Condescension lies hidden in Bank of America's blind spot

By Published on .

You are blind. to cross the room is a labor. To cross the street is an odyssey. The simplest chores of everyday life are complicated, often dangerous and sometimes simply impossible.

But you are blind, and there's not a blessed thing you can do about it. You adjust. You push your capabilities to their outer limits, and then live within them. What you achieve every day-walking to the subway and going to work, for instance-to the sighted is extraordinary bordering on the heroic.

To you, it is life-a life circumscribed, if not necessarily defined, by your disability. And Bank of America wants to be part of that life. In other words, it wants your money.

Bank of America, naturally, wants everybody's money, so if it can (nominally) pitch blind you, while exploiting your disability and the sympathy it provokes among the sighted everyone else. ... well, why the hell not?

Actually, there's an answer to that question, which if it isn't painfully clear already will be soon enough.

The commercial, from Bozell, New York, is called "Sparring." It is set in a martial-arts studio, where an Occidental woman is kickboxing with a series of three Asian opponents. Needless to say, she kicks their sorry asses all over the gym. She then bows respectfully.

Cut to an exterior shot of the studio. Our heroine leaves, but ... wait ... what's that in her hand? A white cane! Omigosh, she's blind!

She's not a frumpy white lady who defies all our expectations by manhandling (or would that be "womanfootling"?) a trio of Menacing Oriental Foes. She's a frumpy, white, blind lady who does not merely surprise us and impress us. By golly, she inspires us, with her courage and her heart and her ... her ... uh oh, excuse us ... our stomach ... we're gonna, we're ...


Gross. All over the keyboard.

Sorry, sometimes all that treacly sentimentality, all that phony emotion, just makes us heave. And if that weren't overwrought enough, the voice-over is a child, a sweet, innocent child who can see beyond all the prejudice and petty-mindedness of the grown-up world and frame ideas with eloquent clarity:

"What is possible? Does achievement discriminate? Or does it opens its doors to everyone?"


Ugh, what a mess. Our desk, and the commercial, which is posing all the wrong questions. We'd put it this way: What is possible? Can we recognize achievement over mundane obstacles that are hard for us to even imagine? Or must we idealize, and therefore trivialize, still further, by suggesting that "achievement" begins at some level of virtuosity bordering not on the heroic but more like the freakish?

What message do we send the disabled-to say nothing of the able-bodied-with our insistence on viewing them as pitiful wretches unless riding a unicycle on a tightrope with a piano balanced on each knee? There is plenty of achievement required, and, if you like, heroism, for the visually impaired simply to negotiate the sighted world. Why this bizarre compulsion to gild the lily? There was a time we were content with inspiration. Now we seem to require X-treme Inspiration.

Doesn't anyone see how fundamentally insulting that is? By all means, let's mainstream the disabled in advertising, as everywhere else in our society. But spare us the wheelchair wheelies and the blind kickboxers, because in their mindless idealization, they ultimately condescend.

Oh, and one more thing. If the goal of this ad is not to toy with the emotions of the sighted, but actually to inform blind Americans about Bank of America's talking ATMs for the visually impaired-as the unvoiced onscreen message eventually suggests-we have one little suggestion:


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