The 2016 Paralympics’ trailer finishes with the bold statement ‘we’re the super humans’ and is filled with ‘inspiration porn.’ The term was coined in 2012 by Stella Young, describing when people with disabilities are called ‘inspirational’ solely or in part because of their disability.
The reference to ‘super humans’, for instance, is a form of dehumanisation and often those who cannot fit the ‘super human’ role are instead seen as ‘subhuman.’ Channel 4 has even gone so far as to use the tag line ‘there is no such thing as can’t.’ A phrase not usually expected to be taken literally, but meant to inspire hard work and perseverance. So what does this mean for the majority of disabled people? It suggests that if they tried a little harder or were a little more positive then perhaps they too would be super talented. But in the same way that not all able bodied people can be Olympic athletes, neither can all disabled people.
It is undeniable that the Olympics, as a whole, can, and probably should, be considered inspirational. In the media, overcoming adversity is ultimately linked with this inspiration. Simone Biles, for instance, is considered one of the most inspirational athletes of the 2016 games; not solely for being the most decorated American gymnast but also because she is a black gymnast competing in an overwhelmingly white sport, and was also in the foster care system for years. The Olympics coverage exploits athletes’ backstories in order to make the competitors more impressive.
However, in the Paralympics the problem arises when the backstoryies being exploited are the athletes’ disabilities themselves. As Ryan argues, the inspiration porn surrounding the Paralympics makes disability appear to be a ‘terrible tragedy that has to be overcome.’ Instead, it should focus on the struggles that disabled people face on a daily basis because of society’s lack of acceptance.
The rhetoric of the Paralympics should surely revolve around the fact that disabled sports teams and facilities are extremely hard to come by and that the opportunities the competitors face are much more limited. We should use the Paralympics as motivation to create positive change in our society.
The problem of the Paralympics surely lies with society’s overall stigma concerning disability. The lack of coverage of the Paralympics in comparison to the Olympics is shocking. They appear to be treated as an add-on. They are hosted by Channel 4 rather than the BBC, and placed so much later in the year that it appears most viewers have forgotten. If we have multiple heats during the Olympics would it be too far to suggest the Paralympics should happen at the same time. By separating the Paralympics off so much, it perpetuates the idea that the disability of the competitors comes first, rather than their athletic prowess.
The rhetoric surrounding the Paralympics remains a problem because it focuses on the disability itself rather than on the athletic prowess of the competitor. The Paralympics as a whole need to be readjusted in order to give the athletes the appreciation they deserve for their talent.
Image credit: John sherwell/sport the library