Friday, 16 November 2012

Children in Need and Inspiration Porn

Tonight is the annual Children in Need telethon. Usually staid newsreaders will dance in their pants, the casts of soap operas will stage production numbers, and pop groups will try to revive flagging careers - all to encourage the Great British Public to phone in with donations to help disadvantaged children in the UK. Members of the public will already have completed various sponsored challenges: shaving their heads, lying in baths of baked beans, and so on.

So...great, right? Charities get money. Celebs get to tit around doing fun things and feeling the glow of philanthropy Members of the public get to laugh at said celebs and also sometimes take part in events. Win-win-win!.

Or is it? What about the recipients of this largesse?

If a child is living in poverty, that's something the government should be fixing. I pay my taxes for that. (Yes, yes, I know, we currently have the ConDems, but I'm talking should.) It shouldn't be down to charity to sort out the problems of inequality in our society.

Then there's the whole pity thing. If you can bear to watch, you'll see a lot of kids in wheelchairs gazing out of windows, a tear in their eye. The message seems to be that if you're disabled, you're an object of pity, and can't possibly be happy. Well, dammit. I may be disabled, but anyone who tries pitying me will get their arm ripped off and beaten to death with the soggy end. And pity promotes charity, rather than inclusion in society. While I have my moments, like everyone else, I'm generally pretty happy. Disability doesn't preclude happiness, any more than any other human state does.


There's a thing that's been called "Inspiration Porn". It involves removing a disabled person's individuality and humanity, presenting a snapshot of them to get (generally non-disabled) people to gee their ideas up. The disabled person can be doing the most everyday thing: I've been called "brave" for doing my shopping (was there a killer shark in the vegetable aisle?), but the "I" word will still be used.

Programmes like Children in Need are full of inspiration porn. The other day I watched the Children in Need special of a DIY show. They were renovating a day centre for children with special needs. At one point, I clicked on the Twitter hashtag for the programme, #DIYSOS.

Apart from one charmer who thought disabled kids got treated far too well, many tweets were fully inspiration porned up. For instance:
...puts all our little daily gripes into perspective when you see what these kids have to go through #DIYSOS
#DIYSOS amazing achievement, bless them kids & their families. Don't realise how lucky we are. 
Children, yes even disabled children, are more than fodder for inspirational snapshots of their lives. They are real, complex, sometimes happy and sometimes sad, sometimes angry with their situation and sometimes not bothered, and Always. Just. Kids.

Let's treat them as that, yeah? Rather than as pathetic objects, needing pity and charity. Not good for the self-esteem.

4 comments:

  1. When, and how, did the pity thing become so embedded in the public psyche?

    I've been chronically sick and disabled all my life and, when I was a kid in Manchester (late 40s, early 50s, in Ardwick, one of the most deprived areas in the country), disabled kids, if not exactly 10 a penny, were relatively common.

    Having said that, there was a tremendous sense of community, everybody looked out for everyone else's kids, and the kids looked out for each other, including their disabled friends.

    But as for pity, it was entirely absent (pity is NOT synonymous with caring - pity makes you feel better, not me).

    It wasn't that people were uncaring - they clearly weren't - but we were accepted for who, and what, we were, not singled out as different.

    And, looking back over the last few decades, I think if there's any one person responsible for cranking up the pityometer, it's quite possibly Esther Rantzen, though admittedly, it's got completely out of hand since.

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