Tuesday, July 7, 2009

You Too Can Be Proud of Yourself For Not Discriminating Against the Disabled

So, if you've been to a movie theater lately, you've probably seen this spot from the Foundation for a Better Life. If you're unable to follow the link, here's the gist:

It's homecoming, a beautiful girl gets up on stage and announces two attendants, she pauses ... announces the winner with a surprised, but genuinely excited smile. The camera moves behind some heads ... they pan onto a pair of orthopedic shoes, and pan up to reveal: the young woman with Down's Syndrome who's just been named Homecoming Queen. "True Beauty: Pass it On" the narrator croons.

The ad informs you that this is a "True Story" and the website has the facts to back it up, and somehow that convinced them that this manipulative schtick wasn't offensive (it's true, right!?) Well yes, that one lovely young woman with Down's Syndrome was voted Homecoming Queen by her class is wonderful for that particular young woman.

But whose "true beauty" is the ad referring to? The woman with Down's Syndrome is necessarily more "truly beautiful" because of her disability? Or are the physically beautiful girls who aren't disabled "truly beautiful" because they've elected her?

Don't get me wrong - I don't believe the ad is mean spirited, or entirely stupid. But I do think it exemplifies the practice of assuming that all disabled people are of a type, thereby denying them full personhood. "People with Down's Syndrome are all beautiful on the inside" denies that people with Down's Syndrome are as uniquely complex as all the "normal" people out there.

The Charlottesville reactions to this spot are always a priceless groan. If only they could get a look at the absurdly patronizing Reader's Digest style essay accompanying the video on the Foundation's website.


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