Recently, I stumbled upon a show called An Idiot Abroad (available on Netflix). It’s a British travel documentary where Ricky Gervais (the guy from the Office) and Stephen Merchant send their idiot friend Karl Pilkington to exotic places in the world, places that most people would die to travel to. They created the show so they can watch funny things on the Telly since Karl has no interest in traveling. They put Karl through the more ridiculous situation and they feed on Karl’s misery. Karl’s simple-mindedness and idiot-behavior is what makes the show so funny. He tells like it is, he has no filter, and he manages to say some of the funniest yet most profound things.
Many of the show’s episodes are in fact quite thought-provoking. It manages to point out many important issues without dwelling on them for too long. This show is also so classically British. I just love how British humor has a way of poking fun at an object or person without making the object of person the butt of the joke.
Karl is also very relatable and if we looked a little closer we can all see bit and pieces of ourselves in him. He says things that normal people would think and wonder but are too polite or afraid to say it. Through Karl, we see the world for what it actual it and are forced to reflected upon the social constructs that we, sometimes, unnaturally and unwillingly abide by.
Anyway, in Season 2, after a long journey through Russia and Mongolia, Karl ends up in China where he visits a village of dwarfs. It turns out this place is called Kingdom of the Little People, an amusement park started in 2009 that employs little people to put on performances. There are no special skills required as long as they meet a height and health requirement. In addition to free room and board, they earn a self-supporting salary and get the opportunity to live with other little people.
Unsurprisingly, this theme park has been under a lot of criticism by disability advocacy organizations like the Little People of America and Handicap International, calling it segregation and exploitation. Some go as far as to call it a human zoo.
In the episode, Karl has a phone conversation with Warwick Davis, who strong disapproves The Kingdom of the Little People. Karl defends it saying that the people looked happy and tells him of a women who’s only been there for a month and already has her own little mushroom to live in (just another one of Karl’s brilliantly funny comments). In fact, there are many strong arguments for why the Kingdom of the Little People is not as offensive as it appears. In China, people with disabilities have very slim chance of finding employment and living fulfilling lives. Without the Kingdom of the Little People, little people in China would be left to beg on the streets and face blatant discrimination on a daily basis. Here, at least, they earn a good salary, live in housing that are specifically built for them, and connect with others who are like them and understand them.
As a strong advocate for disability rights, I was initially baffled that such a park even exist in the first place. But really, is it so wrong after all if it provides food, shelter, and comfort for these otherwise marginalized individuals. All that really matters is that they are happy. Who are us tall people to judge their happiness? I agree with Karl on this point.
Such a themed park would never exist in the U.S., where everything has to be so politically correct all the time. We are so offended by everything all the time. But being easily offended just reveals that we are not as open-minded as we appear to be.
To take an anthropological standpoint, one should not judge another culture based on one’s own culture. That’s called ethnocentrism. So by deeming the theme park as unethical without taking into consideration of those who actually live that life is ethnocentric and judgmental. Sure, performing to tourists is probably not the dream job these little people had pictured for themselves. But at least it’s better than being a beggar and have no friends, otherwise they would not be there. Yes, China needs to be better at supporting disabled people. But that is going to take a lot of time, money, and education. I hope that one day Kingdom of the Little People would be as offensive in China as it would be in the U.S. and that little people can do whatever job their heart desires. But for the time being, Kingdom of the Little People is the best chance they have at a good life.
Here we are, a post about a TV show turned into my rambling about a themed park in China. Karl Pilkington, you are one smart idiot and this is why I love the show so much. Karl appears to be simple, close-minded, and ridiculous, but he might just be more intelligent, more accepting, and more insightful than all of us. The world is not black and white, there is no definitive right and wrong. We are all just trying to make the best out of any given situation, just like how Karl is forced to tolerate the misery he has been put through. On second thought, if we were to believe that Kingdom of the Little People is a human zoo, Karl is merely the only zoo animal living in Ricky and Stephen’s zoo called An Idiot Abroad.