The Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) community is a strong, vibrant community that trends toward the apolitical and recovery-oriented in social media, blogs, and documentary. TBI can affect anyone; however, media and medical research focus on people who were ostensibly non-disabled pre-injury. Much visual imagery promoting life after TBI features non-disabled bodies (usually white, gender-conforming models), brains with or without heads, or awareness-branded clothing. Going beyond “disability pretty” by using stock photos provokes and feeds a narrative around neoliberal goals of individual success and triumph over adversity rather than disability pride, interdependence, or neurodiversity. Newer research indicates TBI rates in carceral institutions and among people who are unhoused are above the national average. This will not be resolved with more awareness or positive thinking. My concern with ultra-positive memes is erasure of those whose lives are negatively-influenced by white supremacy, patriarchy, and poverty, and/or who do not have miraculous recoveries.
While community- and professionally-generated content provides invaluable information on injury and recovery, critical first-hand ideas for enhancing wellbeing, and a place to express oneself, much of it does not overlap with the disability rights movement, critical disability justice activism, decarceration and housing justice, or disability culture. Many suggestions are premised on expectations that people have access to safe housing, healthy food, income, and needed accommodations. The main emphases are on returning to “normal,” celebrating the choice to accept one’s “new normal,” and rejecting disability affiliation.
The slideshow demonstrates common types of apolitical imagery found on TBI communities online with a couple of examples of politicized, social-issue oriented content I generated. I call attention specifically to the (now-defunct) Melon A Day campaign, described as, “A movement dedicated to generating cause awareness for Traumatic Brain Injury by way of melons, people and art.” Unlike the common awareness imagery of disembodied heads, this campaign sometimes uses bodies with no heads. When the blog was active, it was unclear how posting pictures of melons or gorgeous people in gorgeous locales would generate work toward improving the people’s lives or how posting pictures of people with no markers of disability would be useful to those with TBI disabilities.