Tardive Dyskinesia, Spastic Quadriplegia, and My Good Left Leg
Digby catches some of my anger in a post called "Melting Snowflakes," and also in "Good Morning, Creep."
First, some facts. Tardive dyskinesia, which is the sort of athetosis Fox is manifesting in the ad, is a side effect of medication, the synthetic dopamines Fox takes so that he can be limber enough to move (and speak), and also of common antipsychotic medications. (If Limbaugh had been under proper medical supervision all this time, one would think he'd know that firsthand...)
Parkinson's Disease is a progressive, terminal condition that affects approximately 1% of the population over the age of 50. There is also a variant called "young-onset Parkinson's" that affects people under age 40. It affects the neurons in the substantia nigra section of the brain, which produce the chemical dopamine. Drug and surgical therapies are available, but do not halt the progression of the condition, nor do they cure it. They also have unpleasant side effects, including nightmares, depression, constipation, and the dyskinesia you can see Fox exhibiting in the clip.
In short, this is not a nice disease, and the treatments aren't particularly wonderful, either.
What really rankles me about the right-wing reaction to the Fox ads isn't even the blatant partisanship (I've long since burnt out about that), but the rank disablism of it. (This is especially ironic coming from Limbaugh, who is deaf and impotent, thanks to years of heavy opioid [ab]use.) I see this reaction to Fox's tv appearances as an extension of the popular media portrayals of disabled people. Fox is confounding the narrative.
By being legitimately concerned about the issue, exercising political power, and, most of all, standing up for himself, Michael J. Fox is refusing to allow himself to be boxed into being a stereotype of the passive, helpless, bitter cripple, or the handicapped guy who can't get out of his own way -- if he'd only just stop feeling sorry for himself, he'd be doing a lot better. (I have been accused numerous times of being the latter. I have no self-pity, but I am pretty angry, and most people with disability issues just can't deal with that.) It's fairly obvious that much of the negative reaction is trying to slot Fox into the "pitiable cripple" mould; they're accusing him of playing for sympathy. They're also relatedly and second-handedly trying to slot him into the "evil cripple" mould, since they're also more or less claiming he's faking it. That latter is probably a harder charge to make stick with a lot of people, since almost everyone remembers him as cute little Alex P. Keaton and Marty McFly.
But Michael J. Fox isn't a stereotype, and neither am I. I feel a great amount of empathy for him. He's not in my situation and I'm not in his, but I've taken much the same sort of crap from much the same sorts of idiots in my life -- although, to be fair, the idiots I'm usually faced with don't have massive media support, but I'm not a movie star, either. My spastic quadriplegia isn't going to kill me (although everything's a terminal condition in the final analysis), and the only reason I'm sitting here unable to stop moving right now is because I'm slightly stressed out and overcaffeinated, but hey, I've had people get in my face just because their tender psyches are injured by the sight of my semi-functional carcass, and it sucks.
Michael J. Fox, like me, also refuses to be the decorous kind of cripple who considerately spares the easily-offended viewing public the humiliation of having to watch them deal with the slings and arrows of everyday life. He's not visibly embarrassed about doing tv interviews with his dyskinesia showing (although he might be privately, which I wonder if it be a combination of showbiz vanity and culture), just like I'm not embarrassed to use my hands to climb over large snowbanks in the winter or sit in the handicap seats on the bus, if I feel I need to that day. The pressure can be intense, and I think the empathy-free political robot brigade on the right is also trying to run a public shaming number on him.
How dare he be a non-stereotyped handicapped person! In public, even!
And that is why I'd like to grab my American friend with the Parkinson's precursors, use him as help balancing (because even if I'm standing on my good left foot, it might be a problem) and administer them all a swift kick where it'll do them the most good.