[athen] John Hockenberry's Commentary on Eastwood Film

Stewart, Ron ron.stewart at oregonstate.edu
Mon Feb 21 15:41:40 PST 2005

Some of you may appreciate this.


[An op-ed column from NBC News Correspondent, John Hockenberry:]

And the Loser Is...

By John Hockenberry

One can barely imagine how relieved the movie critics now climbing over
themselves to defend Clint Eastwood were to see the right-wing media
going after Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby. Suddenly they were free to
set the dispute into a broad culture war context as Frank Rich did last
week. They were free finally to ignore the true outrage of the movie.
These same critics failed millions of Americans with disabilities by
accepting as utterly plausible the plot-twist that a quadriplegic would
sputter into medical agony in a matter of months and embrace suicide as
her only option in a nation where millions of people with spinal cord
injuries lead full long lives. No, these critics would much prefer to
talk about offenses against poor victimized directors, comparing
Eastwood to last year's besieged Michael Moore rather than to talk about
their own failings or about a group which has never had any standing in
the culture wars.

Plot twist is, in fact, an apt description of Million Dollar Baby's
ending. A spinal cord injury followed by a dolorous slo-mo sipping of
Eastwood's poetic hemlock avoids the inconvenient truth that a female
athlete outside of basketball and perhaps professional mud-wrestling has
virtually no opportunity to make a living in America. That might make a
more plausible reason for suicide than the rationale Million Dollar Baby

Hollywood loves this disabled suicide plot and Eastwood is hardly the
only director to be enthralled with might be called the crip ex machina
theatrical convention.

How delusional is it for Hollywood to spend billions on teen flicks and
big budget films where teens and youth culture star and yet there is
practically never any mention that suicide is the number one public
health concern for American teenagers, one of the leading causes of teen
deaths? Somehow teen-suicide seems just nutty compared to depressed
quadriplegics offing themselves. Maybe the plot twist Hollywood seems so
desperate to defend isn't really assisted suicide. Maybe its Eastwood's
own epic saga of slogging to the Oscar summit that gets these critics
all misty eyed?

As a right-wing culture war target, rather than an anti- disabled bigot,
Eastwood and the critics can certainly avoid mentioning the director's
high-profile campaign against the American With Disabilities act after
he was sued for owning an inaccessible restaurant. The thought of
insulting or offending millions of people who live full lives despite a
myriad of restrictions on their freedoms and a palpable sense of
impatience that we're "not dead yet" at all enter the minds of these
movie culture warriors. Had it occurred to them, they might have
mentioned that Rush Limbaugh and his gang were among the biggest critics
of the ADA, have endorsed restrictions on healthcare support for people
in need of long-term rehabilitation and have eagerly used disabled
rights to further their own agenda when convenient.

If Mr. Eastwood is so convinced that his film is grounded in reality
then perhaps he might wish to accompany me to the U.S. Army's Walter
Reed Medical Center in Maryland where there are 1000 or so severely
disabled soldiers from Iraq whose lives are changed forever, who were
told they fought for Iraqi freedom and are now perhaps wondering, along
with their families, who is going to fight for their freedom to live a
full life here in America. As a paraplegic for three decades I can help
them with that question. Would Mr. tough guy Eastwood and his new pals
Frank Rich and Roger Ebert have the guts to defend Million Dollar Baby's
"plausible" message of suicidal disabled people? Would they offer to
helpfully pull the plug on these soldiers? How's that for a plot twist?
Thank God there is another message of hope and strength inside Walter
Reed and in pockets of sanity in this country. I pray that someday it's
a plausible one in Hollywood and throughout America.

John Hockenberry is an author and correspondent for NBC News. He lives
in New York with his wonderful wife Allison, and their equally wonderful
kids, Zoe, Olivia, Regan and Zachary.

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