Japan Today

Poll shows most disabled people in Japan dislike 'inspirational' documentaries about disability

By Meg Murphy, RocketNews24

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.

Source: My Game News Flash

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The timing here in impeccable once again, with the Paralympics being held right now in Rio. Why the need to focus on the negative, when there is so much positive going on now!

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

I remember a variety show where they read a poll about whether viewers thought the little reaction bubble with peoples faces in it were annoying or not. I don't remember the exact numbers but a surprisingly high percentage said it's annoying. The comment by the media person: Yes, but this is how we do things, so...

I don't expect any change on tear and circle jerking Japanese TV just because it would be reasonable when looking at polls. Japanese TV is very disconnected from reality.

10 ( +12 / -2 )

Charities are rarely about the alleged recipients.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Well, with Japan currently 55th in the paralypics seems Japan might have a lot of catching up to do with regards it's attitude and support of the disabled.

10 ( +10 / -0 )

I certainly get it. Having seen my fair share of "inspirational" Japanese documentaries and variety show segments scripted to get a tear-jerk reaction at the expense of people with disabilities, I can see why many dislike the genre. Often, "inspirational" seems to be a euphemism for patronizing.

I find there to be a very high tolerance for patronizing remarks and behavior in Japan. It's definitely cultural. As just one example, consider the praise so often heaped on just-off-the-boat foreigners in Japan when they utter the simplest of Japanese phrases — looks of utter delight and feigned astonishment peppered with plenty of "jozu-jozu" praise, also known as "the talking dog syndrome."

I realize these sorts of patronizing remarks are said with the best of intentions, but after the umpteenth time the person on the receiving end starts to feel belittled. This is obviously the same way those with disabilities react to these feel-good inspirational documentaries — patronized and belittled.

17 ( +17 / -0 )

Let's face it, most non disabled people don't like them either.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

UK's Channel 4 was showing this promotional video trailer leading up the the Paralympics. I thought it was spectacular, because it focusses on people's many abilities, not their disabilities. But apparently it was criticised in the same way as the program in this article has been. One criticism was, Well not every disabled person can do stuff like Paralympians can. To which others responded, Well, not that many people can do what Olympians can either. Should we stop showing what some people can do just because not everyone can do it?

I haven't seen this Japanese program though, and I imagine it does veer towards an "Aww! Doesn't she do well despite her you-know-what?" approach.

Here's the Channel 4 trailer:


10 ( +11 / -1 )

There's a succint video about this topic by Dr. Frances Ryan at the Guardian:


2 ( +3 / -1 )

I'm not a a big fan of documentaries here because they all have the same formula. If they don't make tears then it don't make sense. That applies to Dramas too. Crying all the time doesn't always bring out the response that they want. Especially, when those in need want real solutions or assistance for their problems. It just reminds them of the pain and suffering they went through as well.

Documentaries that don't inform about solutions or resources that are available for the problem aren't worth anybodies time. Shoganai!

4 ( +5 / -1 )

Theyre still heroes in my book. I watched a piece about a young Japanese man with ALS recently. The poor man can only move his eyes, yet is an author, activist and father of a young child. I can tell you there wasnt a dry eye in the studio - or our house. These people motivate me when Im feeling lazy or sorry for myself - I pinch myself and realise there are so many physically much worse off making the best of things.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

I was in Asakusabashi train station over the weekend as well as others, and thank god I was not in a wheelchair.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

It's a tough call.

Maybe a lot of people don't like these shows, but the whole basis for the idea of a barrier-free society is not because we all have different abilities, rather it's because some of us can't do what the majority can. If we can't admit this, then we're looking at the whole issue through rose-colored glasses, which is just as patronizing as the whole "inspiration porn" thing. How can an able-bodied person look at a person in a wheel-chair and NOT think, "Whew! Thank-god I'm not like that!"

Be honest now.

The term "differently abled" epitomizes this rose-colored view. The girl described at the beginning of this article, doesn't just happen to be disabled. No. The fact is that she can't walk, run, climb stairs, hike in the woods, wade in the water or swim. THIS is why her friends made her a flipper in the first place. Ignoring the bloody obvious doesn't make it go away.

What I'm trying to say is that in designing a message to elicit donations, the feelings of the intended recipients of this money can, ironically, be detrimental to the cause. Sure people will feel patronized or what have you, but in the end, it's the money that counts. Money is necessary for building a barrier-free society. Uninspirational stories of people who "just happen to have handicaps," but other than that are just like you and me, isn't really going to tug the purse strings open, as well as a good tear-jerker.

