There are two distinct types of message driven inspirational videos. One type focuses inward at the community it represents; the other pushes outward.
#HowDoYouSeeMe claims to be directed outward. The makers and their PR folks claim that its goal is to change the way people see Down syndrome. In fact, headline after headline over the last few days have been telling us that the video has already changed the way people see Down syndrome, thanks to Olivia Wilde. Nothing like inspirational feel good + celebrity clickbait to get people over to your website.
My thesis: Basically no one’s view of Down syndrome has been changed by this video, at least not as the makers intended. No one has watched this video and had a transformational moment after the reveal. No one sees the video and comes away with new realizations about the full humanity and complexity of people with Down syndrome. Rather, the focus of the press has been classic inspiration porn gushing over the famous abled person giving her time to this worthy cause.
It’s arguable that the video is a much better job at the second task – building community among the already persuaded. The video confirms the feelings that people Down syndrome matter among people who already believe it. The production values, the celebrity involvement, and beautiful words spoken by Anna Rose, promote good feelings among people who already feel good, and thus the video gets shared by folks who mean well. Everyone behind the video means well. Everyone who shares it means well. But it just doesn’t “change the way you see Down syndrome,” no matter how much the makers want to make that claim.
In my Establishment piece I focused on the wonderful video from Argentina (the tl;dr is watch this; not that) because I think it really does change the way people see Down syndrome, including for parents like me.
Our image of Down syndrome is white, cute, and compliant (and generally a child). This surly teen in his Ramones t-shirt, his leather wrist cuff, cutting school and jamming in the park with his friends, then riding mass transit alone, changes the way Down syndrome is generally portrayed. I’m wildly for it. I was glad that Born This Wayhad a black man with Down syndrome and an Asian woman with Down syndrome as two of the characters. Best of all, the “Libertad” video shows rather than tells, then concludes with the filmmaker (who also has Down syndrome) making a few comments AFTER the viewer has already been persuaded.
The Olivia Wilde video – notice how everyone calls it the Olivia Wilde video – tells rather than shows. And when people complain, the makers and the supporters of the video continue to tell, and tell, and tell. If you have to keep telling, rather than showing, your video is a failure.
In this self.com piece, we get a few great quotes from AnnaRose. I wanted more. She’s clearly a rivetingly interesting young woman with a lot to say about disability and identity.
So here’s my proposal to CoorDown and Saatchi and Saatchi, the well-financed folks behind the “Olivia Wilde PSA.” GIVE ANNAROSE THE CAMERA.
Give her a budget. Give her access to professional editors. Let her direct, star, produce, whatever she wants. Give her full control.
Then let’s see what she can do. Now that would be changing the narrative.