Inspiration Porn

 
 
[photo: black and white image of a bearded, white, tattoo’d, bespectacled person wearing a black tshirt, overalls and cap, sitting in a motorized mobility scooter, clasping their hands together while smiling big, with their forearm crutches sticking up behind them; text reads: “Know what i’m tired of? Images of disabled people doing random things, turned into “inspiration porn”. These images (e.g. children joyfully running with their prosthetic legs, someone painting with their toes, an elder skiing, etc), are then emblazoned with text like “what’s your excuse?”, “your excuse is invalid”, “if ___ can do it, why can’t you?” and other gems. They call on non-disabled people to buck up and stop making excuses for not doing something, and guilt other disabled folks into feeling like crap for not being able to pull themselves up by the proverbial bootstraps & “just do it”. These images & sentiments are an ableist tool. They exceptionalize disabled people based in ablesist notions of accomplishment & worth. They build on & reenforce able bodied pitydom of gimps. Just fucking stop it ok? We’re just doing our thing, yknow? We are not a goddamn guilt-trip tool to get you to do stuff. Please, if you need to use gimps as a tool to get you to do stuff, yer using the wrong starting point. (*for example, in this photo, i am simply enjoying a moment with a friend… I AM NOT YOUR INSPIRATION!)”]
 
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Think about it… if you wanted to surf, i bet you’ve seen many photos of random people surfing, and if you’re reading this now you’ve got access to a computer and, like, so many photos and videos

[e.g. when i type in “surfing” into google, i get about 185
,000,000 results].
surfing   Google Search

 

So ask yourself:

why does it take the image of a disabled person doing it to get you to do it?

Here’s what i think, take it or leave it, i just ask that you ponder it some:

Society creates stories out of disabled folks. Stories which vilify us or exceptionalize us, and in the case of these images it’s the latter (but it ultimately leads to the former as well, but that’s for another post).

It seems like it taps into a few things:

A sense of pity (however subconscious) for the disabled person, because wow, is that ever sad!

A sense of “well if they can do it so can i!” But why didn’t you have that reaction when you saw 184,999,999 shots of able bodied people doing the exact same thing? Just the mere SIGHT of a disabled person propelled you to do it? Wow! Now THAT’S power and influence!

There’s this … sense of “duty” / “obligation” somehow. Because if disabled people are doing this, you cant possibly say no. That wouldn’t look right. What would your friends think? How could you look at yourself in the morning if there was a poor disabled child out there running joyfully with their prosthetic legs while you whined about schedules and whatnot?

[Us just existing and not crawling into a hole you can see really makes folks think of the big picture, of humanity, of you know, the like meaning of life and shit.]

You look at that kid running  [ that same running kid i mentioned earlier ], and maybe you see the joy on their face. You want to capture some of that for yourself, maybe remember what it’s like to feel like that. But what you’re also doing when you read the words “your excuse is invalid” [aside from probably not even thinking about the use of that word “invalid” in this context] and you leap off the couch to find your old track suit, is that you are creating a story for that kid based on able-bodied perceptions of worth, of success, of joy; you are pitying that kid, you are maybe feeling silly for ever thinking you couldnt do it because wow, that kid can do it! 
And that dear reader is ableism. Just ponder it, ok?
And before i get any “you don’t want to see gimps doing stuff!!” messages, that’s not what this is about. i love seeing images of gimps doing stuff. What i don’t dig is the ableist sentimentality which so often accompanies it. i dislike having our lives used as a tool to reenforce the very systems which cause us to be “disabled” in the first place [you know, disability as a social construct and all that jazz]. Different stuff.
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16 thoughts on “Inspiration Porn

  1. Well considered and well said. i agree with this post, as i interpret it. Since i first read this, i've been imagining counter-memes (to the viral meme of the racing child): something with a typical person (or maybe someone hugely physically developed, like a “World's Strongest Man” contestant) engaged in normal physical exertion, or something extreme, with the words “your excuse is… no less valid”, or “your excuse is… still invalid”, or something similar.

    Peace

  2. I totally agree with this post and have often been made uncomfortable by the photos you mentioned when people share them on FB. However, it took me ages to figure out why. Thanks for helping me Id the source of my discomfort.

    incidentally- When i first saw your picture shared to another site my dyslexic brain interpreted it as a man in a golf car with golf clubs looking happy. a picture may be worth a thousand words but that does not prevent it from being miss read!

  3. aaaaah, super-crip-ism… funny enough, my Disability Studies class covered this in our 101 class, yet I'm encountering students who don't seem to get it.

    One of them made a funny comment to me, that I had the unfair advantage of being disabled in Disability Studies. And I responded, “yeah, for the first time in my life, I have the advantage in school, imagine that.” I was also trying very hard not to laugh in her face.

    Anyways, yes. This post is just YES!!!!

  4. I despise the super-crip crap. When I tell people that I'm just an asshole with cancer, they just don't get it. I don't want anyone looking at my life and using the way that society disables me as inspiration for how they will work to further our oppression and ignore our real needs.

