The new Bond film is out and I have to confess I am looking forward to watching it. However, Bond films, like a number of other things I enjoy such as rap music, leave me conflicted. With the latest film No Time To Die, author Jen Campbell has highlighted the continuing, unhelpful and lazy trend of giving Bond villains disfigurements. This time round we are ‘blessed’ with two characters Blofeld and Safin.
From an inclusion perspective, the Bond franchise is riddled with talking points from misogyny to racism to a lack of representation. Whilst the Daniel Craig instalments have tried to address a number of issues the villain should be disfigured trope, a bit like Bond himself, just won’t die.
There is a campaign that has been lobbying against this for a number of years called I Am Not Your Villain. The facts are concerning. In previous posts I have talked about the importance of representation but in the case of visible difference the issue is much starker. Rather than individuals not seeing themselves in roles cast as heroes (only 1 in 5 people with a visible difference) or love interest (15%) many more people (39%) have seen someone with a visible difference cast as the villain or “baddie”.
Three in 10 have struggled with body image and low self-esteem
A quarter say it has affected their mental health.
It is here that the conflict kicks in. If I was being true to my conviction I would boycott the Bond film, especially in the cinema, to play my part in impacting on its Box Office take. If large numbers of us did that and were vocal about our reasons why it would hit studios where it hurts and could possibly lead to a change in scripting and characterisation.
But will I do that? My honest answer is probably not. I am a cinephile and seeing movies like this on IMAX is one of my big loves. So my reflection this week is despite positive intentions. Despite wanting to see the world change there are times I am a hypocrite. Whether it is listening to Eminem because I love his beats or watching Bond on the big screen there are times when I feel ashamed of my choices.
I would love to hear your own reflections on this, or other choices you may make, where you feel you are potentially letting the campaign for a more inclusive society down.
This phrase was first coined in 2014 by disability activist Stella Young and to summarise her definition:
“Inspiration porn is the objectification of disabled people for the benefit of non disabled people.”
It is a deliberately provocative term and for a fuller, more rounded explanation I really encourage you to watch this short video.
I share this post this week at the height of the Paralympics, where Team GB are flying high in the medal table and Dame Sarah Storey has set a new record for Paralympic gold medals with an incredible tally of 17. She has competed in two sports in her Paralympic career swimming and cycling and she is an extremely talented athlete. However, there have been times where the stories of our athletes has drifted into the inspiration porn territory. These uses tend to share one or more of the following characteristics highlighted in this brilliant article by Forbes:
an attempt to generate sentimentality and/or pity
contains some form of moral message, primarily aimed at non-disabled viewers
disabled people anonymously objectified, even when they are named
The first question I have for you this week is are you watching the Paralympics? I am going to call myself out on this and say I have been much more selective than I was in watching the Olympics where I would pretty much watch everything. Second and much more important question – what are you thinking when you do watch Paralympic athletes perform. Do you see them as elite athletes or do you see something else?
Have a watch of this Channel 4 advert for the 2016 Paralympic Games. Whilst well intentioned, the title sets the wrong tone and I would ask the question of whether an advert for Olympic Games coverage would include footage of someone answering a phone in an office, a child eating a bowl of cereal or a mother holding her baby?
Like the late Stella Young, I subscribe to the social model of disability. I really like the Scope definition:
“the social model says that people are disabled by barriers in society, not by their impairment or difference. Barriers can be physical, like buildings not having accessible toilets. Or they can be caused by people’s attitudes to difference, like assuming disabled people can’t do certain things.”
So rather than being wowed by disabled people performing every day tasks or enjoying their hobbies let’s think about how we can remove barriers and change our attitudes and perceptions. But most of all let’s stop celebrating inspiration porn and call it out when we see it.
