The ethics of looking at perceived suffering as a source of inspiration is something that has long come under debate. Renowned filmmaker Susan Sontag (2003), argued that looking at ‘suffering’ is intended to be inspiring to the viewer. By looking at the apparent adversity the ‘suffering’ subject has overcome, people are able to compare that image with their own experience and feel better about themselves. Essentially, they go through an ‘at least I’m not them, my situation could be worse’ thought process.
We are saturated by images of people with disabilities ‘overcoming’ adversity, which position us to feel thankful that we are not them. We feel inspired by their apparent ‘victory’ over their suffering. Disability advocate, Stella Young (2014), addressed this phenomenon in her TED Talk last year:
“[Many people have] only ever experienced disabled people as objects of inspiration…for lots of us, disabled people are not our teachers or our doctors or our manicurists. We’re not real people. We are there to inspire.“
This objectification of people with disabilities has been dubbed ‘inspiration porn’. Inspiration porn is the objectification of disabled people for the benefit of nondisabled people. This, in turn, stigmatises disability as something bad and paints those living with disability as ‘brave’ for simply living their day-to-day lives (Young 2014). It also suggests that disability is something you “overcome”, with polarised views of those living with a disability as either an “achiever” or a “scrounger” (Swinbourne 2015).
Inspiration porn presents itself in many different forms. From the obvious:
To the debated:
‘Inspirational’ images are part of the way we objectify people with disabilities, collectively equating ‘disability’ with ‘the other’. This retains the notion that people with disabilities are not ‘real’. It is therefore important to remember: disabled people aren’t here to inspire you, they are simply living their lives.
Sontag, S. 2003. Chapter 3. In: Regarding the Pain of Others. London: Hamish Hamilton. p36-52.
Swinbourne, C. (BBC Trending). 2015. Is it OK to call disabled people ‘inspirational’?. BBC News, [Online]. Available at: http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-trending-31376653 [Accessed 16 March 2015].
Young, S (TED Talks). 2014. I’m not your inspiration, thank you very much. [Online Video]. 09 June. Available from:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8K9Gg164Bsw [Accessed: 16 March 2015].