Inspiration porn is bigotry

A friend of mine asked me the other day, why do you call it ‘inspiration porn’ when people are inspired by you? Why aren’t you flattered instead?

The last question was easy to answer. I explained the difference between inspiration porn and true inspiration to him. True inspiration simply being when someone inspires because they go beyond what is to be expected by a fellow human being. But I had to think about why it was inspiration ‘porn’ and it dawned on me that it is porn because it elicits some of the same feelings of satisfaction as porn does and under the same conditions.

Both old fashioned sexual pornography and inspiration porn objectifies a certain group of people so that another group of people can get off on it. Both types of ‘porn’ forces the second group of to view the first group through a an extremely narrow lens whereby they are seen as something that deliberately elicits a certain emotional response that has nothing to do with what they really are but everything to do with ‘how we’d like to perceive them.’

There are few things in life more gratifying than feeling good about who you are. It is a fleeting high that we can all relate to. It feels great to put one’s life into perspective and feel wonderful about ourselves. And for many the gratification of superiority is not unlike the sexual gratification of watching pornography. There’s a release of endorphins and other chemicals in the brain that make us feel better afterwards.

I’ll be the first one to admit that it is extremely easy to look at another human being who you think is in a worse predicament than yourself and think, “Thank God that’s not me”. There is one small flaw it this way of looking at our fellow humans, though. We just don’t know what it’s like to be them.

I remember back in the early 90s I became very inspired by a short clip from the movie Baraka showing the untouchables in Calcutta picking up scraps from the landfill to live on. Suddenly a young girl cracks a beautiful smile in the midst of what most of us would regard as the epitome of misery of the human condition(1:28 in the above link). A few weeks later when I was confronted by someone who found me ‘oh, so inspiring.’ That event made me think about that smile again – about how that had been my source of inspiration – and it made me realize that whatever circumstances a person is living in, they will try to make the best of it. And that nobody can ever be judged by anyone else because that other person will always use their own standards for making such a judgment.

It doesn’t matter whether one is an untouchable teenager in Calcutta, a middle aged cripple in a smart wheelchair, an old grandma with gout or a young stud who thinks the world is his oyster. We all have certain standards for what the good life is. We all have our ups and downs. What would break one will make another and vice versa. Why view another human being through the lens that is your perception of their misery?

Whenever I meet someone who is an outright bigot or even someone who expresses views of inspiration porn one thought comes to mind. My excuse is that I was born with this disability while they more or less consciously chose the thought patterns whereby they are judging me. The sad thing about it is that I have those kinds of thoughts virtually every day I go out into society.

And that is the root of the problem. There is a societal norm that disability is inherently bad. In turn, disabled people’s lives also are inherently worthless. And it is that societal norm that has to be changed if the lives of disabled people’s will ever get a chance to change. It has been said by many disability activists and disability scholars; it is not the physical challenges that make us disabled inasmuch as it is the way we are perceived by others. And that perception can change if enough people make up their minds and get behind such a change.

According to the American Psychiatric Association homosexuality was regarded a mental disorder until 1974 and had its own diagnostic category (it was abolished by a vote at a psychiatric convention – true story.) Now 40 years later gay marriage is normalized in most of the civilized world.

So what is the truth? Are homosexuals mentally disturbed freaks who should be treated for their terrible disease or should they be allowed to marry and to adopt – or even give birth to – children?

It is simply a matter of perspective and common attitudes towards a group of people that determines the truth. A perspective that (fortunately) has changed within my lifetime when it comes to gay people. And if we fundamentally can change the view on sexual preference why shouldn’t we be able to change the view on disability? Why is it so difficult to understand that disability does not equal tragedy?

There is no need to look down at us with that pouty face and tell us why we are so brave for getting up in the morning.

OK, I do think it’s an extremely brave thing of me to do; getting up in the morning – just like I think it’s a brave thing that everyone else gets out of bed (except for those annoying morning people who actually like getting up in the morning – freaks they are!) What makes a human being decide to leave their warm nest and go out and face the cruel world out there? I don’t quite get it.

The point is that nobody should feel the need for being inspired by me doing mundane, everyday things.

I am not saying that life as a disabled person is easy by any means. It is physically challenging being disabled! Most things take longer to do and many of them are difficult if not impossible to perform – like climbing stairs in a wheelchair or reading subtitles when blind. But the physical obstacles are a lot easier to deal with than the mental obstacles of living in a society where one’s basic worth as a human being is looked down upon by the majority.

