Okay, so. Guinness has a rather, shall we say, problematic new ad that features a bunch of guys in wheelchairs playing basketball. And when I say problematic, I mean that it makes me want to mutter expletives under my breath. Watch, listen, and be appalled:
The ad begins with a basketball flying in slow motion above a basket. Repetitive piano music plays – the kind that creates the score for “inspirational” stories of all kinds. The next several seconds of the video show six guys in wheelchairs playing basketball. You see them rolling down the court. Some of them crash into each other, fall over, and get back up. One guy scores a basket and high-fives another guy. Another guy scores a basket. Then, one of the players stands up and say, “You guys are getting better at this! Yeah! Next week, buddy!” Then, all but one of them stand up out of their wheelchairs and head for the exit, with the person in a wheelchair going with them.
The voiceover says, “Dedication. Loyalty. Friendship. The choices we make reveal the true nature of our character.”
The ad ends with all of the guys having a Guinness in a bar. The Guiness ad reads “Guinness. Made of More.”
When I first saw this ad, I thought it was just going to be an inspiration-porn kind of thing, with a good serving of “Look at what tough men they are! And they love Guinness! Tough men love Guinness! Even if they’re in wheelchairs! Roar!” Bad enough, but not surprising.
But then one of the guys gets up out of his wheelchair. And I’m all WTF?
And then four more guys get up out of their wheelchairs. And I’m even more all WTF?
So let’s see what we’re supposed to make of this video:
1) Real friends buy expensive lightweight wheelchairs so that they can play basketball with their disabled friends. Is this even a possibility for most people? No. No, it’s not.
2) Real friends (or is it just real men?) can somehow learn how to use a manual wheelchair well enough to play basketball in it. Is this even a possibility for most people? No. No, it’s not.
3) The one disabled person must be called out as an object of charity with “Next week, buddy!” Under no circumstances is anyone to say, “Next week, everyone!” Because, apparently, the other five guys just showed up for the disabled guy’s sake, not because they all wanted to play basketball together. Awesome.
4) Disabled people must be called “buddy.” Apparently, this is affectionate. If you’re five.
5) Including a disabled person become an opportunity to show what fine, noble, humanitarian people we are.
What can I say? If “the choices we make reveal the true nature of our character,” and we choose to make a disabled person the occasion for humanitarian sentiments by calling him out as an object of charity with a diminutive generally reserved for children — well, that makes our choices very suspect indeed, doesn’t it?
Look. The strange and surreal nature of the whole commercial aside, its message is about inclusion, and that would be great, except that the message is being handled in all of the wrong ways. Not only is the charity model so very, very outdated, but the whole idea of putting people on a pedestal for being inclusive is tiresome.
Including people is the right thing to do. Period. It’s not a test of character. It’s not an opportunity for humanity and heroism. It’s just basic ethics. Very basic. Very ordinary. Very pedestrian. No big deal. No need to put it on a billboard. No need to construct a commercial around it.
Inclusion is just another word for basic human rights.
Violating basic human rights? That shows something about your character.
Supporting basic human rights? That’s just something you’re supposed to do.
© 2013 by Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg