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Review: Channel 4's 'Seven Dwarves' - disability arts online
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10 October 2011

Deborah Caulfield hates reality TV and really hates pantomime. She watched Seven Dwarves, a seven-part documentary, recently screened on Channel 4.

photo of seven people of restricted growth, dressed as dwarves

Channel 4's Seven Dwarves is available for viewing on 4oD

The series was billed as "The real tales of the seven dwarves". Think The Truman Show meets Teletubbies.

While appearing in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Craig, Karen, Jamie, Josh, Laura, Max and Ryan were billeted Big Brother style in a house in Woking, for the purpose of being watched by the nation as they "face the challenges of ordinary life head-on."

In the panto the seven dwarves are stupidly named creatures that dote on ebony-eyed Snow White, keeping her pure till the handsome prince arrives. According to Max (self-defined shortest giant in the world) they utter a couple of lines, “do the old Hi Ho shit, and get off." Here, the ostensible aim was to "break through the panto stereotypes". We saw little of Dopey, Sneezy and co, but we were introduced to a few new ones, including Boozy and Bawdy.

There was much larking on Planet Small, likewise smoking, swearing, cooking and eating, all extremely ordinary antics, interesting only to those pathologically fascinated by "little people", of which there are many, apparently. Well done Channel4 for giving them their own programme to indulge their sick habit: staring (and the rest) at disabled people.

Hold on! Who said anything about disabled people? In the programme they were little. And short. Or dwarf. They were never, ever referred to as disabled people. Why not? Perhaps because it’s OK to ogle and laugh at (no, Max, not laugh with) dwarves in a panto or pretend TV household. It isn’t OK to make fun of real-life disabled people; that’s discrimination.

We saw snippets of discussions between the actors, about dealing with unwanted attention off stage and in the street. This was interesting - and real - as was the advice and support they gave to each other. But these moments were rare, pointing to the programme’s weakness and ultimate failure.

Every week came the ubiquitous love/sex interest. Throughout, the spotlight was on Max and Karen whose relationship blossomed beneath the lights and in front of the cameras. Ryan’s girlfriend was bussed-in specially and it was jolly nice to see the two love-birds cuddling on the sofa, under a duvet. With Josh.

Josh, 20, was still single. But then, as if by magic, a panto dancer appeared. Zoe was average height, but Josh didn’t mind. They went for a curry (not a date, maybe next time, said Josh), returning to the house afterwards for an extraordinarily embarrassing de-brief. Zoe overheard Karen joshing with Josh in the kitchen, talking about her “quite loudly”. Embarrassed and clearly fed up, Zoe called a cab and left. Nice one. Or was it?

In the last episode the cast declared the whole exercise an overwhelmingly positive and life-affirming experience. The same can’t be said for this viewer.

Catch up or watch again (for a limited time) on: http://www.channel4.com/programmes/seven-dwarves