Foxified Culture

Incurable Optimist Michael J. Fox

by Justin Dimos

21 September 2009


Fox's activism and "eternal optimism"

“I didn’t want people to walk away from my testimony muttering, ‘Poor bastard.’ Rather, I hoped they would be thinking, ‘Maybe we can do this.’”
—Michael J. Fox

Perhaps I can’t seem to shake this confidence I have in Fox because of his recent activism and “eternal optimism.” For those of you who don’t understand exactly what Parkinson’s is, the disease is s a chronic and progressive degenerative neurological disease of the brain that impairs motor control, speech, and other functions, and there is currently no cure, which means Fox’s condition will only worsen as time progresses, his sinemet and carbidopa losing their effectiveness over the years, his entire body turning into a tremor just waiting to succumb to that infamous night.

Though Fox was diagnosed in 1991, he didn’t go public with his condition until 1998, two years into Spin City. I remember thinking, what? what the hell is Parkinson’s? Of course I had some hazy idea of its symptoms from specials on Muhammad Ali, but what did this mean for Fox? Obviously, Parkinson’s had to be a big deal, the new coverage alone told me that; and then watching CNN as they uttered the words “no known cure,” I knew then that something huge, something tragic, something unalterable as well was happening.

Of course, instead of sitting idly by as his brain progressively degenerated, brave Fox chose a new path, one that strayed from his previous career as an entertainer and lead him to launch a foundation that currently supplies millions in funding to research specifically directed at curing Parkinson’s—not just for himself, but for the countless others afflicted with this horrible, debilitating disease. Officially established by Fox in May 2000 (that’s only nine years ago) with the goal of eradicating Parkinson’s in the genetically predisposed and head trama victims, The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research has now become the largest private funder in the United States for medical research into the disease, second only to the federal government.

And he’s taken his licks for his advocacy as well, always with grace though. Remember his infamous Missouri campaign video for Senator Claire McCaskill, during which Fox showed millions of Americans the true face of Parkinson’s? And remember how the juvenile Rush Limbaugh attacked the video thereafter, footage of him waving his arms broadcasted on every station as he stupidly tried to imitate Fox’s genuine symptoms, calling him a faker and belittling Parkinson’s victims around the world? How inaccurate? How asinine? How revealing too, a testament to how desperately the United States (and the world at large) needed honest, forthright individuals like Michael J. Fox, men who understand the great potential of science, men who can capture our attention as we flip through channels, men who can help us realize the importance of issues such as stem cell research?

Truth be told, I wouldn’t have known the potential of stem cell research if not for Fox and his activism. I’ve never followed politics—always frustrated by the lack of definitive statements and carefully choreographed innuendo—but seeing Fox dance in his chair and involuntarily kick his feet somehow reached me. Of course any genuine Parkinson’s victim confessing their positions on stem cell research may have affected me similarly, but the fact that Fox chooses to boldly display his symptoms instead of preserving his pretty, glamorous memory as a celebrity compelled me to investigate.

Here was a man who didn’t need to attack Parkinson’s so rigorously, a man who could have quietly dealt with his disease and lived another thirty years without showing up on the political radar, yet inspired individuals like myself to learn more, to join his cause, to donate time and money, to write articles in praise of his achievements so others might follow suit and remember Fox for the achievements that have altered the very nature of the human race.

* * *

“A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on. Ideas have endurance without death.”
—John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Perhaps it’s because I’ve seen so much of Fox that he’s almost like family, like a distant relative who lives in a distant place, one who everyone references for his great achievements but nobody sees anymore. Culturally speaking, he’s become somewhat of an icon for the family, hasn’t he? Introduced to us as the older brother Alex, we’ve seen him give advice and hugs, we’ve seen him graduate high school and later dream of building hotels, we’ve seen him become an adult and dress in suits and work for the mayor. All his characters have aged beside us, discovering those life lessons that we too learned.

In a very real sense, we’ve adopted him, or at least I have. And now, he’s more a part of the national family than ever before. Though his books, through his advocacy, though his spirit of optimism, he has touched the American collective (and maybe even the global mindset) when it comes to scientific research. Additionally, he himself has become the kind of father I would love to become someday, teaching my son how to ride a bike around a baseball diamond, never succumbing to depression despite the overturned bills by former conservative presidents and his own physical restraints.

In essence, the fabric of his character inspires millions of people on a deeply personal, public, and scientific level, and for that, even after his death (hopefully long into the future), his example will endure. Fox has led; Fox has adapted and lived; Fox has undoubtedly effected change in the mind and hearts of those who dare to usher in a better future.

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//Mixed media