Usually as the end of the year draws nearer, websites really like to do lists or countdowns of various notable things that happened during the year. More and more often, I’m seeing some version of a collection of “heartwarming moments.” The problem is, these lists are often ableist as all fuck. So, let’s talk about inspiration porn!
This list is a great one to critique, because over a quarter of these images are about disabled folks, or people battling illnesses. I mean, just think about that for a second–a quarter of the reasons to feel good are inspiration porn. That’s no small amount. That’s a hefty burden to place upon our shoulders as a community. I mean damn, if I’m not a good cripple, there’s only 73% the reasons to feel good about the last year! That’s like…a low C if you’re lucky. A failing grade at my old school, because I wasn’t afforded the luxury of 10% grading increments (fuck you, 7%, fuck you).
I don’t want to turn this post into an analysis of each image, but I’m going to pick out a few to make my point.
1. The parents who made their son’s wheelchair into the best Halloween costume ever
No one would be particularly bowled over by a kid dressing as an ice cream server if that kid could walk. But oh my holy crap a cripple is trick-or-treating. And that’s exactly what this is. This is only “inspirational” because the kid is in a wheelchair. And the parents are only great because they love their crippled son enough to make him a Halloween costume. Lots of able-bodied kids have homemade Halloween costumes, some of them incredibly awesome, and way more impressive than this. But this is happening to a cripple, and everything that happens to a cripple is inspirational to the able-bodied.
5. And the people that helped out any way that they could
This is wonderful. I love this. This is truly a display of true human kindness, people sharing their blessings with their community. This is inspirational, because it’s a good deed that anyone could do, and anyone could benefit from.
10. And the police officers who made blind 13-year-old Gage Hancock-Stevens’ dream of being a cop come true
Cops do ride-alongs with kids. It’s nothing surprising, nothing out of the ordinary. But because this kid is blind, it’s “inspirational.” Because both “oh wow those police officers are treating that blind kid like he’s normal” and “oh wow that blind kid can participate in an activity that normal kids can do.” And disabled kids are used rather often in inspiration porn, because they’re little and cute and haven’t built up the resistance to this sort of commodification that us grown-up disabled folks have.
16. The Icelandic heroes who rescued sheep during a major snowstorm
Who the hell doesn’t love a good story about animals being helped during tragic circumstances? It’s heartwarming. Hell, have another:
20. The bros who worked together to save a cat
SAVE EVERYTHING FLUFFY.
Now, by this point on the list, my exasperation with and expectation of inspiration porn had reached epic levels. So, when I saw this headline and photo:
25. The amazing couple who stuck together through unbelievable odds
I immediately said to my partner who was in the room with me, “I bet he lost all his limbs.”
These entries about disabled people? They’re not “inspirational,” they’re ableist. “Sticking together through unbelievable odds” should not mean “Oh wow she stayed with him after he became a cripple.” Being an amputee, being disabled, that does not make us any less worthy of love. And constantly those who “stick by us” (whether lovers, friends, or family) are painted as saints for being willing to tolerate our disabilities, let alone accommodate them. Would anyone say it’s “inspirational” that your partner stayed with you after you got a really ugly haircut? No. Your physical state does not determine your worth as a person. Think about that for a minute, okay?
“Against all odds” should not mean “after one became a cripple.” That’s not “all odds,” that’s like…one odd. And if one odd is enough to make you abandon your partner, you’re a shitty person. If you consider someone’s disability a reason to not love them, you are a terrible human being and I hate you. I don’t normally get that specific and personal on here, but holy fuck am I tired of people thinking it’s just so “strong” and “kind” and “charitable” for people to stick around after their loved one becomes disabled. That’s called “being a halfway-decent human being.” People should try it a little more, maybe.
Events aren’t magically more “inspiring” just because they happen to a disabled person. This shit doesn’t make disabled people feel better, it exists to make able-bodied people feel better about their lives, both because they think it’s sweet to bestow charity upon the disabled, and wow if that worthless cripple is happy, being half a person, then dagnabbit, they should be happy, too!
Look, I love a good “furry animal being rescued from the brink of disaster” story as much as the next person. But that shit does not belong next to inspiration porn. It just fucking doesn’t. Because one of these is a sweet gesture of saving a creature that society deems less important than humans. And the other…well, it’s treated the exact same way, and that’s the problem. The people who like inspiration porn, they’re giving us the same role as a puppy stranded in flood waters. These animals need that charity, they are truly incapable of rescuing themselves, and fans of inspiration porn act like being disabled is a lifetime of being a cat stuck in a tree.
It is always heartwarming to see people putting their lives on the line for others. But we’re not talking about life-threatening situations. We’re talking about disabled people doing completely normal things. A child trick-or-treating. A child getting a glimpse of a profession he’s interested in. A woman continuing to love her partner.
This is not inspiring. That’s being a human.