Monday, March 23, 2009

I've Been Practicing Bowling-

Stushie let me know that Obama made a "foolish and insensitive remark" comment about Special Olympics when he was on Leno the other night, so I went out to find it.

I was all set to be angry. After all, Obama's position on disability rights was one of the things I really liked about him as a candidate. Although I am very sensitive to "humor" at the expense of people with developmental disabilities, and I expected to be both disappointed and offended by Obama's comment, I really wasn't. Below is a transcription, the clip itself, and my understanding of it.

Here's my transcript:

Leno: Are they going to put a basketball - I imagine the bowling alley has been just burned and closed down.

Obama: No, no! I've been practicing bowling-

Leno: Really? Really?!

Obama: I bowled a 129-

Audience: applause and cheering

Leno: covers mouth delicately then gives Obama a pity clap, says: Oh, no, that's very good, that's very good Mr. President!

Obama: This is like Special Olympics or something.

Here's the 29 second clip:

And here are my thoughts:
One characteristic of the Special Olympics that's widely known is that every athlete gets cheers and honors for participating, regardless of ability level. I really think that's what Obama was referring to, that he got praise because of his effort and his improvement, not because the score itself was so impressive. I don't think that he was comparing himself directly to a Special Olympics athlete, favorably or unfavorably.

And I think it's OK to talk about people with developmental disabilities, to refer to the Special Olympics, in lighthearted and respectful ways, as long as the people and the organization are not the butts of a joke. In fact, I think it's worse to pretend that the organization and the people who participate in it don't exist in popular culture!

But even if I'm reading that incorrectly, and Obama really did intend to insult people with developmental disabilities in general and the Special Olympics in particular, I like this response:

Special Olympics chairman Tim Shriver said yesterday that the president called him from Air Force One to apologise even before the show was broadcast.

“He expressed his disappointment and he apologised in a way that was very moving. He expressed that he did not intend to humiliate this population,” Mr Shriver told ABC’s Good Morning America.

What do you think? Do you hear it the way I do? And, if not, what do you think about the preemptive apology?


Topher said...

I'm generally a fan of being as sensitive to what others may find offensive, but I agree with you. I didn't think this was such a big deal for the media to harp on it (although, what else will they talk about?), but I think it was good that he pre-emptively apologized. Everyone says things without thinking and after the fact he figured it could be viewed as hurtful, so there you go.

Jess said...

You know, I wasn't aware of that aspect of the special olympics, nor had I seen the clip. So just now, reading your post I was pretty skeptical. (Such a doubter!) But when I watched the clip, it does seem like he was NOT referring to his own bowling performance, but rather to the audience's reaction.

Have you seen that TV show "How's your news?" Its a bunch of folks with various disabilities travelling around doing interviews. There's a documentary of it, and it plays on MTV (full episodes are available on their website). I was hoping the documentary would have some discussion about why they decided to do it, what their feelings about it are, etc, but it doesn't. Anyway, its an interesting show/phenomenon, and I'm trying to decide what I think about it. The one thing I have decided for sure is that its nice to see a television show representing someone other than the temporarily able.

Sarahlynn said...

Topher, me too. I'm all about letting a community decide for itself what's offensive and what's not, but I also do try to take intent into account.

Isn't it nice to have a president who's quick with an apology?

Jess, I hear you; I'm a doubter, too! That's why I included the clip, so that people could judge for themselves rather than just listening to the spin - mine, Limbaugh's, or anyone else's. I think Obama seemed proud of his 129, actually (as would I be, should be bowl so well).

I hadn't heard of How's Your News before, but I'm going to look for it on Netflix now. Thanks!

Jessica said...

I've been waiting for your take on this, Sarahlynn, and must admit that I did not take his comment how you did and was, in fact, disappointed in him. My dad and I had a huge discussion about it (more than was warranted, I think) because he thought I was being too critical. Obama is human and it wasn't a MAJOR gaffe but my perception of it was that it was still - on some level - inappropriate. I think his response/apology was sufficient and am confident it is also sincere.

Sarahlynn said...

Jessica, I can absolutely understand how you took Obama's comment, and admit that some of my reaction is probably colored by my feeling about Obama's intent and my distaste for the current atmosphere of certain people/groups grabbing onto absolutely every little thing in an attempt to discredit Obama.

And when it's a person or group who's never been a big advocate for people with disabilities or services to support people with disabilities, I get even more irate when they try to attack Obama - someone who has actively worked to help people with disabilities - on this particular issue.

I also agree with you about the apology.

J.G. said...

I thought "Oops" as soon as I heard it, because I knew some people would jump on it. Who knows what he meant? (I lean toward giving him the benefit of the doubt.)

But hooray for a man who admits his gaffes and tries to improve, rather than dodging responsibility.

Sarahlynn said...