There's an old video of John Lennon making the rounds on social media this week where he openly mocks people with disabilities by crudely mimicking them. The uproar over this 50 year-old footage erupted after a BBC program "It was Alright in the 60's", a show designed to highlight the ways that the entertainment industry and our standards for acceptable behavior have changed over the past several decades, aired it. It's not as if this footage was new to begin with, though. It has been included in a number of Beatles documentaries over the years and it was part of the "Anthology" program that the Beatles released back in 1995 and it never caused much, if any controversy. Until now.
It's well documented that John Lennon had a pretty twisted, cruel sense of humor. He was especially uncomfortable around people with physical handicaps including his own step father whom John referred to as "Twitchy" due to a facial tick. He was known to get incredibly nervous when handicapped fans were brought backstage during Beatles appearances. He remarked in an interview with Rolling Stone ( issues # 74 & 75; 21 Jan & 4 Feb, 1971):
Wherever we went on tour, in Britain and everywhere we went, there were
always a few seats laid aside for cripples and people in wheelchairs.
Because we were famous, we were supposed to have epileptics and whatever
they are in our dressing room all the time. We were supposed to be sort
of “good,” and really you wanted to be alone. You don’t know what to
say, because they’re usually saying “I’ve got your record” or they can’t
speak and just want to touch you. It’s always the mother or the nurse
pushing them on you, they themselves would just say hello and go away,
but the mothers would push them at you like you were Christ or
something, as if there were some aura about you which would rub off on
them. It just got to be like that and we were very sort of callous about
it. It was just dreadful: you would open up every night, and instead of
seeing kids there, you would just see a row full of cripples along the
front. It seemed that we were just surrounded by cripples and blind
people all the time, and when we would go through corridors, they would
be all touching us and things like that. It was horrifying.
It was the “in” joke that we were supposed to cure them; it was the kind
of thing that we would say, because it was a cruel thing to say. We
felt sorry for them, anybody would, but there is a kind of embarrassment
when you’re surrounded by blind, deaf and crippled people. There is
only so much we could say, you know, with the pressure on us, to do and
So, you view the clip as Lennon rebelling against how the Beatles were often viewed as saviors and faith healers by caretakers of the disabled. Or you can view it as Lennon being a callous asshole towards the disabled for the sake of cheap physical comedy. Or you can see it as Lennon making fun of Paul's mediocre call for the audience to clap their hands. Or you can see it as Lennon making fun of Beatles fans in general. You can view it as a relic of a bygone age or you can view it as yet another example of Lennon being an asshole. However you see it, if you're offended by it, before you get out your pitchforks and torches, you have to ask yourself why there wasn't a similar outcry back when the clip was first aired in 1964 and why subsequent airings over 50 years have failed to cause a stir. Why are people getting upset now as opposed to any time before?