Ableism and the Music Industry – A Few Thoughts

Here lately I am more and more interested in ableism and able-bodied privilege due to my own personal interests, the growing body of literature in Disability Studies, and in preparation for a solicited article I will be writing here soon on the History of Neurofibromatosis.

For some time, I have noticed that music videos (or other such videos where you directly see the person and band) almost always show the lead singer moving around, excessively moving around. And not just walking around. Not just jumping around. But doing all kinds of stunts, so to speak, too. This has generally bothered me. I find it sometimes distracting. And think how difficult it must be for the person(s) singing – so many things to keep up with at once. Such choreography also sometimes complicates and changes how we read the text of the song. But I digress.

Last night while watching Saturday Night Live during a segment where The Chainsmokers were performing, it hit me for the first time – the music industry, as it is right now and has been, is the embodiment of ableism. We virtually never see a singer who requires a stool or a wheelchair or simply can’t bounce around.

Where are the talented singers with real, permanent physical limitations?

One wonderful thing about YouTube and other such cultural sites of user created, user controlled media, is that musicians don’t necessarily have to have industry backing anymore.

What do you think?

Dr. Andrew Joseph Pegoda

Categories: Thoughts and Perspectives

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9 replies

  1. Kenny G – asthma
    Ray Charles – blind
    Hank Williams – Spinabifida
    Bret Michaels – diabetic
    Cher – dyslexic
    Micheal Bolton – partially deaf
    Rick Allen – 1 arm
    Paul Stanley – partially deaf
    Ronny Milsap- Blind
    Mel Tillis – stutter
    Micheal Jackson – lupus
    Brian Wilson – partially deaf
    Toni Braxton – Lupus
    Etc… etc… etc…
    All huge names in the music industry 🙂 Yoire welcome 🙂
    Clay Walker – MS
    Clarence Carter – Blind
    Sammy Davis Jr – Blind in 1 eye
    Bill Withers – stutter

    Liked by 2 people

    • I didn’t know Toni Braxton has Lupus. So does my mother. I have Sjogrens Syndrome and so does one of the Williams sisters but I can’t remember if it is Venus or Serena.

      And Hank Williams is the greatest!

      Liked by 2 people

    • I was mostly addressing visible physical issues. Although, invisible disabilities are for sure important. Also, it’s always important to recognize the rare exceptions but also more important to critique the gerneral


  2. I’m not sure why it posted all funky. It looked normal on my phone.
    I feel because the percentage of people that make it in the music/entertainment industry is so small… you’re going to have less diversity. Let’s face it… just cause your momma thinks you sing well in the shower doesn’t mean the rest of the world wants to hear that. Lol! I would imagine there are many many more out there that just don’t advertise their disabilities.


  3. Depends on what kind of music you like. Pop music and some rock music seems to put a premium on jumping around. But jazz, not at all. Many varieties of country and western, much classical music, church music, folk music, reggae, etc. I personally find all that jumping around to be anywhere between extraneous and seriously annoying.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. You asked what I think? I think your questions on this post are spot-on!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Anthopologists have pointed out that much of the music of the young adult is part of dance and the purpose of dancing is to show off how fit for reproduction you are. The athleticism of the singer on today’s music videos just reflects how today’s society admires the fit, in both males and females. Today, males also pick their partners from the fittest bodies they see. Why should we as humans be different from other animals in this respect? A world reknowned paleontologist remarked at a beach barbecue for the American Society of Mammalogists that what we were watching was a lek. Since the internet has become another type of social gathering, it is kind of difficult to show off that physical fitness if you do not have a video uploaded. Music will always broadcast farther than video, so it is a guaranteed way to gather people together just to watch others’ bodies on the video. Now there is a chance to show mental fitness as well, although I strongly suspect that video will always trump the written word when it comes down to picking your partner.

    Liked by 1 person

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