For the past two days I've been stewing over whether to write this blog post, but I've come to the decision it has to be said.
We, meaning disabled people, are not here for your able-bodied inspiration.
Now, what do I mean by this?
On Sunday night's Australia's Got Talent, 170 people, about two-thirds of whom are living with disabilities, came together to sing a couple of songs. They are part of the Find Your Voice - All Abilities choir. There was singing, instruments, movement, and dancing.
I watched intently as the camera panned across the group, from the people in the front room seated in wheelchairs, to pausing on one excited girl jumping up and down, then moving to others around her waving their hands in the air and clapping, to a lady with Down syndrome shuffling in her seat, then to a little girl who wore dark sunglasses (we presume she is visually impaired).
A boy started to sing The Lion Sleeps Tonight, into the microphone, and he was good. The crowd erupted and Rikki-Lee Coulter is focussed on - she is crying.
Is it really that amazing that a child with a disability can sing in tune? Or even that disabled people like to sing and feel joy?
Rikki-Lee continued to sob away and the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. The judges got up off their seats and danced along to the songs.
The choir went on to sing I Want to Break Free with one of the choir members dancing along the front of the stage.
The choir was obviously having a wonderful time, feeling the freedom to express themselves and happy to be seen on TV. The camera continued to pan pausing on identifiable disabilities.
To conclude the performance the judges got up on stage and there were hugs and photos taken.
In all honesty, were they that great? No. Did they sing in tune? No. Did they deserve the standing ovation they received from the judges and audience? No. Did they deserve all the gushy comments that the judges went on to make? No.
I have probably offended someone by saying this, but I am judging the performance against all the other performances that appear on Australia's Got Talent.
View the performance here if you are interested:
Now watching this performance as a person with a disability and who has children with disabilities, and being an ambassador for true inclusion, this is what this looked like to me.
To me, it looked like a good example of inspiration porn in video form.
Inspiration porn is a term coined by the late Stella Young. Inspiration porn is usually an image of a person with a disability doing something completely ordinary - like playing or talking or writing. If it is a picture there is usually a caption like 'before you quit, try'. See the picture below.
As Stella said, these images assume that the people in them have terrible lives and that it takes some kind of courage to live them.
They must be like superheroes.
So why do I label it inspiration porn?
It is not a photo with a caption but I still think the concept of inspiration porn applies to the performance. I say this because of the way the performance progressed with the reaction of Rikki-Lee, the judges and the audience.
Let me explain by posing some questions to you.
Firstly, let's look at the reaction of Rikki-Lee Coulter. As soon as the boy began to sing, she started to cry. Through her sobs she made the comment, 'This reminds me of why it's so amazing to be able to be a performer. The pure joy that is coming off that stage is just (she then chokes up).' At the very end, she shouted, 'That was amazing!'
Why was she crying twenty seconds or so into the performance, and why was a group of diverse people singing mostly out of tune (which is an ordinary activity) so amazing?
And secondly, let's look at the judges' comments which I will then address...
Manu Feildel - '...I thought it was very moving, very inspiring and just so beautiful. Thank you.'
Nicole Scherzinger - 'I work a lot with special needs kids and athletes. I'm a global ambassador for the Special Olympics and my aunt's Down syndrome, so this is something dear to my heart. And today you should be so proud because you've shown us that the only boundaries holding any of us back are the boundaries that we hold in our minds. So thank you for that.'
Shane Jacobson - 'The most amount of yeses you can get is 4. I'm going to work towards trying to get you 5 which has never happened in the history of the show... On the count of three audience here we go.....(they all yell yes).... The judges all say yes... Nicole and Lucy Durack then say, 'Actually there's about 2000 people here so it's not 5 yeses, you have 2004 yeses... 2005 yeses.'
Do you hear these comments about other acts? Has Manu ever told another group of out of tune singers that they are moving, inspiring and beautiful? I doubt it somehow.
It is plainly obvious that the choir was not judged like other able-bodied choirs. They were treated differently. I point specifically to the 2005 votes and, 'Never done in the history of the show.' So why did it need to be done for these people? Was it the judges' way of trying to make the choir feel worthy of being on stage? Was it from some self-seeded prejudice the judges may not even know they have - something like, that having a disability is a difficult thing and it takes superhuman strength to get up on stage and sing? Now of course, I have seen judges cry for performances, but normally the tears were a reaction to a truly talented operatic singer or someone similar.
As mentioned, the intent of inspiration porn is to encourage able-bodied people to put their worries into perspective. I bet there were people in the audience thinking, 'I'm glad I'm not like that!' or, 'What am I so stressed about? It could be worse.' or, 'Look at how happy these people are. I shouldn't be worried about that next bill I can't pay.'
I believe that the judges' comments showed ignorance of the case for full inclusion of people with disabilities in society and community activities.
Manu also made the comment, 'I believe there is two things that bring people together like this, food and music.' If that is so, why was this a segregated choir with the majority having disabilities? Why aren't these people peppered through all the able-bodied choirs that exist, or is this choir the only choir they have found acceptance in or even been allowed to join?
This performance did make the performers full of joy - that was obvious and can't be debated. But why did they feel this euphoria? I think it's because they felt valued.
Another comment I debate is Nicole's, 'And today you should be so proud because you've shown us that the only boundaries holding any of us back are the boundaries that we hold in our minds. So thank you for that.' My reaction to that is, 'That is absolute rubbish.'
The boundaries for people living with disabilities are not in our minds. They are physical, environmental, social and historical. There are accessibility issues such as no ramps, or no access to toilets on trains. There are the blatant prejudices of able-bodied people that are imposed on us. We are a product of fear, because people with disabilities have been aborted, hidden away or institutionalized. Many people in the community have not grown up with a disabled person at school or in their life, so they don't know how to react, so they react with, 'They're so amazing.'
People with disabilities are not amazing. They are trying to be equal, live ordinary lives and do what other human beings are doing.
Each one of the choir members standing on that stage has a lot to offer society, to make the world a better place. They need to be out and about everywhere in society, mixing and participating in all community groups, not segregated into disability specific activities. And above all they should not be used as inspiration porn for able-bodied people to feel better about themselves.
I hope I have given you something to think about.
To find out more about Jenny go to www.jennywoolsey.com