Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Questions About Inspiration Porn

Kelly May, Fox 45 - September 29, 2015

I am working on a definition of Inspiration Porn to beef up what's in Wikipedia, and maybe add to the Urban Dictionary. It's taking longer than I thought, so until I finish, here are a few questions:

1. How much of the problem with Inspiration Porn is its tone and message, and how much is about how the disabled subjects are included or excluded? Which is more of an issue, the content or the method?

I think we tend to assume that when disabled people are more fully involved in news stories and other media projects about disability, then the messages will be better because of their involvement. I'm not sure that's true. For instance, this article about a college student with Cerebral Palsy joining a sorority seems to have her full cooperation, yet it still feels like Inspiration Porn. If, as everyone in the story says, Lauren's inclusion isn't unusual or subject to any special circumstances, then why is it a news story?

2. Would this story be more newsworthy if the reporter had asked some more probing questions?

For instance, is Ms. Reder's admission to a sorority a first? Is it rare? Or, is it fairly routine at this university? If it's a first or very rare, why is that? If it's quite common, how does that compare with similar houses at other universities? How many disabled students participate in rush, compared with the non-disabled student population? Are certain kinds of houses more or less likely to include disabled students? How do these patterns and practices compare with other kinds of diversity?

Or, if they really wanted to make this a personal story, how about asking why Lauren wanted to join a sorority? Why this one and not another? Did she plan to rush, was she invited, or was it a spur-of-the-moment thing? Will she live in the house, and if so, is it accessible enough?

3. How did this actually become a news story? Did a reporter hear about it and decide it would make a great human interest story? Did the sorority's leadership initiate reach out to the TV station? Was Lauren an enthusiastic or reluctant participant? Does she have any concerns about how her story is being told and interpreted?

4. I am a bit confused about the role of news worthiness in identifying Inspiration Porn. We criticize stories and memes that suggest something a disabled person does is remarkable, because we rightly say that should be unremarkable. At what point do we stop noting a thing that is rarer than it should be, because calling attention to it somehow reinforces that rareness? Or, is this actually part of a different argument over whether to focus on individual moral qualities or on just and unjust policies and practices?

Basically, I'm trying to figure out whether Inspiration Porn ... which let's admit, we are all defining on the fly ... is a binary thing, or is it a blurry continuum? There seem to be a lot of borderline cases that may or may not be fairly termed Inspiration Porn, and since it's a pretty harsh criticism, I feel like maybe we should firm up our definition a little.

More to come ...