“Inspiration Porn”: A Discussion

Share

3750569882_698b500933This post is excerpted from a discussion from the team at Disability in Kid Lit. You can read more on the topic, and check out their other great work, at their website. 

This week’s topic: inspiration porn. Don’t know what that is? You’ll find the answer below–we asked our contributors how they define this concept and what they feel about it. Read on!

Kody Keplinger:

To me, inspiration porn is any sort of media (a picture, a movie, a book, etc) or even a view of an individual, that tries to fabricate an ordinary action as something extraordinary. For instance, a meme depicting an amputee with a prosthetic leg walking with the caption “Brave!” (Yes, I have seen this before). It can also be imposed on an individual. For instance, I’d say I’ve been turned into inspiration porn by strangers who tell me that I’m “so amazing” for – no kidding – walking down the street with a guide dog or a cane.

I *hate* inspiration porn. I can’t even convey how much I hate it. To me, it’s such a dangerous thing because, even if the intentions are good, it implies that the average disabled person is weak or lacks independence. So when people tell me I’m “amazing” for being out in the world, it implies the average blind person is a shut in.

In reality, disabled people are people and want to be treated like normal people. This means not being seen as “brave” or “inspirational” for average, every day actions. Unfortunately, the news, modern lit, modern film, etc, seem to think this is the only way to tell the story of a disabled person. The plot is always “Character X has Disability Y, but she STILL MIRACULOUSLY MANAGES TO OVER COME IT.” Disabled people in the media are always treated as extraordinary and not ordinary. And, to put it eloquently, it sucks.

Corinne Duyvis:

Disability porn, I feel, is a way of simultaneously focusing on how incredibly tragic a certain disability is and robbing the disabled person of any agency or complex feelings about it. Instead, it fawns over – fetishizes, almost –the aspects that make abled people smile sappily. After all, isn’t it amazing how well this wheelchair user can navigate public transport? It’s so inspiring! Just leaving the house is already an act of immense bravery, worthy of applause. In other words, the bar is set at a condescendingly low level.

In inspiration porn, it’s fine to linger on how much pain someone is in, or adversity they’ve faced, because all of it strengthens just how brave they are for trudging on regardless–but Lord forbid you mention things disabled people might struggle with every day, such as accessibility, ableism, policy, benefits, healthcare. Inspiration porn glibly bypasses those issues to tell a narrative that won’t make anyone’s conscience sting, or feel like they might need to change their attitudes. The audience is abled people, and the goal is to make them feel good, and screw what actual disabled people might want or need. Disabled people act as props in this narrative. One spot-on example: the Glee episode “Laryngitis” in which a disabled character appears solely to inspire Rachel.

Kayla Whaley:

To me, inspiration porn is any story where a character must overcome the horrible tragedy of their disability, thus inspiring the able-bodied audience. This can be found in any and all types of media: books, movies, TV, etc. The first time I remember seeing it was in a Disney channel movie back in the day called Miracle in Lane 2, where Frankie Muniz heroically races soapbox cars despite using a chair. I had no language to understand what I was seeing or why it made me so profoundly uncomfortable, but now I do.

How we portray reality affects reality. Culture is made, constructed by an infinite number of tiny (and not so tiny) decisions we each make. Inspiration porn, therefore, affects how individuals and the wider culture see me. For example, I’ve had a lot of recommendation letters written for me (for scholarships, internships, awards, jobs, etc.) and I’ve read quite a few of them. Every single one so far has said something along the lines of, “Kayla never lets her wheelchair stop her. She’s such an inspiration.” And every time I think, “Really? Of all my accomplishments and qualities, that’s what you chose to lead with?”

The media I consumed both as a kid and now tell me I’m not allowed to be a person; I have to be an inspiration. Whatever that means.

—-
What do you think? How have you seen “inspiration porn” in the media? What do you think is the solution to portraying disability inclusively and realistically? You can read more in the discussion here.

—-

Disability in Kidlit features posts by readers, writers, bloggers, and other people from the Young Adult and Middle Grade communities discussing disability and kidlit. Thoughtful portrayals of disability require more than memorizing a list of symptoms; we hope that sharing people’s day-to-day experiences, pet peeves, and thoughts on various disability-related topics will help readers and writers learn about the realities of disability, which are often quite different from what you read in books or see on TV. Disability in Kidlit is co-moderated by Kody Keplinger, Corinne Duyvis, and Kayla Whaley.

Cross-posted with permission.

Image by reway2007 via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

Related Content: 

“Push Girls”: Exploiting Disabilities or Promoting Inclusion?

Conversations About Body Image: A Place at the Table for Me?

 

Share