The Paralympics are crowding our TV screens and grabbing the headlines.
Does it change anything? Of course.
- Accessibility: When we watch the Olympics, these are people who have been well funded, had every opportunity and reach heights that most of us could never aspire too. As I watch people with missing limbs, missing sight, debilitating diseases with my children, there really is no reason for not participating in sport. If they can, so can we. By covering the Paralympics in the depth they have, the media is playing a part in inspiring a generation. It will be interesting to see whether sports organisations rise to the opportunity and keep up the media pressure.
- Role models: Every person at the Paralympics has had hurdles to cross (and not just the hurdlers!). These guys are getting their five minutes of fame – let’s hope this lasts. I’ve seen suggestions that they are knocking the C-list celebrities (The WAGs) off their normal perch. Only time will tell, but hopefully some will now go on and become A- listers – the kinds of role models that have earned their fame.
- Humanity: Stories being uncovered in the media – like the helper who looked after the Burkina Faso team - bring out the hopefulness and very best in us as people.
- Redefining beauty: The media are inclined to want images (of women in particular, but men as well) to be unreal – already beautiful models have inches sliced off their waists, great skin is ‘perfected. Tiny Ellie Simmonds, far from a willowy six foot supermodel, has come out of the swimming pool wearing little more than a swimsuit and a smile, looking absolutely beautiful. I can’t think of a better advert if someone wants to test their waterproof mascara. Can the media now relax?
- Imagery: in the same vein, the media tend to gloss over physical impediments. This has to be the one event where stumps aren’t just shown on TV, but positively celebrated. It seems wrong to call these disfigurements, but that’s largely how they’ve been seen. From the joy and celebration to the tears and tantrums, we have been exposed not only to the ‘normality’ of these physical impairments, but the people behind them. And seeing people as human, not simply as disabled, has perhaps been the media triumph of the games.
I could go on.
I, for one, have been inspired and enthused, watched sports I’ve never paid attention to and had more conversations with my children about disability rights than I ever expected. A friend and colleague, John Bland, recently wrote an article about the people who don’t come first. Never has this been truer. The guys from Burkina Faso (above) came fifth in their race. I watched with amazement as Ollie Hynde won swimming gold – the Chinese guy in the next lane, the silver medal winner, had only one arm.
The Paralympics stories seem, somehow, very human. Whether it’s a media shift will depend on where we go from here. But it’s an interesting platform from which to begin.
Full set of images from the Paralympics opening ceremony: http://www.flickr.com/photos/claireatwaves/sets/72157631339609810/