This television ad for Guinness beer features five men playing an intense game of wheelchair basketball, while poignant music plays in the background. A narrator proclaims: “Dedication. Loyalty. Friendship,” when the game ends, and suddenly all but one of the men in wheelchairs unstrap themselves and start walking out of the gymnasium. The narrator continues: “The choices we make reveal the true nature of our character,” as the group head to a bar. As the ad ends, it becomes clear that these able-bodied male friends have chosen to play wheelchair basketball in support of their wheelchair-bound friend.
Describe other beer ads you have seen. How is this ad similar or different?
How are the men portrayed in this ad? Does the wheelchair shape the representation of masculinity? If so, how?
How does this ad portray disabled individuals? Can you think of other television representations of people in wheelchairs (or otherwise physically disabled)? How do they compare?
Is the physical disability used to convey emotion or get you to purchase this product? If so, how? Why? Is the last line about the “true nature of our character” about the men in the ad or the brand of beer?
This ad has been critiqued by disability-rights advocates for several reasons. First, they argue that the ad trivialises the difficulties disabled individuals face in purchasing expensive lightweight wheelchairs and learning how to use them well enough to play basketball in them. Second, the comment made to the guy in the wheelchair “Next week, buddy” by his friend has been read as patronizing. Calling him ‘buddy’ is an affectionate but infantilizing term and highlights the premise of the ad – that the wheelchair bound must be called out as objects of charity. The portrayal of a disabled man in this ad, according to disability-rights advocates and other critics, only serves to put the other men on a pedestal for being inclusive, when this is a quality that should be normalized – not glorified – in society.