Wednesday, February 27, 2013

"Inspiration Porn"

I read a post yesterday by one of my Facebook friends, who used the term "Inspiration Porn". She was referring, I believe, to pieces of culture ... photos, slogans, news and human interest stories ... that show people with disabilities either doing extraordinary or sometimes quite ordinary things, with an implied or directly stated message that the viewer should be amazed and inspired.

The term struck a chord with me. I immediately thought, "Wow, finally a name for it!"

Its something most people with disabilities are familiar with, even if we don't have a name for it. Most of us also instinctively dislike it. Some are deeply offended. Some are annoyed. Some are just mildly disgusted. Our reaction varies, but I think we all know it when we see it ... well-intentioned propaganda meant to help us, that actually turns our stomachs. I'll have more to say about this as I read more, think more, and unpack the concept.

Let me say a few things to start off.

- One of the comments I read from an article on the subject pointed out that whether intended or not, calling these photos "inspiration porn" could be extremely demeaning to the people in the photos, because it put them in the position of people who appear in actual pornography.

- On the other hand, maybe this is apt, since many people would argue that people in pornography are victims of it, and perhaps the same is true of the people with disabilities in "inspiration porn". Whether or not they choose to participate for whatever reason, in a way they are being exploited.

- Where is the line between "inspiration porn" and just a nice picture of a person with a disability? Are the photos at the top of this blog "inspiration porn?"

- Another way that this phenomenon is similar to pornography has to do with the famous phrase by Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, addressing how to define pornography: "I know it when I see it." I think the same applies to things that are or might be fairly called "inspiration porn." It is hard to define exactly, but we know it when we see it.

When I read this in my friend's Facebook post, I had already been thinking for awhile about some of the "inspirational" pictures and posters I see every day on Facebook, especially a rather strange sub-genre featuring extremely sick young children. They are so prevalent and so similar in their arrangement, captioning, and attached comments that they really seem to be some kind of enthusiasm or obsession. Frankly, I find it creepy.

How does this relate to disability-based "inspiration porn?" I'm not sure. But it's interesting to me.