Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Michael J. Fox : seems real enough to me

So in this commercial, a political ad for Claire McCaskill, Michael J. Fox demonstrates the symptoms of Parkinson's disease while he advocates for embryonic stem cell research, or at least for politicians who favor it. It's started a lot of debate, and I'm going to throw in my media-critical two cents. If you're looking for my answer to whether Fox was "faking," you're not going to get it. I think it's a stupid question to be asking. I'll get to that part later.

A lot of the controversy here comes from Rush Limbaugh, who claimed that Michael J. Fox was either faking his symptoms or hadn't taken his medicine. That's made the video the #1 video on the Internet over the past couple days, and a lot of moderates who remember Fox from Spin City (or even Family Ties, for you old timers) have seen what he looks like at the later stages of the disease. Every so often, we have to thank misguided idiots for bringing our attention to interesting issues.

Now that this is THE Internet meme of the day, we've got a counter-ad from the opponents of the Missouri bill and of the politicians who support it. Again, it's a bad reaction that will probably just discredit the people who aired it. The production value is pitiful, like it was shot by an intern with his dad's camcorder, and the faces they recruited are unrecognizable, at least to me. They're also sensationalist and unsympathetic.

This sort of exemplifies the reactionary mode of the conservative world, though. These guys aren't good on the defensive... Rush makes blowhard comments to misdirect people from the actual political issue, and the Life Communications Fund mobilizes an embarrassing video, complete with unsympathetic actors and one-dimensional sensationalism. This is why I can't understand the success of the conservative clique these days... I can't empathize with them, and I can't seem to get a direct answer out of them on any of the important issues. At least this one guy is an exception, and the Life Communications Fund should probably hire him to produce their next campaign ad.

Seriously, though, I can get on board with Fox for a simple reason. I mean, the fact that he's a celebrity should turn me off, and I don't really care about what's-her-name, or the state constitution of Missouri, so why do I care? I've seen the public lives of superstars, and a lot of them are idiots.

Here's the thing, though... they're rarely vulnerable on screen. Fox is in an unpretentious office, talking directly to the camera, forthright about his opinion and how much it means to him, and he's showing me what his disease has done to his life. Whether Michael J. Fox was "faking" isn't a question that merits a comment, because whether Rush wants to acknowledge his status as a human being or not, he has Parkinsons. These are real symptoms for thousands of patients in the world, and Fox is one of them. He's letting us into a part of his life that's difficult, and being a public personality only makes it harder when you acually get around to laying yourself bare.

"But he's an actor, that's his job." No, you're an idiot. An actor plays characters. Fox is only representing himself, talking to us directly, and he puts that final personal note on the commercial by saying "Americans like me." This isn't a persona... it's a guy making his needs and his vulnerabilities clear. When you open yourself up to a ravenous public like Fox has, things will stick, and there will be people like Rush Limbaugh to make sure you don't get off easy. Michael J. Fox, a childhood star, lurching under the weight of a disease, was strikingly authentic, because making a personal burden public isn't a cheap way to get attention. Fox is offering something that people should see, and because they recognize him, maybe a few more people will notice.

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