Dwarf Tossing (2002)

by Alexander Cockburn, August 5, 2015

Here’s why I’m against the UN as a promoter of federalism and world guv’mint. This just in from Geneva, Switzerland, via Reuter’s wire: “UN upholds French ban on ‘dwarf-throwing.’” It turns out that a diminutive stuntman who had protested against a French ban on the practice of “dwarf-throwing” has lost his case before some sort of UN human rights judicial body. The tribunal issued some typically pious UN claptrap about the need to protect human dignity being paramount.

The dwarf, a fellow called Manuel Wackenheim, argued that a 1995 ban by France’s highest administrative court was discriminatory and deprived him of a job being tossed around discos and similar venues. …

The U.N. Human Rights Committee said it was satisfied “the ban on dwarf-tossing was not abusive but necessary in order to protect public order, including considerations of human dignity.” It also said the ban “did not amount to prohibited discrimination.”

Dwarfs and their throwers will now have to search out venues, like prize-fighters in eighteenth-century England. Soon some place like Slovakia will be their only venue. No doubt a UN embargo will then ensue, with draconian sanctions, appointment of inspectors/spies, followed by the inevitable intervention, NATO bombing, and occupation.

So here’s a bunch of UN administrators, each of them probably hauling down an annual salary hefty enough to keep a troop of dwarfs in caviar for life, dooming poor little Wackenheim to the unemployment lines, before going home to scream at their underpaid Romanian maidservants or to get a blowjob from a 13-year girl from Kiev in the local whorehouse. (UN guys would do that, you ask? Oh yes they would, remember the nasty little sex scandal about UN observers in Kosovo?)

In the old days, dwarfs could stand proud, strutting down the boulevards, around circus rings, or forming part of some amusing display, or matching themselves against pitbulls (a popular nineteenth-century English pastime). I can remember dwarfs from my childhood in Ireland, along with other bodies remote from conventional anatomy. Walking down the main street of any Irish town reminded one of Breughel. Not any more. I guess even in Catholic Ireland the doc takes a look and chokes nature’s sports before they’ve got out of the starting gate.

If the UN had been around at the time, the hunchbacks of Philip IV of Spain would have been forbidden to pose for Velazquez, and Jeffrey Hudson (18 inches at the age of nine, albeit gracefully proportioned) would never have been permitted to step out of a pie on the dining room table of his boss, George Villiers, the first duke of Buckingham. Having emerged from the pastry, Hudson saluted Villiers’ guests, King Charles I and his Queen, Henrietta Maria who promptly adopted him.

Spared a UN sponsored abortion to save him from an existence incompatible with human dignity, Hudson led an adventurous life and survived two duels, one against a turkey cock and the other in combat with a certain Mr. Crofts. The arrogant Crofts turned up for the duel with a water pistol, but Hudson stood on his dignity and insisted that the engagement be for real. They put Hudson up on a horse to get him level with Crofts and he promptly shot the man dead. Captured by Turkish pirates, Hudson said his tribulations made him grow and having held steady at 18 inches from nine to 30, he shot up to 3′ 9″.

Another dwarf, Charles Stratton (aka General Tom Thumb) killed one of my favorite painters, Benjamin Haydon, who was exhibiting his vast work “The Banishment of Aristides,” in the Egyptian Hall in London. But the crowds preferred to gawp at General Thumb, on display in the same Hall. Thumb drew six hundred pounds sterling in his first week, while Haydon got only a measly seven pounds, 13 shillings. Haydon went off home to his studio and killed himself.

Dwarf tossing? The job came with the stature. William Beckford, the eccentric millionaire who wrote Vathek and built the famous folly at Fonthill, was one of the last to have a dwarf in private service, though E.J Woods, author of the useful “Giants and Dwarfs” (1860) says Beckford’s dwarf was “rather too big to be flung from one guest to another, as was the custom at dinners in earlier days.”

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