Thanks, Guinness

I bet most of you have already seen this commercial; it’s been posted by Huffington Post, Examiner, and Business Insider, shared by Upworthy and a bunch  of my Facebook friends, and blogged countless times, including on Disability and Representation. And here I am, adding to the noise.

Watch it before you read on.

Most of the big newspapers and blogs introduce the video with something to the effect of, “It’s a tear jerker, folks. Get out the tissues,” or as Huffington Post said, “We’re captivated.”

I counted 12 Facebook friends that posted the commercial, (most of them have disabilities or family with disabilities) and their comments mostly look like this:

“Check this out folks. This is the future I am praying for.”

“This is what my friends and family do. They amaze me when they say, ‘Oh crap, I forgot about the chair. The party’s in a walk-up.’ They carry me, physically and emotionally, since day one. My new friends and business associates eventually do the same. Just wanted to say thanks, the next pint is on me.”

“First beer commercial to give me goosebumps. This is true inclusion; join us in our world.”

“I have mixed feelings about it (but mostly good). It has a ‘pie in the sky’ aspect, which makes it a little painful. I have a hard enough time getting a group together just to have dinner.”

Obviously, for many of us, this strikes a chord. We’re excited to be represented, and we think the commercial did a pretty accurate job. Not too much to complain about there.

But the writer of Disability and Representation has a different feeling. Her take on it is pretty negative; she feels that it’s totally unrealistic that a bunch of able bodied guys could or would care to learn to use manual wheelchairs at all, much less well enough to play basketball. She thinks it’s totally condescending that the guy in the wheelchair is called “buddy” by one of his friends, and her biggest gripe is that she feels it’s shameful that he’s used as an object of inspiration.

I figure if she felt strongly enough to write about it, she’s probably not the only one feeling this way, so I thought I’d weigh in. Here’s what I think:

Who cares if the commercial is unrealistic? Does reality sell beer? Didn’t think so. If it was realistic, it would show a guy in a wheelchair at an intramural basketball game cheering on his able bodied friends or vice versa, and it would probably still end at a bar, but that wouldn’t have been integrative, which is what we (people with disabilities) are always crying for! I sit on the sidelines and watch my friends ice skate, play football, dance, and do a gagillion other activities. Would a commercial featuring someone like me doing that make me feel inspired? Nope. It would remind me that life is rough sometimes, and I guess that might make me want a Guinness, but not in a good way. Also, it would make every able bodied person watching the commercial feel guilty. Everyone involved would feel sad. That would be a waste of advertising dollars.

Also, able bodied folks do often learn to play wheelchair sports, sometimes to play with someone they know, and sometimes just for the challenge. I grew up playing wheelchair basketball, and we had non wheelchair users at practices scrimmaging with us all the time. You almost need their bodies because the concentration of wheelchair athletes in a given area is not high.

Raise your hand if you’ve been called “buddy.” Keep it raised if you’re not disabled. I bet there are bunches of you. Goodness. Honestly.

Last: I’m sick of being told by disability advocates that people with disabilities shouldn’t be inspirational. “We’re just normal people doing normal things,” they say. “The attention as inspiration further separates us from the able bodied community.”

Those people are either not disabled or are in denial. We are not just normal people doing normal things. We are people with varying levels of disadvantage in regards to navigating our communities, whether the obstacles are physical or otherwise. We face discrimination, stereotypes, and prejudice. When a person struggles with immense chronic pain and it’s a challenge just to sit up in the morning, but she does it anyway, and she even does it with a smile on her face, it’s inspirational. (Looking at you, Tich.) When the smallest kid in the class gets picked first for kickball because his peers like him, and not because he’s the best athlete, it’s inspirational.

When did it become a bad thing to be inspiring? The dictionary says that inspire means “to fill someone with the urge or ability to do or feel something.” If my existence, by nature, is inspirational, then lucky me! I’m happy to accept that beautiful calling. If you don’t care for it, just scowl a lot. I’m sure no one will find you inspiring.

I think what people are afraid of becoming is pitiful, not inspirational. To be absolutely clear, pity is defined as “the feeling of sorrow and compassion caused by the suffering and misfortunes of others.” See the difference? One compels others on, the other elicits sadness. I don’t see any pity happening in this commercial, where five men get together, strap themselves into wheelchairs, and beat the crap out of each other, then go to a bar to unwind.

This whole discussion brings up another major issue; we as a community want to be considered mainstream. We want to be represented in the media, we want our sports covered by major networks (we’re about to see a major breakthrough with the Paralympics!), and we want to be considered mainstream members of society. How can major companies, filmmakers, and TV producers possibly feel comfortable breaking into such new, sensitive territory with advocates publicly criticizing their every attempt? It’s reasonable to demand to be portrayed with dignity, but we can’t be so damn picky.

I, for one, love the commercial and consider it a huge victory. Maybe I should hire an agent; I’d really love to be in an Apple commercial. :)

6 thoughts on “Thanks, Guinness

  1. Alex says it better than anyone. I agreeeeee with you whole-heartedly. I am thankful for family and friends who have played sitting volleyball with me in the past, gotten beaten up in the process (since you are at a real disadvantage if you have more than one leg in this game) and left with their butts bruised from scooting on the floor for hours on end.
    Alex, I will not be surprised if I see you in an INSPIRATIONAL commercial for Apple ;-). They would be smart to sign you up now.

    • Thanks, Anja. I’m blessed to know a whole slew of wheelchair and paralympic athletes, and it seems like the sentiment is pretty well agreed upon. I’m glad you’re surrounded by friends and family that support your athletic endeavors.

  2. Without diminishing the viewpoint of the writer of Disability and Representation, I think she may be missing something in her interpretation. Little steps make progress on long journeys. Unfortunately, humans do not all learn lessons in the same way. This commercial has clearly gotten a lot of people to maybe consider disabilities and inclusion in a different way.
    By way of example, my husband and I watched the premiere episodes of the new Michael J Fox show. By the end of the second ep, he turned to me and said, “I really was not even noticing the physical manifestation of his Parkinson’s after about 20 minutes. It’s a just quirky show with interesting characters.” Although it was used as a plot device, what happened was what happens to many of us as we or our loved ones struggle with something that is life-changing, be it a physical disability or terminal illness. What was foreign or scary becomes the new normal. You don’t see people with similar challenges as “the other,” you see people with similar challenges.
    The commercial isn’t perfect, and it’s only one commercial, but seeing more representations of all kinds of diversity can be helpful in getting more comfortable with differences. We’ve got more than enough divisiveness to go around.
    Just my two cents, for what it’s worth. :)

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