Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The 2017 Oscars fail and people's fixation with flubs

Two days after the wrong Best Picture was mistakenly announced at the 2017 Oscars, my news feed remains filled with articles deconstructing what happened. Like everyone, I was eager to know what had gone wrong. But the more I thought about it, the more uncomfortable I got with the all the attention the mess-up received. Because our collective obsession with so-called imperfection regularly victimizes Max and others with disability.

Dave was snoring away on the couch when Oscargate occurred. In the first few seconds, I thought it was a Jimmy Kimmel prank but as quickly became clear, this was no joke. The gaff would have made major headlines no matter what. But perhaps a lot of us were more vested in the Oscars this season because we needed entertainment as usual, given the political unrest. What happened Sunday night was unprecedented.

Social media pounced, and some reactions were pretty amusing:

(For the record: the montage actually did contain a photo of someone living, as The Washington Post and others reported). 

The hoopla started getting to me as I watched Good Morning America's Lara Spencer interview the cast of Moonlight and question them about what went through their heads when the mistake went down. A few minutes later she finally acknowledged what a beautiful film it is, but the segment was over soon afterward. Next I saw someone interviewing Emma Stone, and again, the discussion centered around the mistake rather than her big-time win. And so on and so on. All anyone could see was what was wrong, not what was right.

Obviously, it was a colossal mistake, made all the more juicy because it happened on live TV. But the attention it's received has been over the top. I keep thinking about that because it ties in to something that I've noticed while raising Max: Often people can only see what they perceive as wrong, not what's right.

If you asked people who don't know Max well to describe him, they would likely identify him as a child with special needs or cerebral palsy. They might note that he has issues speaking. This is true. Yet these are not his defining characteristics—they are just part of who he is. If you ask people at, say, Max's school to describe him, they would likely mention his sunny personality and big smile. If you ask me, I'd say the same and also point out that he's bright, super-social and handsome, too. (Yeah, I'm his mother.)

Over the years, strangers have commented to me and Dave what amazing parents we are—without even knowing us—because we have a child with disabilities. People have nodded sympathetically and stared at me with mournful eyes because of Max. They think that we have an unfortunate situation when the truth is that we love Max not because we're saints but because he is our child and he is an awesome one, at that. We're lucky to have him, just as he's lucky to have us.

No entity or person deserves to be defined by defects, real or perceived. This year's Oscar winners have been overshadowed by that one mistake, and it seems like the 2017 Academy Awards will be mainly remembered for it. I doubt that any cultural self-reflection about our hyper-focus on perfection or lack thereof will ensue. But if you've read this, maybe I've given you new perspective on disability. And maybe as our society's thinking about those with disability continues to evolve, people will view Max and others like him as the fully-formed people that they are. 


  1. I disagree with you on this one -- not about the fixation with the mistake in other contexts (which I do not think should dominate the conversation about the movie that won best picture o the one that didn't) -- but about the need to discuss the mistake and how it was made.

    The error was professional failure by PwC. Their job is to ensure the integrity of the voting/delivery of the results to the presenters on stage. Their mistake in this instance was about an awards ceremony which is certainly not about life or death. But they do do work where life or death might be at stake, and they should be held responsible for undermining the integrity of the process.

    And, I've read your description, but I'm not seeing the connection to disability. You are reading the Oscar incident as a "flub", a trip, or a stumble. And, yup, those things are not important and obsession with them might indeed be an obsession with perfection.

    But, the Oscar mistake was someone not doing their job properly. The consequence wasn't as grave as when someone uses the wrong substance in a feeding tube, or files the death penalty appeal late, or mixes up the data in a research report, but a principle of doing one's job honorably was violated.

    1. Hello. Although yes, someone didn't do their job properly, a mistake was made and I found the focus on what went wrong to be unsettling—and illustrative of how people focus on the "wrong" in children with special needs. As always, just sharing my own perspective.

  2. I hope disagreeing is OK, because you have really taught me a lot about disability in our society.

    I do think you are a hero, but it's not because I am imagining you to be a saint because of the circumstances you were faced with. I think you are a hero because you did what I hope I would do when faced with similar circumstances.
    There's a quote by Sheryl Sandberg about what she did when faced with Plan B, when her husband died suddenly and unexpectedly. She acknowledged that she was facing a life that wasn't her plan, but that she was going to "rock Plan B." There are people who rock Plan B, who celebrate what they have who celebrate the children they have. There are others who spend their lives mourning the loss, who pretend their children aren't who they, and try to demand that they become something different, I want to be the kind of person who can rock the world I am in.

    1. Of course, disagree away! What you say about a Plan B is the theme of that famous essay by Emily Perl Kingsley, Welcome to Holland.

  3. I think the previous commented might have missed the boat slightly on what you were saying, and as a parent of a child with a disability, I fully agree with that you were saying. People do fixate on mistakes, or things that are "wrong" like in the case in the Oscar's mistake, and in the case of people with disabilities.

    A dear friend of mine told me that when she see's my daughter she always thinks of the image of her brain MRI from when I was pregnant that showed a very deformed, and abnormal brain. I told her that as her parents we NEVER even think or remember her brain MRI unless it's brought up in conversation. And the fact that she's physically disabled isn't something we really think about all the time either, accommodating her disability has just become routine and normal for us that we typically only focus on what she can do. She sits unsupported, she's verbal, she's funny, she's gorgeous, she's spunky. She is so much more than an incredibly abnormal brain MRI.


    1. Yes, that's it. Paige, I never think about Max's MRIs from birth, either. (And come to think of it, I'm not even sure where those images are, buried somewhere in our house.) Our kids are who they are.


Thanks for sharing!

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