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Saturday, February 13, 2010

Why Equality is Elusive: Part II



Skeptics may wonder if I am being unfair in my last post. Surely images of the sort I posted are unusual. Sorry, but this is simply not the case. Take the above image from a notorious notorious ad campaign in 2000 that appeared in dozens of outdoor and sporting magazines across the country. I recall seeing this ad and being shocked. I was not alone. Nike received a wave of complaints and not only pulled the ad but issued an apology. If anything is unusual about the above Nike ad it is the fact it was pulled. Imagery of this sort is sadly the norm and abounds. I see it every day on television, in newspapers, on the internet and in a plethora of magazines. Some people in disability studies call such images examples of the "defective person industry". The fact is mainstream imagery associated with disability is overwhelming bad. There is simply nothing cool whatsoever about disability. Disability in the minds of most is bad, inherently bad. The only exception I have come across in my life time is sports. Adaptive sports, especially mono skiers, have made major inroads toward being cool. I am not an elite adaptive athlete but I sure do appreciate the trickle down effect they are creating. I will surely never enter the X Games or even come close to what athletes such as Tyler Walker can accomplish on his mono ski but his accomplishments resonate within me and the general public. I know this because when I ski there is a residual cool factor I find captivating. When I ski I am not the poor bastard that uses a wheelchair and lives a limited existence. No sir. I am another guy out skiing, one who is cool in the eyes of many. This is liberating and I only wish more people with a disability could find a way to access the slopes. If I am to ever truly be equal in American society the above Nike ad will be replaced by radically different images. Those images may be starting to change with adaptive athletes and I hope will be accompanied by those that depict people with a disability active in every facet of society. When that day takes place I will enjoy real equality. I hope to live to see that day.

4 comments:

Holden said...

I can't believe that ad made it to print. I have been so disappointed in people, in general, lately. It wasn't until I became more impaired from my genetic condition over the past decade that I began to fully understand the damage society incurs because of views like the author of that ad. Reenforcement of discriminatory beliefs are everywhere. It's so sad that the cycle seems to have a life of its own.

william Peace said...

Holden, It is indeed hard to imagine how this ad made it to print eight years after the ADA was passed not to mentioned it was used by a company that sponsored adaptive athletes. Business men and women sat around discussing this ad, an advertising company pitched the idea to Nike and yet no one voiced a word of complaint. This proves just how insidious the bias against people with a disability is ingrained in our society. Don't be sad get mad. Pissed off people can change the world!

Terri said...

OK, these 2 posts have floored me. First, I had never seen either of the ads. They are horrible. I have said and heard often that disability has a marketing problem, but these are so far beyond anything I imagined...

Secondly, I agree, that the missing stories of disability--both the history and the individual stories of heroes and of regular folks whose lives were removed from society or went unnoticed by it, affects our society in profound ways. In the absence of our/your stories people write their own. They guess, and fill in with media that is also made of guesses.

Real history and histories of people with disabilities need to be woven into our society.

william Peace said...

Terri, Images such as these abound as do 90 second demeaning feel good stories on television news programs about disability. The media distortion of disability and its meaning is a huge problem, one I have no idea how to resolve. Disability history is simply unknown as as are the social consequences in contemporary society. Again, I lay the blame with the media and by extension schools and the charity industry. Pity and fear abound while a nuanced understanding of disability is utterly absent.