Quickhit: “From Cool to Crippled” in advertising

Bad Cripple shows us a couple of ads, in Why Equality is Elusive, Part I and Part II.

DontDriveStupid ad

Description [emphases are mine]: The ad is headed, in red,

“Drive stupid and score some kickin’ new wheels.”

This heading is placed beside the image of an slim adolescent boy, white-appearing and dark-haired, wearinga red T-shirt, black jeans, and black Converse-style sneakers. He is sitting in a hospital-style wheelchair. His arms are slumped on the armrests, his back hunched, and his head bent such that his face is in shadow and not clearly visible.

The small text in the ad reads:

“Nothing’s cooler than the day you get your driver’s license. But as soon as you start driving stupid, it’s not so cool anymore. Texting, using your iPod, racing, they all fall under the category of stupid. And dangerous. So before you get behind the wheel and try to prove how cool you are, here’s a little harsh reality. Nothing kills more Utah teens than auto crashes. Not fazed? Okay, how does the thought of spending the rest of your life in a wheelchair grab you? Look, every year far too many Utah teens go from cool to crippled in the blink of an eye. So if you’re one of those drivers who think they have something to prove, you can start shopping for your wheelchair now. And hey, if you think that’s harsh, wait until the day you roll it into school.

Drowsy Driving | Distracted Driving | Aggressive Driving | Impaired Driving | Not Buckling Up
Zero Fatalities

As Bad Cripple says:

But the ad relies on antiquated and deeply rooted fears to scare teens noting that “every year far too many Utah teens go from cool to crippled in the blink of the eye”. Great, this undermines forty years of legislative initiatives meant to empower people with a disability. Teens are being taught that a wheelchair is akin to a tragedy, a fate worse than death.

If you go to the website, the header currently has a headshot of a conventionally-pretty white brunette girl with sutured wounds on her cheek and lip. The heading says, “Driving stupid can really make you look bad.”

So there’s the Don’t Drive Stupid campaign: it is assumed that for teen boys using a wheelchair is worse than death – and for teen girls, the worst possible fate is to have minor wounds on her face.

It is interesting to contrast these official messages – ableist, sexist, objectifying, dehumanising – with the posters made by high school students themselves for the campaign: a car knocking the motif off a signpost, ‘When you drive you hold someone’s life in your hands”, “you know you’re tired when you swerve to miss your car freshener“, “Last message received” with a crash and a breaking cellphone, and various others – none of which rely on stereotypes about marginalised groups at all.


Next up, Bad Cripple brings us this Nike advertisement:

Air Dri Goat ad

Description: A Nike shoe sits on a red background. The text reads:

Fortunately, the Air Dri-Goat features a patented goat-like outer sole for increased traction, so you can taunt mortal injury without actually experiencing it. Right about now you’re probably asking yourself, “How can a trail running shoe with an outer sole designed like a goat’s hoof help me avoid compressing my spinal cord into a Slinky on the side of some unsuspecting conifer, thereby rendering me a drooling, misshapen, non-extreme-trail-running husk of my former self, forced to roam the earth in a motorized wheelchair with my name embossed on one of those cute little license plates you get at carnivals or state fairs, fastened to the back?”

To that we answer, hey, have you ever seen a mountain goat (even an extreme mountain goat) careen out of control into the side of a tree?

Didn’t think so.

Bad Cripple commentary reads, in part (check out the rest):

If anything is unusual about the above Nike ad it is the fact it was pulled. Imagery of this sort is sadly the norm and abounds. I see it every day on television, in newspapers, on the internet and in a plethora of magazines. Some people in disability studies call such images examples of the “defective person industry”.


11 thoughts on “Quickhit: “From Cool to Crippled” in advertising

  1. Wow. That ad copy just drips with such contempt and disdain and just plain…disrespect, I just…wow. They could not possibly have had PWD in mind when they made those ads—it somehow slipped their mind that PWD are people.

    I’d love to read more about the “defective people industry”—I’m a disability studies n00b and there isn’t much on the Internet…

  2. I didn’t think that the “from cool to crippled” line could be one-upped in failure until I read the Nike ad. My jaw dropped.

  3. I just can’t engage with this. I try to process the hate in that Nike ad, and all I can think is, “Why is there a comma before the word “fastened”? That’s not how adjectives work.” If I pretend I can’t parse the grammar, I don’t have to face what the sentence really means.

    Looking on the bright side: those high-schoolers actually did a really good job of avoiding all this crap. I looked at the others, too, and was pretty impressed. So maybe “cripples are uncool” isn’t actually a message that resonates with them! That’s hopeful, at least.

  4. Ah yes, one more reason not to buy Nike! Fantastic.

    The PSA is just… way to go, Utah, clearly you don’t care about the teenagers who might already be using wheelchairs. Ugh.

  5. You know what gives me hope though? The posters designed by teens. The air freshener one especially, because I actually know how tired that is…but all of them. The fact that none of their posters went to such an awful, stereotype filled place.

    I’m holding on to that hope right now.

  6. Wow, can’t believe the first ad actually used the word “crippled.” Just came right out and said it. And the sheer hatred in the Nike ad? Drooling and deformity and motorized wheelchairs? Oh no! Always lovely having my daily experiences being reduced to a spectre of horror, all in the pursuit of getting extreme people who love to do extreme things to buy extreme shoes. At least this way my existence can offer something, however meager, to humanity.

  7. Well, the high school students don’t have as much invested in being “edgy” as do people on the “creative” side of US advertising, who are overwhelmingly white, middle-class, native-English-speaking, currently able-bodied, heterosexual cis men.*

    And one of the laziest ways to be “edgy” is to be “othering”.

    * Someone told me—and I have no idea to what data they were referring, if any—that there are more women firefighters, proportionately, in the US than women in the “creative” roles in advertising in the US.

  8. Wow. I thought I had mostly lost my capacity to be shocked or horrified by advertising, but this proved me wrong. I can barely fathom the ignorance and lack of empathy it takes for someone to create something like this.

  9. Eww.

    Hey, I have a friend who’s used a wheelchair for most of her life and is still gorgeous, has lots of friends, has awesome fashion sense, and loves glitter. Does she get to be cool and crippled? Oh, apparently, that’s just not possible.


  10. Yup, snarkmuffin, you’ve been deluding yourself. She doesn’t have a happy life, she’s just being brave! Utah PSAs would never lie!

    That PSA pisses me off more than the Nike one, for some reason, because they had better options, and I bet the kids would care more (for a few seconds) if hey, my friend’s entry got used! They really dropped the ball.

    I guess I think PSAs should be better than that.

    Snarkmuffin – glitter on her wheelchair? Please say yes!

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