Sunday, September 16, 2012

Inspiration Porn

I'm going to say something that is likely a very unpopular sentiment. Those inspiration posters/videos with people missing an arm/leg/eye and doing something non-disabled people are generally too lazy to do...the ones that people seem to love in BJJ...the ones I didn't see much of until I started training...they irk me. I couldn't figure out exactly why until I read this article. The picture below is a perfect example:


Yes, it's cute. The look on Oscar Pistorius' face is possibly more endearing than the adorable little girl...but that quote...that line from Scott Hamilton does so much to reduce those with disabilities to caricatures.

Phillipa Willits put my misgivings into words that I couldn't quite pinpoint...


Using a snapshot of disabled people as a tool to convey a message to, primarily, non-disabled people, involves playing on stereotypes and assumptions. It removes a person’s humanity and individuality in order to present them in a way that will goad a non-disabled person to buck up their ideas. It does not matter who the people in these photographs are, as long as their representation is enough to guilt non-disabled people into action. Their use of prosthetics is the only thing about them that is of interest in these images, and it automatically turns them into some kind of superhero. Along with the captions, the implication is supposed to be, “Wow, they have a great attitude!”.



I think what I find most insidious, is that the image of the happy, disabled person overcoming all odds with a positive attitude can effectively erase the awareness of the viewer--basically allowing them to "forget" a lot of  the unpleasantness of life that the idea of disability so rudely reminds them of...and I'm guessing that forgetfulness doesn't stop at just affecting the disabled. I'd be willing to bet it makes it easier for all of us to reduce the people in our lives to snippets of their individual existences

7 comments:

Shark Girl said...

I agree. Not only does it reduce a person to their disability, it also doesn't address the target audience's reality.

At school they showed a video of a person who is missing arms and legs climbing some mountain. While this is truly miraculous and awe-inspiring, this individual clearly had the financial means and family support to accomplish what he did. Not all people have that at their disposal. I know the idea is that if this person can overcome these difficulties, surely we can overcome smaller ones. But what if someone is poverty-stricken, depressed, or living in an abusive situation? People's lives aren't comparable in that way, and I find it infantilizing to assume they are. It's the same with "pick-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps." No one ever does anything alone. Usually there is a system surrounding that person that helps them get where they have pulled themselves up to--whether it be a supportive family, a parent who sacrificed to send a child to college, an inheritance, connections, etc.

Megan said...

"Not only does it reduce a person to their disability, it also doesn't address the target audience's reality."

Bam...that's it right there. As much as I give any disabled person props for their physical accomplishments, it's like you said, pulling is a choice, but everybody's boots are a gift.

Felicia said...

We see the same thing in cancer circles: the idea that the person in the thick of treatment, bald and probably still sick to her stomach, smiles into the camera with her drawn in eye-brows and declares that she is a fighter/warrior/survivor (fill in the blank). The implication is that her positive attitude is what makes her so special. Ummm....no - and I can say this because I've been there, done that: she's fighting because she HAS TO, just like the photos/videos of folks with prosthetic limbs. Like Shark Girl said, there are so many other factors that go into the making of that photo (op - oops! did I say that out loud?!?). Reducing folks to a sterotypical "attitude is everything" poster child misses about 99% of it.

Totally feeling you on this one, Megan...

Trudy said...

Great post Megan! The article you referenced and Shark Girl's comment sum this up perfectly. Ultimately it is ability being used as a fetish and not recognizing the full humanity of those disabled. They are not here just to be objects to be inspired by and used to in fact make other disabled people who might not be as talented as i.e. Pistorius feel inferior. It's wrong.

Megan said...

Yep@Trudy

I really wonder what the net effect of this "inspiration" actually is.

Georgia said...

I'm an "Invisibly Disabled" teenager, and for me, this sums a lot of it up. The only thing I could add is the fact that inspiration porn can not only upset, but actually shame disabled people.
I used to be top of my class at school, one of the best at sports, etc, etc. When I got sick, I had to give very nearly everything up. One of the things I had to learn early on was that it's okay if I can't do everything. It's okay if I can't get out of bed. It's okay if all I do that day is breathe.
This isn't really an accepted way of thinking in today's society. It's expected that all you have to do is go to the doctor, take some magic pill, and get on with it (and whoever doesn't is faking it). If that was true, I would have done it already. I have not given up, but I have accepted my limitations.
And so, we come back to inspiration porn. These things are made by able bodied people for able bodied people. They don't understand that people actually believe this stuff, and then some expect all disabled people to be able to do anything. Limitations are dismissed or ignored. I, personally, am made to feel like I'm not trying hard enough, and that's frustrating. If anything, I tend to try too hard and make myself worse. I've even had family members say things like "just try," "why is she using that?" (in reference to my walking stick) and this gem: "The mind is a powerful thing. If anyone can use it to its full potential, it's you" (the kicker - my illness has nothing to do with the mind at all). These family members, funnily enough, all like inspiration porn and don't understand that these comments are insulting and upsetting. They think they're being helpful when they say something "inspiring" and don't get why I hate it so much.

Megan said...

Hi Georgia!

Thanks so much for your insight and perspective. These posters/memes are really starting to seem immensely selfish to me. I'm hoping the trend dies out soon. I liked them better when they were just kittens hanging from branches.