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Blind New York governor criticises satirical sketch

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Vaughan | 14:50 UK time, Friday, 13 February 2009

The 'legally blind' Governor of New York, David Paterson, has criticised the US comedy institution Saturday Night Live for running a skit featuring an impersonation of him. It's the second time that Mr Paterson has been a target of SNL's humour, but the Governor himself is less than amused.

During the sketch - clips of which you can see in this CNN news report available on YouTube - there are references to controversial moments in the Governor's past, including an extra-marital affair. In playing on Mr Paterson's disability, the skit also shows him holding up a chart to demonstrate the grave economic crisis in New York, until he is told that the graph is actually upside down. The Saturday Night Live cast member Fred Armisen, impersonating the Governor, keeps one eye closed most of the time, with his other eye focused on his own nose.

"I would say decidedly that they are mocking my disability," said Paterson. "Apparently anybody who is blind or deaf or has an ambulatory disability ... [who] gets to a leadership position in this country is going to be portrayed as if a bunch of third graders are ridiculing them." He went on to say that the programme, rather than providing comic relief, actually degraded people, and that the writers would "think twice" about doing the same kind of routine if it made fun of someone's race, religion or nationality.

Last year, just after he took office, Paterson was the subject of satire on another popular US comedy series, The Daily Show. On that occasion, the programme's 'black correspondent', Larry Willmore, jokily advised the blind community not to try laying claim to the African-American Governor for themselves, saying: "He's one of ours ... he's only 90 percent blind, but he's 100 percent black". (You can watch this sketch online too, but be warned that it contains some adult references.)

Of course, here in the UK, satirist Rory Bremner impersonated blind MP David Blunkett on a number of occasions when he was a senior member of the government, employing the minister's voice and mannerisms - but also rolling his eyes around in an attempt to recreate the symptoms of the politician's visual disability.

So is such humour acceptable? If disabled people rise to senior positions in public life, as both Blunkett and Paterson have done, should they expect to become the targets of satire, and can their disability legitimately become part of the joke? Should an impersonator also seek to mimic a person's impairment, as well as their voice and appearance? Let us know what you think in the comments below.


  • Comment number 1.

    Sorry Mr. Patterson but in the world of political satire anything like this is free game. Of course they are mocking you, they mock everyone. Would you be complaining if they were portraying one of your colleagues as being very tall? They will take the most obvious traits of a person and play them up as a characteture, that is how it works.

    Just because your trait is seen as disability does not make it of limits, if anything THAT would be more of a discrimination issue than not doing it.

  • Comment number 2.

    Thank you bbc. Fantastic site. As for satire regarding David Blunkett? No politician, or others determining our laws, telling us how to live or driving government policy, should be exempt from satire or criticism. Why? Public Office means just that - whatever their true and real physical or intellectual ability may be.


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