Cripes. I didn’t anticipate this blog would become overtly political or polemic. Sorry. Though maybe it was just a matter of time. I’ll create a new category so fun-loving, chilled readers have the option of ignoring these more confrontational, thornier, issues.

So, what’s the story? Well, here’s the Daily Mail, and Guardian blog version of what happened this week. To summarise, three guys with learning disabilities were refused the opportunity of taking part in a karaoke evening in their local pub because one of them in particular, James, ‘shouted instead of singing’.  They had taken part in karaoke evenings for six months before the landlord changed and their involvement was blocked.  The new landlord sticks by his story that  his decision to exclude their participation relates to their (in)ability to sing, rather than their (dis)ability.

This story raises challenging, problematic and potentially offensive issues. Not least that karaoke isn’t generally quality appraised and, for many people, the diverse quality of singers is part of the appeal and fun of the event. We don’t tend to hear about people excluded from karaoke because of their singing ability. Shows, such as XFactor, feed into the ‘anyone can have a go’ discourse. So was the exclusion an outcome of discriminatory practice?

Mmmm. Not sure really. For the landlord the issue is presented as one that involves the ability to sing. Whether or not his views relate to the boys having learning disabilities isn’t clear.  Part of the problem, for me, is that no one in the press has actually spoken to James and his mates. The discussion has all been via the care home manager, Alex Duggan. The landlord states that he tried to discuss the situation with Alex Duggan who refused to engage with him. He has also underlined the fact that the boys are welcome in the pub.

Historically, that the  experience of James and his mates, is being discussed in mainstream press is a positive development. But it is just as important not to stop, or obstruct, this dialogue (facilitated by a combination of people with learning disabilities, care managers, parents and other other advocate/activists) by not acknowledging or recognising thornier, interactional issues  that are often brushed to one side.  Such as what is acceptable behaviour? What issues could be circumvented or managed? What does inclusion look like?

We should avoid interpreting situations with only a learning disability lens, when people with learning disabilities are involved. I don’t think these young men should have been excluded from karaoke but I think that sometimes, behaviours (by anyone) may be less than acceptable. Just because someone is labelled as learning disabled, doesn’t mean they have a blank canvas to do anything. A more realist engagement may facilitate a more productive interaction with difference.

I’m sure my views will be interpreted as abrasive, harsh, uncomfortable and unacceptable by some. And I can understand why. But until we acknowledge that people with learning disabilities can behave in ways that aren’t acceptable (like other, non disabled people can), then barriers will entrenched. Matey from the karaoke pub seemed to demonstrate engagement that should be encouraged, not necessarily, stamped on.  A realistic, open and reflective approach, rather than a diktat, may enhance and support greater acceptance in the longer run.

5 thoughts on “Karaoke-gate

  1. Let’s see, if I got this straight. It’s Karaoke night at a pub. I take it that a pub is similar to a bar in the States. I’ve seen and participated in karaoke nights and I do not sing very well. The same can be said of many who participate. Since alcohol is available in pubs, I suspect the number of bad singing is a lot higher.

    Is the landlord proposing to exclude everyone who sings like these three guys? He won’t have much customers and it won’t be very fun. I do suspect that the landlord is reacting to the disability and not their inability. As it happens, I have a vision impairment and hearing impairment. I am 47 and born with these. Hence, my above suspicions.

    Is it possible the man was thinking of how embarrassing it would be for them and did not want to expose James and his friends to public ridicules? It is quite possible and I’ve run into this, myself. I can understand the desire to act this way and it is appreciated. However, the final decision is up to James and crew.

    If James want to make a fool of himself then it is his choice. It would be wiser for the landlord to talk with James, his two friends and Alex about any concerns relating to their participation in a Karaoke night. If they still want to do so then let them.

    • Nicely considered comments, thanks Barry! Yes, I suspect he probably was responding to their learning disabilities too, though he’s been reported as saying because James shouted, it was bad for business. I agree with you overall.

  2. It’s to be expected that someone with such a blinkered view of the world as this landlord would justify himself in such a lame way. His justification will of course make perfect sense to him, even though if he were to watch ITV on a Saturday night (X Factor) he would immediately see that shouting, mumbling or even forgetting the words altogether is not necessarily a sign of lack of talent. It is of course a front for his views, which he knows full well are out of step with the rest of society. Lets hope James and his friends find somewhere better to sing.

  3. I have a student who is diagnosed with a similar condition, I forget which, in my class. It is always difficult to try to get the balance right between tolerance and ‘not letting her away with’ behaviour that is disruptive to the learning environment. I’m still learning how best to tackle the situation. However, banning her from the classroom obviously would never be an option. I think, possibly, that there is a fear of engaging with anyone who is different, and trying to enforce the same rules on them as on everyone else, maybe because we assume that they will be hurt by such a request, or unable to comply with it. Easier to ask them to leave. Easier, but patronising: My student is happy enough to be told to be quiet and let someone else speak for a change. She just needs to be asked more often than the rest of them.
    Of course, the landlord in question could have a particularly good ear for music. I hope he never hears ME sing after a couple of pints…

    • Interesting. I think you are right about the assumptions underpinning the reluctance to ask some people to pipe down a bit. Ha ha ha!!! Better give that pub a wide berth then 😉

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