So Guinness recently came out with a commercial that went viral: 60 thousand views within the first three days of its release online and a debut on Reddit's front page last Thursday, under the heading "One of the best alcohol commercials in awhile."
Just in case you happen to be one of those weird people who, you know, paid attention to dumb things like Syria while the whole Miley Cyrus Oh-my-god a white girl is twerking thing was happening, here's the video.
Too lazy to watch? Okay, well, it's a minute-five second thing, 44 seconds of which is a bunch of sweaty guys playing wheelchair basketball with gusto. It's pretty easy to get really engrossed in the play. The photography's great, the tempo gives it a bit of suspense -- at 33 seconds in, one of the guys falls over in his chair, and you just can't help but root and root and roooot for him to get up, and Oh. Em. Gee, he DOES and he goes right back on the attack. One last slo-mo of a basket made, celebrations, high-fives, and then at about 41 seconds in, you see a guy pivot around and go, hey, let's get a beer.
Cue plot twist.
The guys all start unbuckling themselves, save one, and they walk out of the gym, slapping each other on the back, headed to the bar with the boys. The last ten seconds is of said guys at the bar having their boys night out, including real wheelchair guy. Aaand here's the tagline: "The choices we make, reveal the true nature of our character," as we go to close-up of a nice foamy pint of Guinness.
So... cool, huh?
Yeah, I was one of those people who just instantly went -- "OH!" when all those guys started unbuckling themselves. It's not hard to see why people love this. Comments on YouTube even have people saying they're gonna buy the product because of the commercial. Which is... I mean... um... if all it takes to get you to give me your money is to be surprisingly cute, well, then, hang on, STAY RIGHT THERE while I go put a ribbon in my hair and slather on the lipstick.
But then... links to the commercial started popping up in my Facebook feed again and again... usually in the context of deaf or disabled people or allies who said, "FINALLY, something that isn't condescending about disability, yay!"
The more I saw comments of that ilk, the more it irked me.
'Cause you know what? It kind of is condescending. It really freaking is.
It's not meant to be, but you know what, just because people mean well doesn't mean they never accidentally goof.
So here's my thing: tell me how this is not condescension, albeit in a less overt form?
Tell me how this is any different than the situations I've been in when I've just finished a grueling workshopping session with a room full of writers and the person who's been leading me and my fellow writers in the workshop for the last two hours calls out, "Okay, everybody, let's pause and have a round of applause for the sign language interpreters for doing a wonderful job. Really, bless you people for doing such a beautiful thing!"
And I have to sit there in forced polite silence, as the team of non-writing interpreting professionals who have been working with us are suddenly raised to saintly status without any provocation whatsoever (whether or not they mind is a whole other story).
Any time you praise someone for doing something "FOR" the sake of a disabled person, you're, by extension, condescending.
Any time you find relief in looking AWAY from a disabled person (which, is, let's be honest, what this commercial does -- how many of you watched that commercial and went, "whoa, coool!" while looking specifically FOR the guy in the wheelchair when his friends were unbuckling themselves and getting up on their suddenly normal-looking legs?), it's a little disheartening.
I'm not really ragging on this commercial. It does what it's intended to do -- appropriate a memorable and relatable narrative for the sake of making you remember a brand... and hopefully buy the beer. In that sense, it ain't half bad.
And the sentiment certainly isn't awful either. I'd rather be around these nice guys, after all, the ones who want to shoot hoops and drink beer with their friend on equal footing than I'd want to be around somebody who stares at me, all agape, after first finding out I'm deaf... and suddenly forgets his or her own name.
That's all fine and good. But let's not all fall down the hagiography black hole and tell people that THIS is how we talk about disability, mmkay?
Because it totally isn't.