Friday, March 7, 2014

Pop-Culture and the "R-Word"

Here's a bit of good new for you all: Spring will be here in less than two weeks! The date technically is not indicative of sunshine and warmer air, but we can hope, right? Maybe?

It has been a while since I've shared any of my personal musings on this blog, but today I've got some thoughts that will hopefully prompt some interest on your behalf. Some of you may be aware of the promotion by Spread the Word to End the Word to end the use of the word “retard(ed)”. March 5th was their declared day of awareness, and there was a huge push for people to pledge to stop saying the r-word. If you didn't know about it, that's okay; I don't think a lot of people outside a certain community did. I found, though, after scrolling through various media sites, that interest in this issue seems to be spreading out from a specific group of people—those involved in some way with the disabled community—to a wider audience.

I will admit that I have my aversions to Huffington Post's in-process transition from journalistic-focused reporting to pop-culture, often pulpy, articles. (For example, a piece entitled “Fort Knox Installs First Female Commander” sits right next to one entitled, simply, “CAFFEINATED. BACON. WAFFLE.” These are the changes in media that haunt and terrify me.) However, this somewhat awkward intersect offers an interesting and useful look at what issues our society deems worthy of attention.

In my Huffington perusal, I found post after post about disability, particularly about inclusion and ending the use of the r-word. This struck me as a good thing for a few reasons:
1. I usually have to do a specific search to find articles related to disability, and here were a bunch, readily available without having to dig. They aren't hidden in the back corners of a website.
2. This community is getting attention in both journalistic and popular culture contexts.
3. The quantity, variety, and visibility of these articles indicates a demand for information on these topics. That is, people find these issues important, are interested in them, and want more.

John "Frank" Stephens
It's not just that stories like John Stephens's letter to Ann Coulter are being written, it's that people find those stories and their content pressing and significant in the context of today's social system. That disability and ability awareness articles are showing up in what appears to be a higher concentration on websites like Huffington Post is noteworthy, because it says (to me, at any rate) that disability issues spark the widespread, pop-culture interest that, say, a caffeinated bacon waffle does, while also maintaining a deserved element of seriousness. 

Issues that once seemed isolated to a certain group are now becoming accessible to more people, and that is great. Because of this shift, I think the disability rights movement has the potential to become a hot issue, especially among young people, much like gay rights and the push for marriage equality has gained widespread attention and support through various online platforms. I hope, too, that it won't be long before we see people's pledges to end the use of the r-word popping up in our Facebook and Twitter feeds in mass support.

What do you think? Have you noticed a change in the attention disability issues get in the media? Are you going to take the pledge

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