  5. Excuse me for saying but, Did somebody pee in your Cheerios or something? What is so BAD about being an inspiration to someone? I am disabled myself. Maybe not as bad as many, but my pain is excruciating. And it keeps me bed ridden sometimes for day's on end. Just the same … I get up & do “what I can” every day. And what helps to motivate me to do so? Seeing that others in worse condition are able to do so also. And I have a lot of friends who are also disabled who are at wits end. To the point of sometimes being suicidal about their own various conditions. So if by me being positive & motivating one of those folks just enough as so they don't go & off themselves on a bad day? Don't you think that is GOOD?! If you don't want to help others & be a positive in others lives … that's fine. That's your business … But, keep it to yourself OK? Don't go bashing others for them trying to help their fellow disabled friends to have something to help motovate them & bring them out of their funk. Just because it doesn't do that for you … Doesn't mean that it doesn't help everybody. VERY negative post friend … Very negative indeed.

  6. Stu, i hear what you're saying, but i think youve missed the point of my post.

    i have zero problem with fellow gimps working with each other and creating environments where we can share our victories large and small; and i have zero problem with us each inspiring one another.
    Thats not the point of this post.

    The point of this post is about how i happen to feel about primarily able bodied folks using the images of disabled folks to inspire themselves to do what they want to do. i have a problem with it because it relies on the pitying of disabled people — pitying which feeds into and supports ableism, and guilting people based on that pity, which also feeds into and supports ableism.

    And this
    “If you don't want to help others & be a positive in others lives … that's fine. That's your business … But, keep it to yourself OK? Don't go bashing others for them trying to help their fellow disabled friends to have something to help motovate them & bring them out of their funk. Just because it doesn't do that for you … Doesn't mean that it doesn't help everybody. VERY negative post friend … Very negative indeed.”

    was unnecessarily personalizing, and again, missed the point. If you imagine because im calling out what i personally experience as ableism is just about me not wanting to be a positive influence, not wanting to help my fellow gimps, you clearly dont know anything about me (and i mean, of course you dont, this is just a blog).

    This is just a blog, wherein i share my personal experiences around this stuff. If you want to learn more about the kinds of things i do in my communities to make shit better for me and my communities, just look around a little, and id be happy to talk more about that, as well as where i can do some learning, because we all have to. But this isnt about what i do or dont do, its about me calling out what i perceive to be the use of imagery of disabled folks to incite pity and guilt in able bodied people.

  7. For what it’s worth, I always assume that everyone in those pictures is some kind of asshole – just to balance out all of the inspiro-baters posting shit like ‘What a great man that is’, or ‘This is a true hero’ or whatever.

    How could you possibly tell all that from a Polaroid?

    Maybe the guy helping the little girl with the carbon fiber feet is a massive prick, or some kind of sexual deviant. Maybe he’s a white supremacist, or some other kind of regressive bigot. Maybe it’s his daughter, or he’s getting paid to work with her, or any of a thousand other scenarios that would negate the altruistic overtones.

    I guess what sticks in my craw is this underlying and pervasive concept that a disabled person is somehow fundamentally incapable of being a bad person. That’s basically like telling someone that they’re so crippled that they can’t even suck. “You threw a bowling ball? How heroic!” Not if you bowl a 68 it isn’t. Take off the kid gloves and treat people like people for a change.

    I understand that it represents some degree of social progress that we as a society don’t just point and yell “gimp” at the top of our lungs anymore. But maybe we need to learn just to mind our own business, leave people alone, and shut the hell up.

    I guess that means I’ve failed to meet my own criteria.

    What I’m trying to say is that inspiration porn is the product of a worldview that is both condescending and elitist, and I don’t like it.

  8. I never realized until recently, through reading other blogs on this topic, that I am guilty. Yes, I do feel inspired when I see others doing something that just isn’t easy, especially given the circumstances. Unfortunately, often it is not easy because they are either in a wheelchair, require a walker or some other assistive device, but not always. I am just as inspired when I see a child take their first steps (now that was difficult and exciting for them). Or, I see someone who has struggled with math their whole lives and then eventually, through hard work, ace a math test. Balance and common sense, should prevail here.

    • Thanks for your comment, SCG. The thing i would say is, “common sense” isn’t so common, and it’s definitely not applied equally across our varied experiences and interactions with disability as well as within the ableist society in which i live. When people (in particular non disabled folks) look at me and derive inspiration in a way that feels condescending and presumptuous (defined by me), then i do feel it contributes to crappy narratives around ableism and what it is to be variously disabled. i feel that way because, as i mentioned, it makes it clear that they’re making assumptions about me, about my body, about what it is to be disabled. The various situations you mention feeling inspired by are not all the same, they are not weighted the same way in this society, the punishments and rewards for achieving each of these things are actually really different. My common sense will be different from yours or the next persons. What i’m suggesting is that people examine why they see me or some other person they assume to be disabled, make assumptions about what that must mean, and are then inspired when they imagine that person somehow living beyond those assumptions.

  9. Pingback: this is why i talk about this stuff | building radical accessible communities everywhere

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