‘Friendship’ opens with a group of sweaty white men playing wheelchair basketball in a gym. After a missed shot, the players roll to the other end of the court, and we begin to hear the lyrics of ‘To Build A Home” a song, presumably about the impermanence of relationships, by The Cinematic Orchestra. The men continue playing aggressively; bumping into each other, shouting, falling out of their chairs and fighting for the ball. The ball misses the hoop again, but on the relay, one of the guys finally makes a shot. Everyone cheers.
In the next scene, one of the players falls forward out of his chair, prompting a narrator to dramatically declare “Dedication” and then “Loyalty”. As the game comes to an end, one of the players, in a black t-shirt says “You guys are getting better at this”, as every other player unbuckles and rises up from their chairs. One of the men, as he is standing up, says “next week, buddy” to the one man who remains sitting, the man in the black t-shirt.
We hear the narrator again proclaim “Friendship”, his words an audible banner floating atop a future meme, as all of the men walk out of the gym. The man in the black t-shirt rolls out behind them. In the final scene, we see one of the men ordering Guinness at the bar. The narrator says “the choices we make reveal the true nature of our character” as the men sit in chairs around the table. The man who was in a black t-shirt is now in a red hoodie, remains in his chair in perfect sight of the camera. After they offer up a ‘Cheers!’, the closing screen reads “Guinness: Made of More”.
‘Friendship’ which, according to Ace Metrix, was rated the most effective TV beer spot during the third quarter of 2013 relies on a variety of tropes to tell this story about friendship. First, there’s the surprise reveal, or in this case, a reverse surprise reveal, which happens when we discover that all but one of the players were not actually disabled. ‘Friendship’ is not the first ad on Critical Axis to feature both wheelchair basketball and the trope of disability simulation. Wheels also does so. Yet, a 2017 empirical research study called ‘Crip for a day: The unintended negative consequences of disability simulations’ found that ‘simulating disabilities promotes distress and fails to improve attitudes toward disabled people’.
What this ad expands upon, though, is the idea that interacting with a disabled person is a symbol of having high moral character and of being “made of more”. We want to be clear that this messaging, however inspirationally it may be written, is incredibly destructive to disabled people. We are not ‘made of more’ just as we are not ‘made of less’. And so we ask Guinness, what would an ad about friendship look like if it was ‘made of reality’?