From awww to awe factor: UK audience meaning-making of the 2012 Paralympics as mediated spectacle
Journal: The Journal of Popular Television
This article considers UK audiences’ meaning-making of television coverage of the London 2012 Paralympic Games. As an elite sporting event, the Paralympics has been categorized alongside other high-profile media spectacles. Yet, an analysis of the ‘spectacle’ has further significance here in relation to what Mitchell and Snyder conceptualize as ‘fascination with spectacles of difference’, which encourages audiences to view the disabled person through their impairment, rather than as a human being. Inspirational ‘supercrip’ stories that glorify ‘special achievement’ fuel perceptions that disabled athletes have extraordinary, heroic qualities, and coverage of the 2012 Paralympics was no different. The spectacle is created through everyday talk. Therefore, we utilize in-depth interviews supported by netnography-inspired methods to consider to what extent media representations appropriated disability into ‘spectacle’, consequently perpetuating ablest discourses, whilst also addressing the intended social agenda by facilitating greater understanding. Our findings suggest an unexpected emotional engagement with the (mostly) sporting spectacle, with audience narratives moving from ‘awww’ to ‘awe’ as sporting achievement was celebrated. The disabled sporting ‘hero’ as ‘superhero’ is, we argue, further evidence of the influence of discourses that attempt to transform a stigmatized identity, i.e. disability, into a revered one – athleticism, thus reinforcing existing hierarchies of ability/disability.