The only reason someone can feel the least bit inspired by a disabled person when that person does things that are quite natural to others is that they did not value them as a human being to begin with. And when the devalued (or should I say, invalid) person performs tasks that go beyond what they are expected to do, then – and only then – do they become an inspiration.
Inspiration porn is simply belittlement in disguise. So when you think that it is so wonderful that the little blind girl is going on an outing with her classmates it says more about how you perceive her than it will ever say about who she is as a human being.
So why is it that there are not many disabled lawyers, doctors and scholars? It is not so much because of the physical barriers, it is because we have to climb the barriers of ignorance and denigration from those around us. We have to work 3-4 times as hard as others just go get over that and then we also have to fight the physical environment that we wish was the only barrier we met in our lives.

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I am such an inspiration

My whole life I have been an inspiration. Oh, I am so incredibly great and I am so amazingly able to do all kinds of things all by myself. I don’t need all the help that I seem to need. I know, because people have told me this my whole life. From certain members of my family over people I know from different walks of life to total strangers. They all tell me basically the same thing, ‘you’re such an inspiration’ and there seems to be no need for them to explain why that is so, it just is.

I particularly like the guys on the commuter train who pat me on the head and tell me how great it is to see someone like me and what an incredible inspiration I am to them… because total strangers know these things. I usually tell them that it’s good to see someone like them and how glad I am that they made it out of bed, and when they stare at me baffled I tell them that I know how hard it is for someone like them to perform such a difficult task. Most of them walk away either shaking their head or with a scared expression on their face that I so far have been unable to decipher.

But back to me, that is what this is all about.

I am categorically a brave soul. I touch on all these people lives – or should I say, hearts – merely by being alive and by going about my daily living, going to the store, eating out or taking the local commuter to where I need to go – or when I perform the amazing task of using a lift to get into my van, after all it does have several buttons (and to those who know me it’s no secret I don’t always manage to push the right one)

I bring a smile to people’s faces as I pass them in my daily routine – if I could only get paid for being so heroic and valiant.

But what I lack in income from this awesome life I lead, I get back as attention. People look at me with that smile that to some might seem condescending, a smile that I know they think is a gesture of friendliness and gratitude. Not so much because I am me, I don’t think most of them care who I am as a person. But I do know what I am to them, I am such an inspiration – not just an inspiration, but such an inspiration.

So why do I think their smiles are gestures of gratitude? I know because it is human nature. Aren’t we all grateful for who we are when we see those less fortunate than ourselves? Don’t we feel just a little bit better about ourselves when we are able to mirror our own life in their misfortune? Guilty as charged, I do. I just can’t help it, or maybe I can but it takes a lot of willpower and personal strength. No matter how I lok at it, I am still happy I am not a sub-Saharan African, deaf, gay woman with AIDS and a serious limp. I admit it, I feel thankful for not being her. I am glad to have my crippled life where I can go out in the world and be an inspiration.

I know you want to ask now. Do I know a sub-Saharan African, deaf, gay woman with AIDS and a serious limp? No, I don’t. And if I did she I would never call her an inspiration to me. I mean, what had she done to deserve it just by being a sub-Saharan African, deaf, gay woman with AIDS and a serious limp? If she had done something amazing then, yes, I might consider admiring her. But then I would admire her for what she’d done, not for who she is. What she’d done is above and beyond her being disabled (or gay or a woman or sick, for that matter) If she had created a living for herself and she now owned a thriving business, I would say ‘good for her’ but not because of, or in spite of her obvious difficulties, but because she was an amazing person who had accomplished something for herself, regardless of the hand she’d been dealt by fate.

Why should I look at that woman through her difficulties instead of looking at her as a fellow human being? Suddenly she disappears and what I am looking at is her circumstances. She becomes a symbol, an object that I can use to mirror my own life in and feel good about myself. She becomes reduced from being a person with a disability to being her disability.

She becomes the inspiration for me, an inspiration that lives outside of me, an inspiration that takes on its own life in my thoughts and my actions. Suddenly she is no longer a person but some sort of representation of how I would like to live my life in a perfect world – except I really don’t want that, because that would mean that I also would have to bear the cross of her disability. And despite my elation about being an inspiration, I know that is not what I want.

So instead she becomes a beacon of hope that things are good in the world. I have my quiet little life that I can live without too much trouble and thank God it’s not me who is that sub-Saharan African, deaf, gay woman with AIDS and a serious limp.

But at the end of the day, who am I to know whose life is more or less difficult than mine? And that is what really curdles blood when I hear: “Dear me, you are such an inspiration to me!”

ETA: I just found this that puts the subject in a more serious light:

http://badcripple.blogspot.dk/2013/04/shane-burcaw-laughter-is-not-always.html

I have to say that ‘Badcripple’ is one of my great inspirations and it was fun to beat him to a subject. I don’t think that is going to happen too often.