relate to facial scars. And to be honest there were many poignant moments throughout the movie. There were comedic moments and the dark humour came through more when I watched the movie with subtitles.

But as a person having grown up with a craniofacial syndrome, and been told I was ugly and stupid, and feeling that no one would love me, this movie hit me hard. My parents were told to hide me away though they like Rosie, pushed me out into the world.

Particularly during my first viewing, a knife JoJo had as part of his uniform, was stabbed into my heart. I just do not understand why the facial scars were included, or why there was the consistent message that facial scars make you ugly, a monster, stupid and unlovable. And why has no one done a commentary on this part of the movie? Is it acceptable?

To me, it is totally unacceptable. 

Possibly the healing of the scars could be a metaphor as my friend suggested - that as JoJo's face and leg healed his warming and acceptance of the Jewish people changed... but I find that hard to believe as scars and legs with therapy heal over time anyway. The character arc would have happened if his face had stayed red and raw.

It is also interesting that much of the movie was filmed with JoJo's scarred side turned away from the camera. I particularly noticed this when I was looking for photos to add to this article. There are very few publicity photos that show his scars. Why is that?

I will leave this review here but I would really like you to think more about this. When you see a person with facial scars, what is your immediate reaction?

Would you call them beautiful or ugly?

Would you call them stupid or believe they have normal intelligence?

Are they deserving of love?

Did you respond with similar answers that are subliminal in JOJO RABBIT?

Finally, I would like to implore script writers and producers to start changing how people with facial differences are portrayed in movies. Many of us living with facial differences hurt whenever you portray us in a negative light.

Tuesday, 14 January 2020

Viral Video about a Boy Singing to his Baby Brother who has Down Syndrome

A few days ago I was tagged in a post on Facebook. This often happens. My friends see things that they think I would like to see. Usually they are videos or pictures which relate to pineapples (from my book Ride High Pineapple) or Down syndrome, as my youngest daughter has DS. The post was a video concerning the latter.

When I get tagged and go to look at the posts concerning Down syndrome, sometimes I am touched by them, sometimes I am inspired by the person as I know how hard it is for a person with DS to achieve certain things in life, due to their cognitive and muscular limitations, and sometimes I am annoyed by them. 

I usually have a reaction based on the comments below the post, and also based on the person or people in the video, or what captions there are. Having a child with Down syndrome has allowed me into a window that not a lot of people see into. If I related it to a car, I don’t just look from the outside seeing the state of the paintwork or the scratches on the doors or how shiny the rims are, I sit in the seat beside the person sitting in the backseat. I can see the steering wheel, the brake pedal, the seatbelt, the chewing gum stuck in the compartment, and the dirty hairbrush in the door. You get the idea I am sure. 

So the post that prompted this blog post was a video of a young boy, who was 6 years old, holding his baby brother, looking down at him and singing to him. Of course his baby brother had Down syndrome. The boy was singing the song, 10 000 Hours. This video had been filmed, subtitles added and then shared, and it went instantly viral. This is the YouTube version:

The video to me was okay. 

I have pictures of my two eldest reading to Jessica my daughter when she was a baby. I have a picture of my son at 3, sitting with her, his face touching her face, while she was propped up in the clothes basket with pillows. I have pictures of my 6 year old holding Jessica’s bottle as she couldn’t. Now were these pictures on the internet? No. Did I have a video of them singing to her? No. But I know they sang to her, and danced to her, and played with her. I remember Jessica tummy crawling after them and stealing their toys, and her older brother and sister getting angry at her. All normal kid things.

When Jessica was growing up, my kids didn’t go, ‘Oh she has Down syndrome. We should treat her differently.’ No way did they say that! In fact if she was having something different, they protested. They wanted her to be treated the way they were. 

It’s only been since my eldest two have been in high school and they’ve seen me battling the barriers and prejudices in the education system that I’ve talked to them about the prejudices and attitudes in society.

Siblings are a sister or brother first. They don’t know how society feels about Down syndrome. They don’t know that by treating their sibling the same as a ‘normal’ sibling, that they are being inspirational to some adults in the world. 

If Down syndrome wasn’t seen as such a terrible thing to be born with, and if obstetricians didn’t put in people’s heads that it had to be tested for because they believe that a person with DS won't never lead a successful life and will be a burden. And if society embraced differences as a whole, then people wouldn’t be seeing these videos as inspirational and they wouldn't be going viral. When I was looking at the post on Facebook I read through the comments and there were women saying they were crying, and everyone else felt all warm and fuzzy inside.

Me, the practical one wrote, my own comment, which was totally different to the ones already posted. It was my comment which triggered this blog post. I told them that the boy would have no idea that the baby had DS. He was just singing a song to his baby brother. A song his mother would have taught him. 

Obviously his mum knew what she was doing. In teaching him and videoing it, and releasing it out onto social media, she hoped people would see it, and comment, and feel all warm and fuzzy, and probably in the hope that there would be more acceptance of Down syndrome in the world. I can’t blame her for wanting to do that. If I am honest I post things about my daughter achieving things, just to show others that Down syndrome does not stop her from leading a good life, from doing the things she loves to do, from going to regular school with average kids, and from being happy. 

Now I have to say here that my daughter is happy because she knows her family loves her and she is valued. A valued person will go on to have a good life. Knowing you're valued gives that inner self-belief that a person has a place in the world, and even if they are knocked down by disbelievers, they will stand back up again and keep going.

I would like to leave you with a piece of friendly advice. If you see a post or a video of a baby with Down syndrome, look to see what it is. I have to reemphasis that I am impressed with many of things that people with DS are achieving. For example, I look at the gymnast who I know has worked doubly hard to get to her goal, because of the syndrome’s extreme low muscle tone. I look at the business owners who are working and making a genuine living. 

From the moment my daughter was born I have watched a young lady with DS who lives near us. I had never noticed her before the birth. I noticed she lived in a unit, she went to work, she shopped independently, she was out exercising… basically she was doing what average adults do, and what we were told our daughter would never do. This lady soon became our role model. 

If the post you're looking at is something showing a child or adult with DS achieving something that regular or average people do, that would be difficult for them to achieve because of the prejudices and barriers in our society, share it. Definitely share it. But if it is something like a 6-year-old boy singing to his little brother or sister, which is something all kids normally do, unless they are jealous, then think about why is it being shared? Is it being shared because there is so much prejudice and wrong beliefs out there in society that the author feels the need to put it out in the world. 

Just a thought.

How to stop racism and discrimination - Herman Munster's Wise Advice

At the moment there are race riots occurring across the world. The death of George Floyd in the US at the hands of a policeman has brought t...