Monday, February 23, 2015

Inspiration Porn Part 2 - Abled woman tells Disability Community that Inspiration Porn is Great!

This is one of the worst essays I have ever read on disability. An abled person informing the disability community that inspiration porn is a good thing. She even has the audacity to cite Stella Young. Here's the piece, then a commercial that I think does a better job.
There’s a debate raging on the internet right now about whether or not it’s cool to call disabled people ‘inspirational’ – and going beyond that, whether it’s a) a good thing or b) downright patronising to use them in advertising/promotional campaign - leaving aside the slightly unfortunate casting of Oscar Pistorius as the ‘face’ for a male designer fragrance a couple of years ago. Ooops.

Microsoft, for instance, has been showing off how its technology has helped a six-year-old boy with prosthetic legs. During the American Superbowl footiefest earlier this month, Paralympian Amy Purdy (who has two prosthetic legs) was enlisted to run, dance and even snowboard on behalf of Toyota.

And I say: more power to their elbows. Or possibly bionic knees. I am, I acknowledge, writing this from the standpoint of someone with two legs and two arms whose only (small) disability seems to be that the bit of my brain which can process instruction manuals appears to be entirely absent.
So much wrong. First, her little joke about instruction manuals betrays fundamental ignorance about disability. It's not a joke. We're not all "just a little bit disabled." The notion that we might move in and out of disability throughout our lives is a sophisticated and complex concept, layered with disability hierarchies and the complexities of our medically-guided society.

Furthermore, inspiration porn is not about being patronising, but about using disability to make abled people feel good/inspired.

She goes on:

But considering the prejudices and other challenges that most disabled people have had to encounter in their lifetime – appalling access to many buildings, being referred to in the third person, or, and I have this direct from a disabled friend, ‘being farted at’ right, left and centre (the wheelchair-bound being positioned at the exact height the rest of the population break wind), I don’t see how this can be anything but a positive thing.
The question is asked: should disabled people be positioned as ‘inspirational’? By suggesting that they somehow have additional, superhuman qualities for achieving great things, is this not offensive? Aussie comedian Stella Young has referred to the putting of disabled people on some kind of pedestal as ‘inspiration porn’.
If you don't know Stella Young, sadly recently passed away, go watch her TED talk and read her writings and interviews with her. You'll be glad you did. 

I believe this author that she doesn't "see how this can be anything but a positive thing." One person who might tell her why was, of course, Stella Young. She goes on to talk about her brother-in-law, in a wheelchair, an inspiration to all, with a "harem" (which makes me wonder about her sister).

She talks about the ways in which the disabled were generally invisible in the past, so more visibility is good, and this is true so far as it goes. But visibility does not necessarily lead to change, it leads to people thinking - hey, everything is ok now! I remember when a comedy group did a whole show making fun of disability because "they've got the ADA and we don't." Visibility can lead to complacency.
As for someone who is born with a disability? Whatever happens to each of us is our ‘normal’ – and we don’t know any different. But yes, I do still feel for anyone who is faced with a daily challenge like getting up kerbs in a wheelchair, or shopping in a supermarket (no pushing trolleys for the single disabled shopper), or who has to strap on a prosthetic limb to go to the loo in the middle of the night.  
She "feels" for you, disabled people. That's the end result of all of this - her feelings for you. She feels good about herself because she feels bad for you.

The problem with this article is not, in fact the article itself, but that it reflects the dominant mode of representation and discourse about disability in modern media and everyday life in western culture (and maybe elsewhere, I don't know).


Here's an ad that I like (and it's a real family, though one with a reality-TV background). A multi-ethnic and multi-ability family (remember, disability IS diversity) using "assistive technology," by which I mean an easily extendable mop. It went reasonably viral, with a 2 million + views on YouTube, but I think it deserves more attention. There's nothing inspirational here. There's nothing about making you feel good about yourself because the disabled person has overcome adversity. Rather, there's a tool that's pretty useful set within the context of everyday family life.

 

I actually some of the superbowl ads weren't that bad either, at least compared to some of the things from the past. And some of it is tone - The Microsoft ad had potential, but the voice-over wrecked it. The Toyota ad was worse - because it wasn't even about disability, it just used a great athlete with prosthetic legs, soaring music, and a powerful voiceover from Muhammad Ali about "how great I am" to inspire the viewer about Toyotas.

And hey, I'm glad Amy Purdy got the work for a major ad. But it's still inspiration porn. Here's an Elizabeth Heideman piece on the superbowl ads making that point.

Finally - and I know this post has been long - what is it with prosthetic legs right now and  marketing? Do they rest in some kind of "canny valley," in which they are just strange enough and new enough to be cool, but not so odd to fall into the "uncanny valley?" I'm not sure.

At any rate, here's the take away: Fellow abled people, please don't write more op-eds on how inspiration porn is progress.

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