michael j. fox, rush limbaugh, and visibility

So have you seen these new political ads running in a few states? The ones that feature an unmedicated and uncontrollably shaking Michael J. Fox speaking on behalf of candidates who support the government funding of stem cell research? Here, I’ve picked the version that also appends the response from Rush Limbaugh, where Limbaugh insinuates that Fox is acting, exaggerating the symptoms of his Parkinson’s disease for dramatic effect. Limbaugh retracted that statement in short order, but maintains that he finds the ad to be “exploitative”.

Exploitative? In what way, exactly? By showing everyone just how debilitating and terrible Parkinson’s is without medication? Medication that would not, could not exist without government funded research?

I applaud Michael J. Fox for being brave enough to regularly appear before the government, and now on television, without his medications, fully in the grip of an illness that is just barely held at bay by current treatments. The fact of the matter is, people with disabilities are invisible in America. Birth defects, disability due to accident, and the effects of intractable diseases are all too often ignored by the rest of America, and therefore also by the politicians hungry for a majority constituency. All too often, those unaffected by such problems simply ignore the problem or wish it away. These diseases, these problems, hard as they may be to acknowledge, need to be made visible if they are to be dealt with in any effective manner. In the early 1980s, AIDS was seen as a homosexual problem, until Rock Hudson and Arthur Ashe were diagnosed. Only then did we see the massive public health campaigns that educated people about the realities of the disease.  And who gave a damn about spinal cord injury research before Superman broke his neck and started raising millions of dollars for it?

In other words, Michael J. Fox’s visibility in these matters is a very necessary thing. To call that visibility “exploitation” is the height of arrogance and ignorance, clearly the words of a man who has been a member of a privileged majority for his entire life. Let’s not even talk about the hypocrisy of Rush Limbaugh spouting off about someone’s drug dependency.

I am a person with a mild disability, and Limbaugh’s comments make me furiously angry. I could ramble on for another 1000 words about the moronic Youtube video responses that demonstrate a total lack of understanding about the value of research, but I won’t. Suffice to say: Hurray for Michael J. Fox, BOOOO for Rush Limbaugh.


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