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What’s the difference between Inspiration Porn and Inspiration, Period?

Posted on August 19, 2019 by Ann

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What is inspirational porn?

In a 2012 TED Talk, disability rights activist Stella Young used the expression “inspirational porn” to describe motivational images of disabled doing ordinary activities.

Here are two examples:

THE ONLY DISABILITY IN LIFE - is a bad attitude.

What these images have in common is that they show disabled people doing fairly ordinary things. In these two pictures, the people are shown to be simply running. They are not doing anything extraordinary but they are considered inspirational solely or partially because of their disability.

Young explained that she called these images porn because they objectify one group of people (disabled people) for the benefit of another group of people (non-disabled people).

She said the images may be motivational for non-disabled people, but disabled people would feel otherwise.

Saidee Wynn, in her article “Please Stop Spreading Inspirational Porn about Disability” explained that she felt that these images are using disabled people as”a tool to guilt abled people into trying harder”.

She felt that disabled people should not serve as

“cautionary tales or reminders to be grateful for your abledness.”

This sentiment is echoed by Singaporean Jonathan Tiong in his article “I am Disabled and You can Call Me That“. He wrote that:

“People telling me that I am inspiring, thinking it is a compliment to me. […] I find such comments insulting because I personally do not see myself as inspiring at all. I am simply doing my best to survive in this world. I have good days, I have horrible days, and I have faults which you won’t see until you get to know me in person. In other words, I am a multifaceted human being that’s more complicated than the “inspirational” figure you see.”

In the article “Disability as Inspiration: Can Greater Exposure Overcome this Phenomenon?“, the author reported that quadriplegic Scott Rains commented:

“One of the strongest criticisms that we level at this kind of superficial praise is to call it ‘inspiration porn’. Why? It titillates the viewer. There is a place for inspiration, but as a disabled person I am more interested in inspiring others with disabilities. We know how to recognize in each other when we are challenging ourselves and are successful. It’s not hard to accept honest emotion for our resilience and our inventiveness in living our lives in the midst of undeniable social barriers. This emotion coming from those who are not our peers is very often not coming from a place that we can feel good about.

[…]

Excessive compliments, like patting us on the back and saying, ‘Look at how brave you are’ or ‘How wonderful you are able to do this’ are based on a negative feeling about us. The assumption is that we in fact carry a negative feeling about ourselves. It is their negative emotion, their aversion, being masked by the apparently positive sentiment.”

What About Inspiration, Period?

Stella Young and other activists objected to the situation where people hype out ordinary things that disabled people do to make abled people feel good about themselves.

However, I feel that we mustn’t swing to the other extreme where out of political correctness, we don’t celebrate human victories, able-bodied or not. Disabled people have the same right as abled people to inspire and move our emotions.

In an earlier article on mathematician Leonard Euler, I wrote:

This rainy afternoon,  I sent a few of my friends and family the same question on WhatsApp: “Do you know who Euler is?”

It turns out that many people do not know who he is. One of my friends even thought that it is a brand for toilets (that’s … Kohler).

One exception is Tee, who studied electrical engineering.Tee: “My dear, it’s pronounced as Euler. And of course lah! That guy is pretty solid! Wikipedia has an entire page called List of things named after Leonhard Euler. That is how OP he is.” (OP means overpowered in gaming terminology.)

Me, coughing from the embarrassment of getting my pronunciation corrected: “So, do you know that he was blind?”

Tee: “Oh, I didn’t know that! That’s very impressive. So the thing is, he did all these work with impossible numbers [blah blah blah; Tee tries to explain impossible numbers to me]”

Me: @_@

Wow. My friend knows about Euler’s achievements but not about his disability! He didn’t even dwell on it. That made me feel quite moved.

The article concluded with:

“[…] wouldn’t it be cool if it is also because [Euler’s] disability simply didn’t matter to the mathematicians, physicists, astronomers, engineers and my friend Tee? When it comes to Euler, it seems to me that they did not see a blind man. Instead, they saw only his contributions [to mathematics].

I asked Tee why he didn’t dwell on Euler’s blindness after I told him about it. He said matter-of-factly, “Huh? But it’s not important.” (Subtext: Impossible numbers are more important.)”

In the words of TotalWeirdo, one of the commenters on Stella Young’s talk,

“I almost commented about ‘if it was okay that she’s now my inspiration’, but then I realised that, yes, yes it is, because it’s her humility and perspective on life and way of speaking that I find inspirational, not her disability.”

So …

I think through the voices of the disabled community, we can see that intention is important.

Admiration for meritorious and commendable attributes is okay.

Being patronising, being condescending and objectifying is not okay.

What are your thoughts?

All content found on the All In website, has been created for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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