I wasn’t very good at languages at school. I could do the reading and writing bit, when I had time to reflect and think, but the spontaneous conversation (definitely the most important aspect) was quite frankly my worst nightmare. I remember sitting in nervous anticipation of being summoned in for my French GCSE oral exam. My palms were beyond sweaty and anxiety levels at a peak. That said one of the highlights for me of studying French was the introduction to the brilliance of the French farce. Our teacher would often show us French films twice once with subtitles on and a second time without them to help us improve our abilities to interpret. It built a passion for me that continued past my school days and my favourite French comedy is one I discovered at University called Le Dîners de Cons. If you can get hold of a copy I highly recommend it…
Anyway I digress, this week’s blog post is a day early and in recognition of Disability Time to Talk Day (4th Feb). With all of us wearing masks indoors I have missed the ability to connect with others through facial expression when I have made rare forays to the shops. With meetings taking place on Zoom, WebEx or Microsoft Teams the body language signals are missed, especially when we choose to turn off our cameras (often because we are virtual meeting exhausted).
So what does all of this preamble relate to? Misgivings about my ineptitude with foreign languages. Failed attempts to connect with other shoppers. Virtual groundhog day throughout the working week. The sum of my reflections is that while I have recognised that lockdown has been tiring for me – it must be incredibly difficult for my colleagues with hearing loss.
There have been a number of colleagues who have confided in me that they rely on lip reading to ‘hear’. At work it has taken us time to use subtitles on videos as standard. Some friends and colleagues had never disclosed they had hearing loss before but lockdown and mask wearing has immediately posed them challenges. What compounds this issue is when they have had to constantly remind colleagues to keep their cameras on or not cover up their mouths when speaking in work meetings. I cannot explain how draining and demoralising it is to be compelled to repeatedly ask for something simple to enable your engagement and involvement. If you want to empathise though try watching a foreign language film you’ve never seen before without the subtitles on…
So a small ask this week. Speak to your colleagues. If you are the type of person that prefers to turn your camera off for Zoom meetings ask others if they would mind. Take some time, especially today, to reach out and ask others if there are any changes or adjustments you could make to help them feel more included or aid their involvement. Be curious, be open, be kind. Choose empathy over sympathy. Let’s all work together to turn this year’s Time To Talk Day into a positive conversation about how we can work together to support our disabled colleagues.
Just over 12 years ago I received a bit of a bombshell when I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. I say ‘bit’ because to be honest I knew the diagnosis was coming as I had recently lost all sensation from the neck down (that was not a particularly fun month). Accepting my condition was in truth the relatively easy part being able or willing to openly share with other people was much more challenging.
MS affects different people in different ways and for me this reflects a challenge inherent in our wider thinking about disability. Following my diagnosis, I became increasingly aware that as a nation we have a fixation on almost limiting our thoughts on disability to mobility. Despite this, we have failed to really address the barriers and limitations that we put in place for people with a mobility disability. At the same time, we fail to acknowledge the fact that disability is a much broader subject.
I have received unhelpful disapproving glares when compelled to use an accessible toilet. Felt ‘pressured’ into relinquishing my seat on public transport on days when I really needed a rest. Been scared to reveal my condition despite the fact it is under control and I am actually managing it rather well. I am conscious that much of this is internalised, but it stems from what I see and experience in the wider world. I actually carry certain perspectives as they were embedded in me before my diagnosis and shaking those off is really difficult. My biggest ongoing inner dialogue – “is it ok for me to use an accessible toilet”.
So how do we move forward? We need to have more open dialogue about disability. In my mind it is the way we have historically set things up that is the problem. In some ways I am pleased that the sunflower lanyard scheme is trying to help highlight that some of us may have ‘invisible’ disabilities but at the same time it is a bit depressing having to wear what equates to a giant badge publicly declaring there is more to me than meets the eye.
As an example of one thing we could change almost immediately. Why can’t job application forms state these are the adjustments we currently have in place as standard would any of these be of use to you and then go on to ask if there are any further or additional adjustments you would need? It’s a simple change but for me it reframes the conversation and suggests an organisation that wants me to perform at my best. I have seen some other organisations recently giving out the questions half an hour before the interview to enable a candidate to gather their thoughts and be their best self. As someone who occasionally struggles with ‘brain fog’ this would be an enormous help.
I would love to hear from others about positive steps you have seen or experienced. I am interested and curious to know what are the changes we could make to help you feel a greater sense of welcome and belonging? Please leave your reflections below, let’s keep them constructive and map out the positive shifts we could support to make meaningful and lasting change.
This will take some effort from all of us but #ImNotTired.
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Thank you Tiger – a really well written and insightful piece.