Saturday, February 21, 2015

What's Human?

Joe and I were settled into our seats at the movie theatre and watching the pre-show. Shortly afterwards an advertisement played. I innocently watched it and then was sucker punched by the tag line. I felt stunned. I felt a little under attack. I wondered if everyone in the theatre was looking over to me. Fighting of a feeling of needing to flee, I stayed, pushed it all aside and watched the movie.

What was the ad?

Take a look:

(Captioning is available, click the cc button.)

Now, to be sure, there is a wheelchair user in this video, but it looked a bit like he wandered in on set, it's not clear what amazing act of fitness he's performing, but he is there.

At the end, after watching all these extremely fit people, who purportedly are all better leaders, better parents, better, um, everything, we have learned that fitness is the primary characteristic which results an a person being good at anything. OK, that's the kind of shit you expect from this kind of advertising. All of this would have flowed over me but that last line, shit that last line, that's the kicker.

"Be more human."

The fitter you are, the more human you are.

The stronger you are, the more human you are.

Humanity can be measured, of course, because if there is a 'more human' there is also a 'less human.' If extreme fitness, because lets admit that the people in this film don't represent even most people who go to gyms, leads to the ultimate claim of full humanity then those who fall short aren't fully, completely and equally human.

The new Master race isn't blond and blue eyed. No the master race is comprised of thin, strong, fit people who are better workers, better parents (!), better leaders.

Yep, that's what we need, more cultural messages that make it clear that there are those worthy and those unworthy. Never has 'fit' and 'unfit' been more clearly designated.

So when I'm treated like shit by one of these new gods of humanity, I'm simply getting what I deserve.

I am less.

They are more.

The scale is easy.

A son who, after an accident, gets up out of his wheelchair and walks rises into humanity and love and acceptance.

A son who, after an accident, has a permanent disability stays seated and sinks into the less that human status.

Forgive me but I don't think humanity can be measured that way.

I dare to suggest that there are times when I do, forgive me for contradicting Reebok, feel fully human and fully alive. Completely, entirely, human. This does not come when I've done my exercise routine. It comes when I've fought back the urge to rush on but instead took a moment to be kind. It comes when I have to stay the impulse to rush and instead let gentleness overtake my hand. It's comes when I'm called to be fully human and I respond.

Because fully human isn't something you achieve.

It's what you are called to be.

Being fully human isn't measured by the weights you lift in a gym but by the weight you lift off another's shoulders. Thing is, that builds strength too - just not the kind that will ever be in a Reeboks ad.

Be more human.



Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree with you more. Thinking about that makes me angry. My daughter will never achieve muscles like that but she has a stronger heart then most people I know.


Anonymous said...

Have no words. Such an awful message. I agree, and I'll be pulling this as a quote when I share on Facebook. "Being fully human isn't measured by the weights you lift in a gym but by the weight you lift off another's shoulders. Thing is, that builds strength too - just not the kind that will ever be in a Reeboks ad."


Ettina said...

I really don't like the idea that being physically fit makes you more human. But I also don't like the idea that being caring and compassionate makes you more human, either.

Many animals are as caring and compassionate as humans, if not more so. Dogs sense distress in humans and try to comfort them. Rats will free a fellow rat from a restraining device, even if that means sharing a pile of chocolate chips with the other rat. An entire herd of elephants will often stay with a single calf who is unable to walk, even though this risks them running out of food as the weather changes. Chimpanzees and bonobos will tend to and care for an injured group member.

On the flip side, some humans are not caring and compassionate. This does not make them inhuman. There is a bad side to human nature as well, and we do best to admit it and face it directly rather than pretending it's somehow inhuman, and therefore not a part of us.

Unknown said...

Egad, I really dislike this commercial! I agree with you about what makes me feel more human, and what makes me see the humanity in others.
I'd like to share something that I always mention when I teach college freshmen in my Intro Anthropology class. I have a plaster cast of the skull and leg bones of a Neanderthal man - he has no teeth, the bone is worn, his legs were bent. This man lived to old age, without teeth and without being able to walk. How, I ask my students, did he live to be so old?
Sometimes no one ventures a guess. They are stymied most of the time. The answer is: because his people cared for him. Someone kept him warm and helped him move and made sure he could eat. He lived long because of love. And this is a man who lived 70,000 years ago!
Humanity, writ loud and clear on the bones of our ancestors.

clairesmum said...

thank you for your wisdom and your words. all lives matter, all human lives matter. being more physically fit is not synonymous with being fully human.

Anonymous said...

I hope I am more human now, when I am NOT fit at all and can't walk around the block, than I was when I WAS fit.

The most human quality is empathy. It doesn't come from muscles.


Anonymous said...

Hi Dave, this isn't a comment on your post but I would love your insight. I am not a disabled person. I have been asked, as an advocate and activist, for my thoughts on inclusive (of all abilities) wheelchair basketball. Ableist or awesome? Wheelchair basketball had become a respected sport in its own right but is the experience of non-disabled participants ableist? I have mixed feelings about this. What are your thoughts please?


Heather Carley

Anonymous said...

Dergin Tokmak, partially paralyzed from polio since he was 1, and also a dancer who toured for six years with Cirque du Soleil, says “My greatest challenge has been that I’m somebody from an immigrant community rather than somebody who’s handicapped.”

Ron Arnold said...

Subtle eugenics are still eugenics. There's some insidious evil underneath that 'message' . . . .

Anonymous said...

Wow! It's an ad for a sports brand and as an athlete I find it motivating. Your right there was no focus on disabilities or flying saucers or corn dogs, not everything that pushes human achievment has to qualify itself for the disabled viewer, i'll always be too fat and short to dunk a basketball but I don't get upset when Jordan tells me to "just do it".

Dave Hingsburger said...

Anon above, I don't state anywhere that everything should be aimed for the disabled viewer (evidenced by the fact that practically nothing is) but the statement that equates physical fitness with being 'more human' and implies that physical differences are 'less human.' We've seen where that has taken us as a society before. You will note that I tried to respond to what you said without trivializing in, bringing up corn dogs and UFO's was probably meant to insult and I wonder why you felt the need.