Monday, 20 January 2014

Inspiration Porn

A few days ago a couple of friends of mine brought my attention to an interesting article about disability. Being a glass half empty kind of man my initial reaction was one of irritation at the realisation that someone else is writing about disability in a wry, dry, hopefully insightful and witty manner. Memoirs Of A Fire Hazard is not unique. Were it to exist in any form outside of cyberspace I would take it outside to the back garden and set it on fire. At which point both it and its author would be of serious concern to the emergency services. It's let me down. Badly.

My new rival is someone calling herself That Crazy Crippled Chick. She'll have to change that name if she wants to get anything published in the mainstream. For now though she is concerning herself with explaining the rather grubby term 'inspiration porn'. This is not something you find on the top shelf at your newsagents, but rather the objectification of disabled people for doing very little other than getting up in the morning and living. For me the link between this and real porn is tenuous at best. Ok, so you could argue that real porn objectifies women, but the similarity stops there. Disabled people are sometimes objectified, but it has nothing to do with titillation, relieving stress or the fact that you haven't got a partner and haven't had since the first series of Fawlty Towers.

Whatever you want to call it, objectification of the disabled is very real. We've all seen it. You're sat there minding your own business when some helplessly inspired dickhead comes over and blurts out something like 'I think it's brilliant what you do'. In my experience what I am usually doing at times like this is drinking beer in public with other members of the human race doing likewise around me. This is where the Crazy Crippled Chick has it spot on. There is nothing heroic about this. It's easy, you just have a shit and a shave and you go, same as anyone else. Actually the Crazy Crippled Chick probably doesn't need to shave. But she probably has to apply a shit-load of make-up. Either way it's not that difficult.

Where she and I start to differ is on her next point, about how most disabled people consider their disability to be a fundamental part of their identity and cannot imagine their lives without it. I fucking can. I can imagine being six foot six, able to run like Usain Bolt and never ever having a taxi driver drive past me because he can't do wheelchairs. I can imagine having never been told 'it's not you, it's the wheelchair'. I can imagine being able to urinate without reference to a clock or the insertion of a narrow tube which exposes me to the risk of infection and the subsequent erosion of my kidney function. Oh yes, I can imagine my life without disability alright, and I often do. I'm doing it right now. I might spend large parts of my time arguing for equality and better attitudes, but I'd stop short of considering my disability to be some kind of badge of honour that I desperately want to hang on to. If I could sell it to you for 50p and a bag of grapes I would. In fact you may even be able to barter with me and get it for even less. It is most definitely not A Good Thing.

Still, as long as I am disabled I would agree with the Crazy Crippled Chick in as far as you should not be using me as some kind of inspirational self-help guide. There are many things (other than boozing) that I can do just as easily as anyone else and for which I do not need your gasps of awe and admiration. Getting up in the morning, dressing, driving, singing in the right tune but the wrong key, working and not killing myself are all things that some disability objectifiers suppose that I might find terribly difficult but which are actually routine. Even our Paralympic athletes seem to be regarded as people who have beaten the odds to achieve great things, when in fact they are just people who have worked very hard to achieve great things. The notion that it is more difficult to win a gold medal if you have a disability than if you don't is somewhat pooped upon when you consider that everyone they are competing against has a disability. Somebody has to win and beating adversity or 'the odds' doesn't come in to it.

On that note, there is a perception that the London 2012 Paralympics has had a monumental effect on the way people see disability and disabled people. I have to say I haven't noticed any difference in the last 18 months. I think it works if your name is David Weir, Richard Whitehead or Ellie Simmonds, but for the rest of us there may even have been a slightly negative effect at times. During the Paralympics I was convinced that society wanted to know why I hadn't won the London Marathon six times and that, since I hadn't, I wasn't doing enough to overcome my circumstances. We haven't really made any significant progress until we get to the point where people sit down to watch a Paralympic sporting event and view it as just that, sport, and not as an episode of Channel 4's 'Superhumans'.

See, even Channel 4 objectify us.






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