The Paralympics opening ceremony took place last night and I began this morning by tweeting my favourite part: Amy Purdy’s interesting, elegant and thought-provoking dancing with a robot routine. Forget my novel-in-progress. The cyborgs are already here!
But then I started looking through everyone else’s tweets and honestly, I wish I hadn’t bothered. The most tweeted part certainly wasn’t the robot dance; indeed I didn’t spot one tweet about that. It wasn’t the dances by the blind couple or the hair raising flying-wheelchair-through-flaming-ring stunt either. It wasn’t the lighting of the torch. It wasn’t even the booing of the Brazilian President. No, it was the part where torch bearer Marcia Malsar fell on her ass.
The excuse given for endlessly retweeting Marcia’s mishap is that it illustrates “courage” and “determination.” But to my mind celebrating a disabled person for falling on her ass, even if she did climb back to her feet and eventually complete a short walk–something most people can do easily (though not me I might add)–is merely patronizing. There’s even a word for it: “inspiration porn.” Worse, these kinds of attitudes are potentially damaging as they place unreasonable demands on disabled people. Overly celebrating ordinary daily functions like walking not only infantilize adult disabled people but are even more dangerous for children. Kids are already liable to lose much of their childhoods in physiotherapy rooms or being surgically altered because over-eager parents and medical staff want to “fix” them to fit some kind of imaginary norm; when you add the emotional element of “inspirational child overcoming their disability” to the mix, the poor kid is doomed. So when they should be sitting in classrooms getting an education or out playing with other kids getting socialized with the rest of humanity, they’re shut away being encouraged to take one more agonizing step than they managed yesterday.
I suspect Marcia falls on her ass a lot. Get used to it! That’s just how she gets around, nothing inspirational about it. It’s also notable that all those tweets omit why Marcia was chosen as a torch bearer in the first place. According to a couple of British newspapers she was the first Brazilian paralympian to win a gold medal. She won it in 1984 in the 200m when clearly she was a lot younger and presumably didn’t fall down. Although I’m the first to admit I’m something of an agnostic when it comes to many competitive disability sports, in fact that I’m an agnostic towards the idea of all commercialized competitive sports, I’d still be a lot less dismayed by the human race’s attitude to disability if Marcia was simply recognized for her wobbly sprint back then rather than for falling down and dropping the torch yesterday.
I’ll likely be posting more disability-related posts during Paralympics season. If you liked this post please do follow the blog, or join my new Gator’s Gang mailing list to make sure you don’t miss them.