‘We’re the Superhumans’ first aired on Channel 4 in the UK for the 2016 Paralympic Games. A disabled man operating a drum set with his feet opens a big band, Sinatra-inspired performance. A dapper white man in a wheelchair, a suit and a fedora rolls on stage and begins jovially singing:
Yes, I can, suddenly, yes, I can. Gee, I’m afraid to go on has turned into “Yes, I can”.
The ‘Yes, I can’ performance cues a montage that features beautifully shot, fast paced sporting event sequences that are interspersed with disabled people doing everyday tasks such as eating or filling their car with gas.
Take a look, what do you see? 133 lbs of confidence, me. Got the feeling I can do anything. Yes, I can. Something that sings in my blood is telling me “Yes, I can”. I was just born today, I can go all the way. Yes I can [repeated]. No you can’t. Yes, I can. Are you ready? I can climb Everest. Yes I can. I can fight here all night and never rest, Yes I can. I was just born today, I can go all the way, Yes I can.
The lyrics ‘Yes, I Can’ reinforce the Medical Model of disability by reminding us of the perceived correlation between a person’s physical attributes and their abilities. What is the Medical Model of disability? It is societal construct, an outdated relic of industrialization, that implies a person is disabled by their bodies.
This is a highly visual, highly polished spot that focuses the viewer’s gaze on asymmetrical body parts and stumps and wheelchairs and prosthetics, which leads us to discuss the significance of the Social Model of disability, which acknowledges that yes, we are disabled. But we’re not disabled by our bodies. We’re disabled by the world around us. We are disabled by the ways we’re treated. We’re disabled by barriers that are put in place. We’re disabled by the unnatural focus on our asymmetrical body parts and stumps and wheelchairs and prosthetics.
Let us consider the final scene where Wheelz, a wheelchair stuntman does a daredevil ride down a frighteningly high drop onto a ramp. But right as he launches into the air, the scene cuts to a disabled athlete brushing his teeth. This is the personification of the SuperCrip trope, where disabled people are praised for doing everyday things, such as getting out of bed. From an editorial perspective, we are concerned that ‘We’re the Superhumans’ is implying that a daredevil plunging down a MegaRamp is just as much of a feat as someone who is brushing their teeth.
“We’re the Superhumans” sang “Yes, I can” 21 times in 3 minutes We simply ask, why couldn’t the lyrics have been “Yes, I am”?