Adventures in Low Vision readers know I love Netflix in part because of its embrace of audio description. You may not know I also love Sandra Bullock. Speed, Miss Congeniality, Practical Magic. Yes, please. When Netflix announced a new project, Bird Box, featuring Sandy you may be thinking what’s not to like. It was the most watched movie release from the streaming provider, a reported 45 million in the first week.
However, I was not one of those watchers. The source material is problematic. I never wrote a blog post about the horror book this movie was based on, but I did a mini-review on my Goodreads and stored it on my “blind character” shelf. I’d rather spend time with a movie that empowers differences like The Addams Family, which Stockton and I enjoyed the other night. Snap, snap.
But I couldn’t escape frequent mentions of Bird Box. Brands love for audiences to extend their experience and share it on social media, especially if it happens organically AKA at no cost to the company, and goes viral.
Congrats, Bird Box spawned one. Users tagged it #birdboxchallenge. The problem isn’t the passion, it’s the task it touts: a blindfolded activity. Subsequently it provides the opportunity for people to wrongly associate blindfolding with blindness. Groan.
You may remember my lack of endearment over a previous FFB fundraiser. If you don’t, here’s the issue with blindfold challenges: they don’t really educate on what it’s like to live with blindness. Instead they stoke fear and misinform. Visiting a place where you don’t speak the language doesn’t give you the experience of bilingualism. Likewise, blindfolding yourself for five minutes doesn’t show you how it feels to be living with vision loss. It’s missing the adaptation, the learning part while focusing on the floundering. A blindfolded person merely gets the experience of disorientation.
But if viewers don’t realize this, something like #birdboxchallenge encourages them to observe and laugh at blindfolded participants, and by false proximity, blindness.
Possibly walking into things or falling and fumbling around on camera, is that funny? In general, yeah. I love physical comedy. Blindfolding yourself with no aids and hurting yourself, is that funny?
Thankfully, Netflix for its part, on Wednesday, January 2, warned that doing the challenge could be dangerous. Unfortunately, they did not go far enough and condemn it completely. That ignores what it’s like to combat the fear of blindness, to work everyday to be authentic and simply live your life with a disability while people stare riveted like you’re a rare circus act.
While I’m a subscriber of Netflix and a member of the blindness community, I’m speaking simply as a person. The #birdboxchallenge is stupid. But you can’t save some people from themselves especially when they’re off school or work. It’s only a matter of time before the next viral meme makes the #birdboxchallenge history. Unfortunately, the fear and indirect mockery of blindness it reinforced will not be forgotten as quickly. It makes me want to go drive some golf balls off my roof.