Friday, 27 February 2009

What's the real problem here?

The Cbeebies presenter Cerrie Burnell with only one arm has sparked controversy regarding her appearance and has become the centre of a Political Correctness row after a minority of parents have claimed she is scaring their children.

When I first noticed Cerrie her appearance did surprise me I must admit, this was despite the fact that I myself have a minor 'dissability'. I wondered as to whether she was born that way or had lost her arm in an accident.

I let my daugher watch Cbeebies when we visit my mum and ocassionally we watch it online at home, when Maymoonah (nearly 3) first noticed the presenters arm I was right next to her. I saw her tilt her head to the side and crease her brows a little as she does when she is thinking and that was it. She continued watching as normal. My 7 year old neice on the other hand asked her mum, 'Mum, why has that lady only got one arm?' My sister told her that God had made her that way and that God creates everybody different, special and beautiful in their own way. And even though she only has one arm it doesn't stop her from doing anything.' She accepted that answer and said no more about it. While my other nephew and neice both aged 2, have watched and seen her more than a few times but haven't seemed to notice or say anything so far.

In an interview with the The Daily Telegraph, the 29-year-old theatre graduate said she was not ashamed of her disability and hopes to secure serious stage roles in the future.

"People assume there is a sadness attached to a disability like this. But to me, there is no sadness. If I had to change anything about myself, it wouldn't be this," she said.

"It would be to make my hair blonder so I didn't have to keep paying for highlights."

Burnell also denied that she was only cast because of the corporation's quota-filling equal opportunities policies, adding that she had faced discrimination in the past because of her disability.

"People are reluctant to cast disabled actors in main roles; so we don't get any profile, and then, casting directors presume we don't exist, and even disabled roles go to actors without disabilities. And the vicious cycle goes on," she said.

"For this job, there was no mention of it in the brief, and in the final round of auditions, I was the only disabled one of four."

A handful of viewers condemned Burnell's casting on the official message board of the BBC children's channel, with one parent writing that their child had "freaked out" on seeing the new presenter. They added: "There's a time and a place for showing kids all the differences that people can have, but nine in the morning in front of two-year-olds is not the place."

But the comments sparked a backlash from other viewers and disability campaigners, and Burnell has been deluged with messages of support.

She told the Telegraph that she was not surprised by the negative reaction of a minority and hoped her profile would boost the public image of disabled people. "People are frightened by disability so they don't want to see it; yet, if they saw more of it on television they wouldn't be so frightened," she said.

Burnell abandoned her prosthetic arm at primary school and has resisted all pressure to go wear one again despite the advice of tutors at Manchester Metropolitan University's school of theatre.

"One warned that were I to be cast as Juliet I would have to wear a cardigan," she said.

"I thought to myself, why would Juliet have to wear a cardigan? Would it be breezy on the balcony? Then the penny dropped – it was to cover my lack of limb." (Telegraph)

I find myself wondering what the real problem is here. I have a feeling that the real issue at hand is not the awkward questions that are being asked by children as some parents have complained of, if anythng, isn't it better that awkward questions that our children ask, are asked in the comfort of our own homes to us - their parents? As we will try to answer them in the best way since we care most for their development and needs and know what level of undrstanding they have, rather than have these questions asked to a teacher who may not give them the individual attention they need or worse than that, have the questions asked in public places whenever they seeing somebody who is different.

Embarrasing questions like, 'mummy why has that man got no teeth, did he eat too many sweets?' Or daddy look at that man. Why is he so fat? Is he going to have a baby?' Or Mummy why is your belly gone so big (a child to his pregnant mother). Not that a dissability is an embarrasing subject but the questions may be awkward or even cause offence to some. I would much rather answer my child's queeries when they arise thoughtfully and inshaAllah with wisdom in the comfort of my home.

So is it a problem that some children are scared by her? I personally have seen far scarier things on childrens channels and as a child I would surely have been more scared of Beasley and No-heart from the Carebears than a lady with one arm. I understand that some children may be scared but children will always be scared of something or another and naturally some children have more fears than others,

As Ms Brunell herself said to the BBC, "Children come up to me in the street every day and say 'What's that?' I wouldn't say they're frightened but certainly they're inquisitive.

"I would always take the time to explain to a child. All they want is an explanation. They want to know 'What's that?' and 'What's happened?' and 'Why are you different?' And then they will move on."

If the child asks questions then they are old enough to understand the answer and I thnk the problem really lies with the parents inability or lack of confidence in answering their childrens questions or perhaps they are even projecting their own fears or insecurities onto their children...


Safiya Outlines said...

Salaam Alaikum,

Urrgh, No heart *Shudder*.

Plus, did you ever watch Dramarama on CITV? That was super scary.

Anonymous said...

I think society is so into appearance nowadays, people only want to see that which is perfect.

Umm Maymoonah said...

Safiya, no I've never watched it but there are more than a few childrens cartoons that I think could be scary for children.

Anon - You're right, there is so much emphasis on image and perfection now anything other is criticised, one only needs to flick through a womans mag to see that. And sadly young girls magazines seem to be not far behind.

mimsy said...

I really don't understand what the big deal is about! My 2year old son has never noticed & my 6year old son just asked me what i thought happened to Cerrie's arm, he certainly wasn't in the least be scared!!!!
In my view Cerrie is a really good childrens tv presenter & that should be all that matters!!!