I’m not sure who coined the term inspiration porn but the first time that I ever read about it was in the work of the late and great Stella Young. For those not familiar with the term inspiration porn it refers to those quotes, photos and videos that focus on disability and have the aim to inspire. I refer here to examples like photos of amputees where they are standing on their prosthetic limb, perhaps climbing a steep cliff and the caption reads – THE ONLY DISABILITY IN LIFE IS A BAD ATTITUDE!
We hardened disability advocates hate these sorts of things. Stella Young’s point was that the person with the prosthetic limb is inspiring because they are good at climbing cliffs, not because they do it with a prosthetic limb. Ms Young, who was a wheelchair user, would tell hilarious tales of well meaning people who would praise her simply for getting on a train and even pat her on the head. As she often said – I AINT YOUR INSPIRATION.
I have been in the disability sector for well over three decades. I have seen some really patronizing behavior in my time and as a result I am sometimes hardened and cynical. Often this patronizing behavior is well meaning. It’s really hard to tell someone to disappear up their own proverbial when they say things like, “You speak so well for a deaf person.” As I said, they mean well and sometimes it is just easier to turn the other cheek.
Of late I have had cause to question my cynicism. There have been videos of people with a disability doing relatively ordinary things but I have been touched. I have been asking myself whether I have become too cynical about memes and videos that focus on people with a disability doing ordinary things. I guess there is fine line between inspiration porn and a genuine attempt to raise awareness and challenge attitudes.
This all started with who I call Ricky Martin in a wheelchair. Before I comment further, watch the video below.
In this video “Ricky” is having a great time. He is clearly enjoying himself immensely. His smile is broad and his enthusiasm contagious. He is in a wheelchair and he is dancing like no one is watching. He has these huge, muscular and very long arms. The watcher can’t help but be touched by his up and at em’ attitude. Those arms they are everywhere! If I am honest I actually found the video a little comical and that probably is not fair.
My first reaction was to laugh and groan because I have been conditioned to see such videos as inspiration porn. I saw it as a video that has been made to inspire us all. Man in a wheelchair dancing, wow, how wonderful! The first thing you will notice is that the language is not English.It comes from Chile. Now the man in question is simply asking people to vote for him so that he can get to Miami for a competition and record a song. He is simply doing what he loves and the video is really not inspiration porn at all. It’s simply a guy doing what he loves and proud of it.
Sadly, the cynic in me automatically labelled this video inspiration porn and it clearly is not. For that I am sorry and I really need to clean up my act. Sadly too, there will be many who show the video and who will show it because they want to inspire others. There is nothing like a man in a wheelchair dancing to tug at the heart strings. I am pretty sure the guy in question did not intend to do that. He just wanted to dance and show off his moves. We really need to consider the issue of inspiration porn more carefully.
The same day I saw another video featuring a couple who have Down Syndrome who were lovers. The video tells the story, watch it below:
Now I am a sucker for happy stories. I cry at the drop of a pin and I have to say that I watched this video and went AWWWWWWW. Embarrassingly there was a lump in my throat. I found it very touching. The love that the couple had for each other was absolutely glowing. You had to have been made of steel to not be touched by it. But again inspiration porn raised its ugly head. I started to question my reaction. I wondered if I was reacting because it the couple in question had Down Syndrome and not just because it was a truly touching video of two people in love.
And then the cynic in me started to ask questions. Is McDonalds using this video to shamelessly promote themselves? Has some sharp marketing guy seen an opportunity and planted the idea in the young fellows head and set it up so that there is not a dry eye in the house? Did he plan it so that we are all inspired by the story of these two lovers who have Down Syndrome? And then a little voice in my head said STOP.
Firstly, the video is telling story. It tells a story of two people with Down Syndrome who are in love and want to live together. Whether we like it or not, our society does not see people with Down Syndrome like this. Our society often recoils at the thought that people with disabilities might actually like sex. Our society actually recoils at the notion that people with a disability have the same feelings as any other person. The same desires and aspirations. This video challenges all these notions, and for that reason it is brilliant.
To be honest I am now questioning my attitude towards inspiration porn. There is no doubt that inspiration porn exists. There is no doubt that some of the messages that inspiration porn promotes are actually the wrong messages. Inspiration porn sends a message that being disabled is, for some reason, exceptional. Inspiration porn suggests that people with a disability doing everyday things like working, learning and playing is, therefore, also exceptional. There is no question that there is too much of this type of material around.
But some videos and material that might seem to be inspiration porn are actually not. Some of this material forces people to challenge their perceptions of disability. Some of this material actually creates better awareness and acceptance.
Sadly many of us hardened disability advocates have become so cynical about the way disability is promoted that sometimes we cannot tell the difference. I am one of these people. It’s time for us all to have an intelligent debate about inspiration porn. Because what seems to be such ain’t always necessarily so.