Thursday, July 21, 2016
The Super Humans
My husband and I used to talk about how the disabled are portrayed in media. I told him to be "worthwhile" as a disabled person you had to be successful or exhibit some special skill and make money and achieve fame in it. He said his sister once made a snide comment about "flap with your fins" stories regarding the viewing of disabled people. It's like the only worthwhile disabled person is if you have some extreme talent or can teach yourself to paint with no arms. I note in this video, people missing limbs with otherwise healthy bodies seem to predominate. There are some paralyzed people. The media portrayal of "inspirational" disabled people gets extreme. It's all about proving yourself to the world. I am not against Paralympics, I think it is a good thing, but this advertisement bothered me on multiple levels.
It looks like another disabled person was bothered by what they saw too:
"So why do I dislike the fact that the Paralympians have been labeled Superhumans? It’s not because I don’t think they are phenomenal athletes. They absolutely are. In a way calling the Superhuman detracts from that fact.
It’s ironic how closely the term Superhuman is to the term Super crip.
Super crip is a term used my disability media critics to describe the phenomenon of celebrating disabled people in either a way that lacks meaningful context or in a way that seeks to effectively erase their disabilities except to add emphasis to the extraordinariness of their accomplishments. It’s not just that they’re amazing athletes. It adds a degree of “Can you believe someone like that could do this?”
The 2012 ad is particularly guilty of this with its juxtaposition of scenes signifying how people became disabled (often violently) with images of them succeeding as athletes.
It does from A to B without looking at any of the context of how people get to B or for that matter who CAN get to B. Because athletic success, particularly for disabled people is not just a matter of having the desire to do it.
Which brings me to the repeated refrain of “Yes, I can” from the 2016 ad, which buys fully into the “to believe is to achieve” stereotype. It is not just a group of musicians, dancers, and athletes showcasing their skills. They really sell the myth.
Consider the scene in the career counselor’s office where the counselor tells a wheelchair user “No, you can’t” which is immediately followed but by that young man playing wheelchair rugby while screaming “YES, I CAN”.
The thing is “No, you can’t” is far more than just the words of an individual who has vastly underestimated your potential. It is a systemic reality. It is far more accurately an expression of “No, you can’t because we won’t let you”. Wheelchair Rugby Clubs do do not appear fully formed just because someone has the desire to play.
Getting to be a Channel 4 “Superhuman” is in many ways as much about luck as it is about skill and hard work. The reality is that access to athletic training for disabled people is limited to those who have physical and financial access to it. If there is no training available in your area or even if there is but you can’t afford it, all the desire and willingness to work in the world is not going to get you to the Paralympics."