Tag Archives: inspiration porn

Such mixed feelings…

“My darling girl, when are you going to realize that being normal is not necessarily a virtue? It rather denotes a lack of courage.” – Aunt Frances, “Practical Magic”

I should probably confess that I’ve never actually seen Practical Magic, nor do I know anything about it. I have no context for that quotation. All I know is that someone posted it to facebook a while back, and I got all sorts of twisty-turny mixed-up feelings in response.

So apparently I still have mixed feelings when it comes to the concept of “normal”. In the past it was all about being torn over wanting to be normal vs. taking pride in being me. I’m no longer so attached to changing who I am in order to be like everyone else, but still… something about that quote bothered me.

I wasn’t sure why at first. I mean, at this point in my life I take pride in not being normal. I’m not like other people and yeah, that’s a mixed bag, but I like who I am and I’ve forged myself an identity around the fact that I’m different. As far as I could tell that quote is agreeing with the whole idea of taking pride in not being normal… right?

Then a couple words stood out. “Virtue” and “courage.” And then I realized – it was treating “being normal” or not as a choice. As something we could do or not do, depending on what we wanted. And that does not, in the least bit, reflect my reality. From my perspective, way over here, if you get to choose to be normal or not, if it takes courage for you to not be normal, then you’re normal. And that’s ok, it’s not like there’s anything wrong with that.

I’m not normal. I’ve never been normal. There’s nothing courageous about this fact; virtue or lack thereof simply does not apply. Maybe there is some courage in embracing who I am, but not in simply being who I am. Every day I wake up, and I’m not normal. I go about my day, being not normal. I go to bed as a person who isn’t normal. It takes no thought or effort or courage, because this is simply who I am.

And quite frankly, being described as “courageous” simply for existing smacks a little too much as inspiration porn. I would love to be inspiring if I, at some point, do something amazing, but I don’t want my basic existence to be so. I don’t want to be objectified like that.

Maybe I just have a weird perspective. It isn’t about choice for me, so I see “normalcy” as an intrinsic thing, since the autism stuff is intrinsic. When you make it into a choice, you take me out of the equation entirely – my reality no longer has bearing on your worldview. I don’t want to be made irrelevant.

Maybe I should just try to find some nice quotations about the courage to embrace who you are. That might be nifty.

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Filed under opinion, personal

Inspiration Porn

(a note on the tone of this post: it is intended to be entirely sarcastic, showing both the nature and some of the problems of inspiration porn in a humorous fashion)

 

Are you an able-bodied, neurotypical person? Do you like to watch videos of disabled people doing a thing in order to feel “inspired”? Have you ever wished you could make your own video so other people could feel inspired? Well look no further! Here is a step-by-step guide to making your own inspiration porn.

1. First, you will need to find a disabled person. Perhaps you have an autistic family member, or you know someone at school who has down’s syndrome, or you have a coworker who is paraplegic. Really, pretty much any disability will do.

2. Take your camera or camcorder, and record the disabled person having a personal moment of triumph. Now, inspiration porn is best if you make it out of a genuine triumphant moment, but it does not actually need to be. It can even be as simple as your paraplegic coworker moving from their wheelchair to a desk chair, or an autistic child petting a cat and smiling.

3. Now you are ready to take that moment of triumph (or everyday, ordinary activity), and create inspiration porn out of it. Start by adding some sappy inspirational music.

4. Add words.

This step is the most important. So much of inspiration porn is how you talk about is. A dramatic voiceover is, by far, the best. However, a paragraph description or even a carefully worded title will work as well.

First, establish that being disabled makes a person “broken” in some way. You must provoke pity in your viewers and convince them that the disabled person’s life was barely worth living until this moment. Bonus points if you use the word “tragic” to describe the person, or even better, to describe their entire existence.

Then, have a rising crescendo of their personal triumph (or everyday, ordinary activity). It must be conveyed as nearly miraculous and definitely life-changing. The viewer must feel amazed that it ever happened. Go ahead and imply, or even outright state, that it would only be reasonable for the viewers to assume that the disabled person is incapable of doing the things that non-disabled people do.

And there you go! Put it up on youtube and sit back and relax. Now you, too, have removed the humanity of a disabled person, taking their personal moment of triumph (or everyday, ordinary activity) and turning it into packaged up, condescending claptrap that exists only so that non-disabled people can have feels about it. As we all know, a disabled person’s triumphs are never really about them – the triumphs are actually about how the rest of us can feel about them.

