It has been eleven days since The Mighty post that inspired #CrippingTheMighty. A lot of good has come out of the hashtag. I have been exposed to new activist voices. My post on my initial take on the situation was shared widely on twitter and Facebook. It was even referenced by one of my favourite activist writers s.e. smith (so I had a little fangirl moment).
Ultimately, I think the most positive thing that came out of #CrippingTheMighty was the connections made between activists and the creation of a space (however shortlived) to air our grievances. I continue to believe as I did when I initially wrote about #CrippingTheMighty, that The Mighty is not going to change. In fact my interactions with the hashtag have only reinforced this belief.
If you go through the hashtag, you will find that The Mighty never interacts with disabled activists in any real public way, beyond systematically following every person who participated in #CrippingTheMighty on twitter.
Though they did publicly apologize for the particular offending post (a bingo game mocking autism meltdowns), they fail to understand how that post was not the only problem but rather just the tipping point. They did pay lip service to the fact that there has been push-back about their content from the disability community. In a later post they asked us to be part of a “conversation“. This conversation they propose is simply writing to their general feedback e-mail. I have no faith that they will listen to any of the people who in good faith wrote to them with honest feedback about necessary changes. The conversation The Mighty is willing to have is private where they can control the outcome. There is no accountability about what feedback they receive and why they did or more likely did not choose to act on it.
When The Mighty proposed that conversation, a conversation was already going on in full force on Twitter. The Mighty chose not to engage with us in that public forum. I’ll acknowledge that Twitter isn’t the greatest place for in depth discussions of the systemic issues within the Mighty but it would have been a start. There are also other forums not limited to 140 characters which would allow for a more open and accountable discourse.
The Mighty is however only interested in paying lip service to accountability. This is because as I said in my previous post, The Mighty despite its stated aims (helping disabled people) is really a safe space for parents of disabled children and avid consumers of inspiration porn. Changing the site to be in line with actually helping disabled people would alienate its largest reader base.
Further as s.e. smith points out, The Mighty has deep pockets and that funding would absolutely dry up if they ended their click-bait model. They would no longer have Venture Capitalists throwing money at them and their ad revenue would be less.
The people who most often frequenting The Mighty do not want to learn about disability, they want to have their preconceived notions confirmed. Disabled people who have ventured into the comment sections on The Mighty have found themselves attacked. If they point out ableism they are told to be forgiving and to understand that people just don’t know any better, if they are not dismissed outright. These people don’t want to learn, they hold up their ignorance as a shield.
These people are also not internet trolls. They are not arguing for its own sake or to harass, they do it out of a genuine sense of righteousness. They either believe that we are wrong or expect to much change to fast.
This does not account for everyone who visits The Mighty. One disabled writer for The Mighty did experience positive feedback from some of the nondisabled writers. She however details a lot of push-back from many others. Another disabled writer for the site felt so attacked by the nondisabled writers that they had to leave The Mighty’s private Facebook group for writers.
I feels like the progress made from within The Mighty is often one at a time while thousands stream past unaffected by internal activism. Which is not to say that changing individuals minds is not powerful and necessary. People who choose to try and change from within must be ready to expect more failures than successes.
In the sea of inspiration and pity porn that is The Mighty, those stories that stand out as positive, accurate portrayals of disability, by disabled people, end up being read and reinterpreted by The Mighty’s predominantly nondisabled readership as being the inspiration, those authors often actively fight against being.
I have said before that in the eyes of the media, disability is imaginary. It is a state to be defined and understood by people who do not personally experience it. You see this phenomenon at every level of media from fictional film and television to supposed news media.
The framing around disability in the media is wrong and harmful and within that framework even those pieces which seek to challenge the status quo can be assimilated into the very worldview they challenge.
People who write progressive pieces for The Mighty run the risk of being “SuperCripped” being placed on pedestals as individual examples of success rather than voices that actually echo the opinions and needs of the many. This is reinforced by just how few positive representations of disability exist on The Mighty.
The Mighty defends this false balance by arguing that everyone should have a say. Though why parents get more of a say than actual disabled people is not clearly articulated.
People have said that they would be ok with The Mighty if it just owned up to its parent focused, pity and inspiration porn peddling ways, rather than continue to claim an advocacy role for disabled people but this to is dangerous. Even if they did change their stated aims, they would still command a lot of traffic. Peddling their harmful representations but being able to more clearly deflect criticism from disabled people because, they could more honestly say “This isn’t about you”.
During my time reading posts under #CrippingTheMighty, I saw at least two tweets where individuals either contemplated or attempted suicide as a result of feeling like burdens to their families. In these cases heavily trafficked blogs were not involved. To have a celebrated archive of hugely popular parental self-pity is dangerous. Which is why though I continue to believe that The Mighty can’t be saved, it must still be actively criticized.
That is not to say that parents don’t have a right to feel stressed or want to seek out support. I just want to dispel the lie that framing your child as a tragedy and oversharing their personal information in a very public forum is in any way helpful. Parents who genuinely just want support and a place to vent should look for a less public venue. Otherwise I will just assume that they are nothing more than attention seeking assholes.
The Mighty writer Carly Findlay, describes the climate of the private writers’ Facebook page as one where those who don’t want to hear our arguments just want the situation to blow over. The problem is that it will and probably already has. Tweeting on the hashtag was only strong for about three days. In some ways The Mighty was lucky that shit hit the fan so close to a major holiday. The tweeting tailed off considerably Christmas Eve and is now comprised primarily of people resharing previously shared pieces.
The Mighty chose to ride out the storm, they payed lip service to our concerns but did not really publicly engage with any of them. Saving themselves from any sort of public accountability while giving the impression that they might do something about the issues but making no promises.
The Mighty will continue on as before and little if anything will change there.
I do hope that people will continue to use #CrippingTheMighty as a tool of dissent and hopefully future protests can be more organized so at least the worst content can be removed quickly.
I also hope to keep engaging with the great new connections, I have made with other disabled activists.
#Cripping The Mighty Roundup (share anything I miss in the comments)
Two Ethical Futures for The Mighty by David M. Perry
Run Down of #CrippingTheMighty by Savannah Logsdon-Breakstone
Some Real Talk About The Mighty by s.e. smith
If you Like It You Shoulda Put a Paycheck On It by Autistic Academic
My E-mail to The Mighty by Ultimate Oddball
The Mighty is Part of a Long Tradition of Inspiration Porn by Blind Yanqui
We Liked It, So We Put a Paycheck On It by Autonomous Press
Open Letter to The Mighty by Un-Boxed Brain