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Portraying MS

April 12, 2010

Becky sent me this awhile ago and I’ve been meaning to comment on it. This ad from 2007 was commissioned by Multiple Sclerosis Australia.

The text at the bottom reads “When you have Multiple Sclerosis you never know what will expire next.”

Dear readers, what’s wrong with this picture?

Ok, yes, there is some major photoshop fail going on with her right arm (where did it go?). But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the portrayal of MS. Yes, MS is a progressive, often debilitating disease but I take issue with the “expiration” metaphor. MS can be scary because you don’t necessarily know which parts of your body will develop symptoms, how quickly they will progress, whether or not they will get better during remittance periods, or if you will ever lose certain abilities. The ad does seem to capture some of that fear and uncertainty, but there are a lot of problems with it.

First of all, when you have MS it’s not like you just wake up one day and can’t use your arm. On the contrary, you’ve probably had pins and needles, pain, weakness, and/or coordination problems in your arm on and off and to varying degrees for years. And, yes, eventually your MS might reach a point where you are functionally unable to use your arm, but you would generally have years of relapses and progressively worsening symptoms before you reached that point.

In addition to being rather inaccurate to most people’s lived experiences of MS, I find the “expiration” language to be offensive. Things that are “expired” are dead, trash, not fit for consumption, over and finished with. Just because people with MS may have limited use of some parts of their bodies, or experience pain or other sensory phenomena in their extremities does not mean that their bodies have “expired”.

Their bodies are still human, still alive, still useful, still worthy of respect and dignity.

Also, MS is not a death sentence. This ad paints a doom and gloom picture of the disease and makes it seem as though all people with MS do is sit around in the dark waiting for their arms to fall off. People with MS are out there working, teaching, loving, playing, exercising, and relaxing right now. Everyday. Just like people without MS.

This tendency to act as though any kind of disability is the WORSTTHINGTHATCOULDEVERHAPPENTOYOU is really frustrating and just encourages a culture of devaluing, mocking, abusing, and systematically oppressing the disabled.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. Jill permalink
    April 12, 2010 11:38 PM

    I’m not even sure what the message is supposed to be here–I’m assuming that it’s intending to demonstrate that more research for better treatment for people with MS is imperative? Because you’re 100% correct that the actual content of this ad suggests nothing more that people with MS are becoming progressively less.

    • Lisa permalink
      April 12, 2010 11:41 PM

      I think it’s one of those perennial “awareness campaigns” that doesn’t really do much to actually help anyone.

  2. Britta permalink
    April 13, 2010 12:31 AM

    “People with MS are out there working, teaching, loving, playing, exercising, and relaxing right now. Everyday.”

    Yes, thank you! A friend of mine, one of the most vivacious women I know, has been living with MS for almost ten years. On good days, she uses her body to dance, shout, teach kindergarten (!), and work in her garden. And, even when she is unable to participate in these activities, her disease definitely does not make her less of a person.

  3. April 13, 2010 10:34 AM

    BRAVO!

    And what is with that wacky right arm? No way it’s humanly possible to get it in that position! Photoshop indeed!

  4. unscrambled permalink
    April 13, 2010 4:26 PM

    As a cranky poststructuralist woman of color with MS who is doing a whole heck of a lot of things (currently: two doctoral programs): let me say: HELL YES!

  5. April 13, 2010 5:59 PM

    A body that “expires” is like a piece of meat and that portraying bodies as objects is something that have to be adressed.
    In our society we expect perfect bodies not only outside, but inside as well.
    I don’t know if you’ve seen the movie “the beach”. They live in a community and when of the members get sick ( I think he got bitten by a shark and had an uncurable infection) so they put him aside to die, so they don’t have to deal with someone sick to ruin their happy lifes.
    Is seems like a good methaphor for how society treat “sick” people.
    People with all kinds of chronic diseases can have a happy and healthy life within their own limitations.
    And I dare asking: aren’t all of us limited in some aspect anyway? Nobody is perfect, literally, inside and out!

  6. April 14, 2010 12:00 PM

    This tendency to act as though any kind of disability is the WORSTTHINGTHATCOULDEVERHAPPENTOYOU is really frustrating and just encourages a culture of devaluing, mocking, abusing, and systematically oppressing the disabled.

    Yes Yes Yes. This is why I sent you this ad, Lisa, because I knew you could write an incredible post on it!

  7. brilliantmindbrokenbody permalink
    April 15, 2010 11:44 PM

    I actually started sputtering when I saw the ad you posted about here. I came from FWD, so I saw a discussion of the ad first, and I thought no way! Is someone seriously saying that about people with MS? Who would say something that ungodly stupid, that they have an expiration date on them?

    To find that it’s MS Australia is disappointing (above and beyond my dismay and disgust at seeing MS portrayed that way). You would hope that if a NGO was organized to theoretically help people with MS, they wouldn’t portray them like a piece of meat or a pint of milk that you’re just going to throw out.

    I wish I could say that it really surprised me to see an NGO making that kind of awful portrayal. The charity model of dealing with disability is so fundamentally messed up. After all, the main way of getting the charity model to work is to make whatever you want money for seem So! Awful! that of course people will pity enough to open their wallets.

    I’ve got an orphan/rare illness. I have often lamented the fact that no one will spend the kind of money on research for my condition that they spend on so many other conditions. But I’d rather not get a single damn cent of donated money if I have to be portrayed like that to get it.

    ~Kali
    http://www.brilliantmindbrokenbody.wordpress.com

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