Guinness Brand Manager Speaks about TV Spot
Getting it “right” when presenting disability in the mainstream media has always been a moving target: A non-disabled actor is cast in a disabled role. An “inspirational disabled person” who has done nothing exceptional other than being or becoming disabled is anointed and celebrated. A screenplay in which the disabled person would rather be dead than accept his or her new life is turned into a film. Or an evil villain whose hostility is sparked by anger after the onset of a disability hits the box office.
Moreover, motion pictures and television seem to only have tolerance for those with less visible disabilities. You won’t find any skinny, bodily contracted rolling skeletons like me on the big screen or the flat screen. There has never been a place for a person like me in the mainstream mass media. That’s why I created my own. Depicting a proper reflection of society in the mainstream media is a vision people with disabilities share. And experiencing more of the same media blunders is frustrating.
But every now and then, baby steps in the right direction reveal that hope emerges. The recent Guinness television spot, featuring wheelchair basketball players on the court, popping 3 pointers, smashing into each other and falling out of chairs is the newest major media offering to be evaluated. At the end of the spot, all but one of the players rises to their feet and walks out of the gym. Cut to a popular pub. The group of friends is sitting down at a low table in a popular bar, enjoying a Guinness. “Hot girls” arrive on the scene. It’s a wheelchair dude’s heaven! The spot is about friendship. I approve. It is not perfect, but it is a major step in the right direction.
There are plenty of my colleagues who disagree. They have a problem with it being more about celebrating the “character” of the non-disabled friends who are kind enough to go through the trouble of getting in wheelchairs to hoop, and taking their poor disabled friend out for a beer.
“Context is important b/c the “got’cha” is central to the ad itself,” says Lawrence Carter Long, media enthusiast and co-host of “The Projected Image: A History of Disability in Film” which showcased 21 socially and culturally significant cinematic depictions of the disability experience to over 87 million households on Turner Classic Movies last October. “If the spot was all about friendship there would be no need to trick audiences with the big surprise. But the twist is there and, if we’re serious about changing the perception of disabled people in society we would be foolish to ignore it.”
I decided to go to the source and talk to Guinness Brand Director, Doug Campbell. How did the spot develop? How was the disability community involved in the concept? What was the intended message?
What did you think of the spot? Do you think it is about friendship? Or is it about the character of the non-disabled friends who choose to involve their friend, the “victim” of unfortunate events? I think it is a step in the right direction. I think Guinness should be rewarded, rather than criticized. If we continue to criticize every effort to include us, we will never be welcomed back and progress will never happen.
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