On the Channel 4 Paralympics trailers – it’s complicated

A photo of me, a white woman in her wheelchair holding a ball. I look unconvinced. I have long brown hair in two plaits, am wearing a brown crochet beret and a linen gingham skirt. I'm in my garden. My youngest daughter is on the swing behind me. She is a literal blur.

Can you tell I’m not exactly a sportswoman?! In 2016 I wrote an article for the Guardian about the trailer for the Rio Paralympics that was all over Channel 4. 

My main criticism was of its slogan: “there’s no such thing as can’t”, which it applied not just to paralympian athletes, but all disabled people. 

I found it patronising, unhelpful, and just untrue. For me, a lot of life is about accepting that some things aren’t possible, and living within that reality. Disabled people do not need more meaningless motivational slogans shouted at us. Everything is not possible, and that is fine. That is adulthood. 

There’s a new Channel 4 paralympics trailer this year, for the Tokyo games, and I LIKE it. 

By total chance, the person in charge of it is one of our authors – Eoin Mclaughlin – in his day job. We talked about it while he was still making it. 

Media around the paralympics can be very hard to get right. There’s a temptation to universalise, to use the paralympics to say something about disabled people generally. Quite honestly I did not envy Eoin. 

But I do like the new trailer. (Otherwise I probably just wouldn’t be mentioning it to be honest.) 

I LIKE this one

It’s not trying to say something broader about disabled people, it’s about the paralympians – professional athletes. Which means there’s a lot there I don’t particularly relate to, and that’s fine – I am not an athlete. It’s not my world. (The whole pushing-through-pain thing etc seems to be endemic in sport.) 

But one moment – the wheelchair using athlete who’s blocked by the step – is gloriously relatable. Even paralympians aren’t the paralympians of the public imagination. They need access just like the rest of us. 

The paralympics can be an odd time for disabled people – bodies and mobility aids like ours are on the one hand normalised, while on the other held up to scrutiny. Every disabled person is suddenly expected to be the paralympian of public imagination – the superhuman. 

This channel 4 film is not the one I’ve seen being discussed on social media this week. But it’s the one for me.

Lucy Catchpole

P.S I highly recommend watching the whole Tokyo 2020 channel 4 trailer – I’ve embedded it above – and my guardian article is still on their website if you’re interested.

[Image descriptions:

Image 1: A photo of me, a white woman in her wheelchair holding a ball. I look unconvinced. I have long brown hair in two plaits, am wearing a brown crochet beret and a linen gingham skirt. I’m in my garden. My youngest daughter is on the swing behind me. She is a literal blur.

Carousel images are screenshots of my 2016 Guardian article:

Slide 1 – text reads: “Since the Channel 4 Paralympics trailer was unveiled last week, the reaction has been almost universally positive. And understandably so. As a film, it is pretty phenomenal. It’s witty, slick, doesn’t prettify disability, and the music is brilliant. Actually, positive is an understatement: it’s been more like a collective gush of joy, with able-bodied people who never tweet about disability showing an extraordinary level of enthusiasm for the advert.” 

Slide 2 – “But then we come to people like me. The majority. The totally non-inspirational disabled people. What does “no such word as can’t” and “yes I can” mean for me? It means I am a failure. I can’t walk, and I accept that. I can’t function without serious painkillers. I am a wheelchair user but could not be further from the wheelchair jumper in the film – just negotiating a kerb is extremely difficult for me, often impossible. These things already frustrate and confound people. Why can’t I be just a bit more damn inspirational?” 

Slide 3 – “And the problem is that the hashtag and the way the advert has been marketed encourages society’s frustration with people like me. They legitimise it, by telling able-bodied people that if I just wanted it enough, or was positive enough, I could be one of those shiny talented people too. My fear is that creating a view of disabled people as magical creatures who might look impaired but actually – ta dah! – are as capable as anyone else, if not more so (#superhumans), means that the general public will find the vast majority of disabled people, with our pain, weakness and fatigue, even more frustrating and confounding than they already do.”

Slide 4 – Last screenshot, this time of the top of the article. Headline reads “I love Channel 4’s Paralympics advert. But we can’t all be superhumans. Lucy Catchpole: The Rio trailer shows disabled people in a wonderful light. But the broadcaster’s ‘there’s no such thing as can’t’ message is wrongheaded and unhelpful.” (Side note: I did NOT say I love the advert! Poetic license, I guess?!)]

This was initially posted on Instagram, on the 24th of August 2021.

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