From Japan Today, 9/13/16.
When I still lived in the U.S., I remember a time I was watching a program on the Public Broadcasting Service featuring a group of middle school-aged kids working to design a fin or flipper to fit one of the girls in the group that would best allow her to swim through water. The girl testing out the flipper designs in the pool happened to be in a wheelchair, unable to walk.
A Japanese friend who was watching the program with me remarked that you would likely never see a program on TV in Japan featuring a disabled person yet not focusing on the person’s disability. He stated he didn’t like the way television in Japan always portrayed people with disabilities, and wished they would feature them in programs like the one we were watching, where their disability wasn’t even mentioned.
At the time I thought it was an interesting observation, and as it turns out, it’s a sentiment shared by many others.
Recently, a program called “Bari-Bara” on Japanese broadcasting network NHK’s Educational TV revealed the results of a poll asking people what they thought of “inspirational programs featuring disabled people”.
The response of non-disabled people polled was split nearly down the middle, with 45 percent reporting that they enjoy such programs. Still, the greater half – with 55 percent – reported that they don’t like such inspirational programs. When asking people in the disabled community what they thought about such programs, 90 percent of those polled answered they don’t like them.
The program “Bari-Bara” touts itself as “Japan’s first variety show for disabled people”, and aims to create a “truly barrier-free society”. The title “Bari-Bara” actually stands for “barrier-free variety” (“bariaa-furii baraetii”), the term “barrier-free” meaning to be accessible, or free of barriers/impediments. The episode in question, which featured the polls regarding inspirational programs about the disabled community, also showed a talk by the late Australian comedian and disabled rights activist Stella Young in which she coined the term “inspiration porn”, referring to society’s habit of always turning disabled people into “inspirations” simply because they live with a disability.
On its own the episode relays an important and thought-provoking message, but this episode also happened to air on the last weekend of August, the same weekend that Nippon Television runs its annual 24-Hour Television telethon, a charity program whose aim is to “introduce existing conditions of social welfare in Japan as well as around the world and to present the need for assistance for disadvantaged people.”
According to their website, since the first campaign in 1978, the charity committee has raised 27,248,414,171 yen in donations as of 2008. However, the program is also infamous for showing the very “tears, please” documentaries and “inspiration porn” that “Bari-Bara” denounces. In fact, the whole “Bari-Bara” episode was a parodied mock-up of 24-Hour Television‘s program, with staff and crew wearing shirts in the same bright yellow color that 24-Hour Television uses, bearing a similar slogan and with the stage decorated in a similar fashion to that of the telethon event.
Considering the much-needed donations 24-Hour Television raises for a whole variety of charitable organizations, it’s highly unlikely that “Bari-Bara’s” intent was to completely undermine the telethon, but hopefully it has encouraged the committee as well as the program’s viewers to rethink the way they portray and view disabled people in society. And if the result of “Bari-Bara’s” poll is any indication, the tear-jerking documentaries aren’t even appealing to the majority of the population, so a new way of presenting the telethon could even be beneficial to its ultimate purpose.
See also the comments at the end of the story, including the following video suggestion:
Bari-Bara webpage: http://www6.nhk.or.jp/baribara/
Previous VAOJ coverage of this issue: http://visualanthropologyofjapan.blogspot.jp/search?q=inspiration+porn