We’ve all read and shared the stories: a basketball coach “lets” the disabled team manager dress out and participate in the final seconds of the last game of the season, a senior with Down syndrome is elected prom queen, etc… I’ve even been known to share a few, myself, but lately they’ve been making me increasingly uncomfortable — not the situations, themselves, but the media’s reporting on them.
On the air with Mike Allen this week we talked about one specific example of “inspiration porn” that I personally identified with and what I thought was wrong not just with the media hype, but also with that particular situation. Click the play button below to listen:
This article, however, does a great job articulating what is wrong with the media’s reporting on these situations in general.
Pornography, whatever your feelings about it, is inherently aimed at the viewer. That’s the whole point. Inspiration porn, likewise, turns the disabled individual into an object for your consumption. These stories place the emphasis on the typical person who does something nice to the disabled person, assuming that’s who you will identify with. The non-disabled person gets to be active; they get to drive the narrative forward. We learn about why they did their good deed and how it all makes them feel. Such pieces often editorialize, or allow wise grownups to editorialize, about how good these young people are.
In contrast, the disabled individuals are rendered passive. They rarely get to speak for themselves, to communicate how they feel, or to express their desires. Their lack of competence is presumed.
I used to see these stories as showing the world a positive side to life with a disability, but the reality is that they often do very little to humanize the individuals with disabilities or raise awareness around real issues or experiences. In fact, although frequently well-intentioned, they really only perpetuate the “otherness” of people with disabilities and focus instead on “someone else’s emotional high”.
At its core, inspiration porn — specifically the kind that focuses on an able-bodied person “helping” someone with a disability — “demonstrates the need for a broader engagement with the social model of disability.” As I have said here before, often the hardest part about living with a disability is not coming to terms with what I can’t do, but dealing with the perception that I am more helpless than I really am.
I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with being inspired or wanting to inspire others. We should all want to inspire each other to be better people everyday. But, as David M. Perry notes, the disability community “needs much more than kind restaurant employees, handsome quarterbacks and photo shoots. We need better policy, changing norms and real conversations about key issues. Inspiration porn makes us feel that everything is going to be OK. That’s possible only if we stop being distracted by pretty stories and have the tough conversations.”
Because I Can