Just ask Unicef.

Furthermore, the idea of having this Bari-Bari show is not much better than inspiration porn. Disabled people whining to each other in the corner about the attitudes of the majority are not going to change anything. A better idea would be to try to get themselves integrated into regular TV shows, and not limited to a so-called echo chamber type "side-show" with limited appeal. How are people's views going to change when disabled people present themselves as a monolithic group who only talk about their own limited problems, rather than individual members of greater society with common concerns?

There's the irony. They'll just have to suck it up and deal with being patronized until there really is a true barrier free society.

Personal note, my 50 year-old cousin has a developmental disability, and thanks to the charitable donation of time and money from able-bodied folks, she has been able to live a far more independent life than one would expect. But it IS charity, and as such is by nature patronizing. Someone has to feel bad about her situation in order to help her. Someone HAS to feel sorry for her. That's the nature of the business. To think otherwise is to deny reality.

Can you imagine what true equality would be like? It would be the opposite of the above. "Hey, you can't walk? Deal with it. I hate my job. My kid is doing drugs. My cat ran away. Maybe YOU can help ME!" That's true equality. Not batting an eye because someone else can't walk. By that way of thinking, everybody is different, and everybody has their own problems, so that makes everyone equal.

If only we had this luxury.

My own personal conclusion from all of this is that disabled people in general don't really hate charity, rather, it's the fact that they need to rely on others that they really despise. It may be expressed as resentment for being patronized, or how society treats them, but deep down it's a resentment of their own condition. Sure, one can accept the fact that one can't walk, perhaps because that's the way it has always been, but the fact that one can't walk, that itself is the root of the whole issue, not how people react.

Being patronized should be the last item on a long list of concerns that disabled face. Let's deal with the real issues at hand before we start the mopping up.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Sourpuss: You obviously have never watched Bari-Bari. There is no whining going on whatsoever. And it is like a regular variety show that happens to have disabled hosts and themes. It is a NHK Osaka production and thus very funny. Check it out!

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Well, with Japan currently 55th in the paralypics seems Japan might have a lot of catching up to do with regards it's attitude and support of the disabled.

Seriously, there are so many flaws in that logic it's amazing.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

relevant example.

This Mars chocolate commercial from the UK would NEVER air Japan. It humanizes disabled people very well. Its only 30 seconds long, but I feel an essay could be written on this short advert in terms of humor, breaking barriers, disabilities, etc.


4 ( +4 / -0 )

Hmmm....so how can we make the world a better place for both the abled and the differently abled if the society where they belong is having a hard time accepting their differences? We have to recognise a problem for us to be able to solve it, right?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Often, "inspirational" seems to be a euphemism for patronizing.

Exactly this.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

@Bass44 You're partially correct. I've only watched the show once, and not the one in question. They were talking about issues between parents and chidren, mostly how parents were reluctant to give their kids freedom. You're right, it wasn't that bad. What got me wondering was why it had to be an independant show. I've seen teen discussion shows where able-bodied teens discussed exactly the same issues. The disabled teens could easily have been on regular programs and people would have nodded along with what they were saying.

I don't know. Half of me gets it, the disabled probably hate being looked down upon, even if the motives are good. But the other half thinks being patronized is an unavoidable part of the situation, and if people think they aren't patronizing toward the disabled, then they aren't being completely honest.

It's a cacth-22.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I love the comment about ordinary viewers actually disliking the celebrities in a bubble on tv shows, the Japanese version of canned laughter, but the tv people refusing to change it.

Well, with Japan currently 55th in the paralypics seems Japan might have a lot of catching up to do with regards it's attitude and support of the disabled.

Elite sports are very high profile, but they are only one form of support. The UK has had huge medal hauls in recent Olympic games but also has an even bigger problem with obese children. Whatever inspiration UK kids are getting from GB sportsmen and sportswomen who are the recipients of lots of targeted funding is not resulting in healthier kids. My suspicion is that the "golds to inspire the masses" theory is as bogus as trickle down economics. Lots of UK Olympics funding is public money taken from the National Lottery, which could easily be spend on communities to provide facilities for ordinary people. If Japan is to provide more support to disabled people, I hope it would go to job creation, not sports for the few.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The reaction bubbles are, I suppose, included in most variety shows because they keep the collected "talento" awake and paying attention to what's going on.

Hamsters on a wheel, in a gilded cage...

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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