Sunday, March 20, 2016

How You See Me? Who Cares?

First, let me make something clear. I don't care how you see me. My self esteem isn't wrapped up in you or your perceptions of me, my sense of worth isn't measured on any scale held in your hands. Before discussing this video, which asks the question, "How do you see me?" I want that understood. I state this because there is a myth, amongst non-disabled people, that we, as disabled people, are desperate for your approval and acceptance and, eeeww, tolerance. I know you love this narrative. I've seen it in movies, I've seen it in advertisements, and I've seen it in those horrible 'let him have the last shot at the big game and fake it going in' videos on YouTube. Your acceptance, presented as a gift, is nothing more than a burden for those of us on the receiving end.

That's out of the way.

I hated this video. From the opening words, spoken by a woman with Down Syndrome reading from a script, "This is how I see myself ..." over the image of a beautiful non-disabled woman. From there it shows this beautiful non-disabled woman doing and being what people do and be. Throughout those images I sat horrified. Literally horrified. The erasure, in the self image of the woman speaking, of her disability, of Down Syndrome, made me feel physically ill. The stench of self hatred filled my senses. I knew this was just a script, just an advertisement, but it was so much more than that. It was propaganda for the erasure of people with disabilities from the world we live in.

It clearly told any viewer, any person who one day may be told that their unborn baby has Down Syndrome that their baby doesn't want the life that they would live. That their child would spend their days wishing to be something they weren't. That if they had their child it would suffer the horrid existence of seeing themselves as something that they weren't and living with the knowledge that they could never be what they desperately wanted to be.

It clearly told any viewer that any person with Down Syndrome they meet needs to be treated as a fragile being with a self image that rises from delusion and self hatred. People with Down Syndrome are presented as living on the other side of town from pride and self acceptance. That people with Down Syndrome live in ghettos of shame and distorted longing.

This is not how I see Down Syndrome.

This is not how I see Disability.

Yet when the camera turns, finally, to the beautiful, absolutely beautiful, woman with Down Syndrome, she, as an actress delivers her line very well, "How do you see me?" there is a pleading in her voice that broke my heart.

I wanted to tell her, tell the world, that I saw her. Really saw her. And what I saw was a woman with Down Syndrome who was beautiful and talented. I did not see, in any way shape or form, her as anything but who she was.

Oh, God, read the comments all over the web on this.

"I see you as a person just like me," gushes one comment from, predictably, a non disabled person.  That statement galls me. It's supposed to be this wonderful gift ... and maybe it is, but only to the speaker. The speaker is affirming that they are a wondrous kind of person who has a unique and rare ability to see humanity in another person. Like being able to see that a person is a person makes someone exceptional! Like being able to see that a human being is a human being isn't to be expected in a civil society, instead it's a cherished rarity. It isn't exceptional to recognize that my neighbour is my neighbour, is it? Apparently when my neighbour has a difference or a disability it makes me, with the assumption of my own superiority, able to grant neighbour status. Forgive me, but, fuck that.

I hate this video.

I took several days to write this because I had to calm down.

I think this video hurts us.

It hurts disabled people.

It hurts people with Down Syndrome.

It hurts those who, already secure in superiority, needed challenging.

I am putting this up on the day before World Down Syndrome Day because I think it would be an offense to show it on that day. A day set aside to celebrate the contributions of people with Down Syndrome and the struggles that people with Down Syndrome have against prejudice and bigotry.

This video has no place there.



Frank_V said...

Yes, horrid video.

Showing the actual person being joyous, and doing all those things would be more life affirming and positive. "I AM, x, y, x. I HAVE done x, y, z. I WILL do x, y, z."

It's all part of the same machinery that Naomi Wolf described in her book "The Beauty Myth". That being, mass media wants us to believe that the ONLY life worth living, is the one as described by advertising we all are constantly exposed to: Only the beautiful, or handsome, and rich, have lives that are worth living.

Aspiring to BE beautiful or handsome, and rich, is natural normal. Too much of society measures all of us against that hyped up and unrealistic yardstick. Very unrealistic, VERY unhealthy way of thinking.

ssassefras said...

The vehemence with which people react to any criticism of this behavior tells you all you need to know about where their priorities are. "How dare you not be grateful?" isn't about giving something to someone; it's about not getting something from them.

And -- even more importantly -- what you're getting from them isn't something they can refuse you, apparentlu. They are service objects, not people with their own opinions and choices. Gross.

Unknown said...

THANK YOU SO MUCH. This is a PERFECT response to that vile + toxic video. Ima gonna share this with the many losers who are weeping bullshit tears over it. Brilliant.

jo(e) said...

Wow. What a dreadful video. [I watched it after reading your blog post. Would I have been just as horrified if you hadn't pointed out the problems with it? I wonder.]

Carol said...

I thought it did an AMAZING job at tricking the VIEWER and pointing out their own prejudice.
It took the viewer on a little mind trip by showing a typical person because that is what they were THINKING anyway, then BAM.... took their prejudice and confronted them with it by showing them the truth. You are left sitting there to think about why you so easily went along with the typical person and did not consider a person with a disability.

GirlWithTheCane said...

Thank you for this post.

I hate this video too. It made me so viscerally angry when I saw it that I swore at the computer.

abby b said...

I have been working on this piece all week myself. You say it brilliantly. I need a different thesis now, as you say it all so well. But yes, the shock at the opening scene, the punch in the gut as it continued, the horror at the end. I am the mother of, among others, a gorgeous nine year old with Down syndrome. This is just a horrifying bit of, as you say, erasure propaganda. Stunned at the resources that went into it, saddened by all the parents loving it, sickened that anyone new to this world will watch this and think it says anything worth repeating.

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A said...

I thought you might like this Daily Beast article that totally agrees with you:

Jennifer said...

I completely agree with you Carol. I think it's brilliant because of this!

Shan said...

The fact that it's a famous actress celebrated for her beauty and "activism"...I can't decide whether that makes it better or worse. Not that Olivia Wilde is much of an activist, supporting third-world ecological and economic rapist H&M, and apparently now condescending to lend her million-dollar face to World Down Syndrome's disgusting. Shameless self-promotion. And people all over the internet coo "Awwww!! Look, the ret*rded people wanna be just like Olivia Wilde too! They ARE regular people after all!" I threw up in my mouth a little.