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Filed under that's not helping

Well… I tried

This blog post has multiple starting points all converging into a center that I want to attempt to convey, and I’m having trouble figuring out which of those points to use. I rather want to use all of them.

Ok, so I’m not much of an activist. I don’t march on Washington and I’ve never met a senator to express my viewpoint or joined any sort of rally ever. Rallies are not sensory friendly. However, in my own small way I try to make my voice heard. This is about one of those attempts. Sadly, I don’t think I succeeded.

Moving on, there’s this journal called Narrative Inquiry in Bioethics, or NIB for short. I think what they do is AWESOME and I got super excited when I first discovered them. From their summary, they explore “current issues in bioethics through the publication and analysis of personal stories, qualitative and mixed-methods research articles, and case studies.“ It’s the “personal stories” part that really got me going. Basically, they put call-outs for papers from anyone who has had an experience with whatever bioethic issue they are exploring. I find myself hoping that someday they will put out an issue that I could write something for. My point here is that I want to make it clear that I view this publication in a very positive light. I LIKE them, I like what they are doing, I like the whole thing. It’s an awesome approach to academic exploration of a topic, and I do think that personal narratives are important.

So when they posted this…

(image description: pale pink/peach background, text reads “don’t be ashamed of your story it will inspire others)

… I was a little put off. You might wonder why. I mean, they clearly meant it in a positive way. However, it definitely slid too far towards “inspiration porn” for me to be at all comfortable.

I’ve pondered trying to write up a post about the problems with inspiration porn, but I’m not yet at the point where I can really go over what’s wrong with it and why. Luckily, lots of other people already have and there are massive amounts of information all over the internet where people talk about how inspiration porn is harmful. I am leery of attempting to sum it all up but I fear I must as asking anyone who reads this to go looking for the answers elsewhere seems a bit much. Basically, inspiration porn tends to take ordinary experiences and acts like they are extraordinary, because the person who did those ordinary things is disabled. It tends to treat disabled people both as sad, broken things we can’t really expect to be functional in any way, and to reduce their lives and struggles to some inspiring moment for the benefit of a person who is not disabled (I hesitate to say “able bodied” as it is not always about physical challenges). Basically, inspiration porn is bad.

Now, to be clear, I do think that there are very good reasons to share and explore personal narratives. We can learn from people’s stories, we can find patterns that are good, or patterns that need to be fixed. We can, for instance, explore a bioethics issues from the perspective of the people who have actually experienced it. That said, “because someone, somewhere might find it inspiring” is NOT on the list of good reasons to share personal narratives.

So basically, when NIB shared this image, I was put off. I thought they were better than that. I thought they were doing something awesome. I thought that maybe they should know. So… despite the hubris and presumption involved in calling out an academic journal associated with John Hopkins University, I said something. I tried.

Me: “In the hopes of giving a gentle nudge… have you ever heard the phrase “inspiration porn” and what disability activists think of it?”

What’s cool is they actually did reply… but I don’t think they understood. They clearly did not look up the phrase before replying to me.

NIB: “No, never heard the phrase. This meme fits NIB pretty well, not just our symposium on disability but all our symposia. Each issue of NIB is about sharing stories to help bring more voices to the discussions.”

So after thinking about it for several hours, I tried again.

Me: “I’ve had to think about this for a while and unfortunately this is not a topic I am particularly articulate on just yet so ultimately I will need to refer you to other sources.

“First of all, I think NIB is a great project. I got excited about it when I first learned of it, and I hope someday that you will have a call-out for papers that I can contribute to as I would love to be able to write and share my own story.

“So it was really disappointing to me to see this meme. “Inspiration porn” is a problem, and I had thought that NIB was better than that. I think you still can be, but you need to talk to disability activists to learn the problems involved in reducing real human lives to “inspiration.”

“There is a lot out there on the internet, but here is a place to start. (link)”

That was the end of the conversation. They never did reply to me, so I’m guessing my words did not make it through. Which is sad, but ultimately not surprising. I was presumptuous, I stepped well outside my comfort zone to basically scold a journal I thought maybe needed to learn something. While I tried to be gentle, that doesn’t change what I did.

Since then I’ve had mixed feelings about the incident. Partly I wonder if I should have just kept my mouth shut, not said anything, just left it all alone. I’m also a little disappointed that they just don’t seem to care. I worry that in the end, this is just another group that wants to talk about without talking to. I don’t know for sure; I can’t really know, really. But what I do know is they apparently don’t have time for me, or time to look into why disability activists don’t like certain things.

I still like NIB, at least in concept. But this interaction has soured them just a little in my eyes.

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Filed under issue, that's not helping