Performative activism is prevalent in criticism of Sia’s “Music” movie

Illustration by Faith Gallegos

Not long after returning home from Lewis & Clark for winter break, I found myself deluged with messages from friends and family, all on a specific subject. High school acquaintances were reaching out to me on social media for the first time in years. I got calls from numbers I did not recognize. A few older family members emailed me. The whole world, it seemed, wanted to let me know that the pop star Sia was directing a movie called “Music,” which featured neurotypical child actress Maddie Ziegler as a nonverbal autistic girl.

Like Ziegler’s character, I am autistic. I suffered through years of speech therapy in elementary and middle school, and though I can speak clearly now, I still have difficulties with organization and social interaction. Ziegler is not autistic. She never had to deal with any of these things. And everybody who contacted me assumed that I, being the only autistic person they knew, must have been so offended.

But I am not the slightest bit offended. Ziegler is an actress. She plays fictional characters. It does not bother me that she and Sia are bringing much-needed representation to the big screen, especially since Ziegler is a major celebrity and a heroine to many young girls. “Music” would have a far lesser impact if its lead were an unknown autistic actress in her first major role. What does bother me is the outrageous heights the backlash against Sia and Ziegler has reached. I am not offended by Sia’s casting choice, but I am troubled by the number of people who are offended by it, and how few of those people are autistic.

Performative activism has gotten a lot of attention in these protest-driven times, but just as pernicious is blind extremism. Well-meaning but clueless people, often white and wealthy, take the most extreme position possible on a social issue affecting a marginalized group. They truly believe they are doing the right thing, mainly because they are not as familiar with the group in question as they would like to believe. It is largely because of privileged individuals on social media that ideas like community-based policing reforms (a popular proposal) are warped into the abolition of the police (an unpopular one), and calls for a $15 minimum wage (widely popular) become calls for a socialist revolution (unpopular, though it may not seem so at LC). The biggest threat to a movement is often not its opponents, but its own extremists.

The common response to people misunderstanding a social movement is that ubiquitous, ever-so-patronizing phrase: “educate yourself.” But I would suggest an alternative: stand down. The world does not end if you do not speak out on an issue that does not affect you personally. If those affected are raising their voices, you may listen, but do not think of yourself as a terrible person if you do not publicly voice how much you care. Too often, what neurotypical allies see as caring, we autistic folks see as condescending, and the same is likely true in other social justice movements.

I am fully capable of making my own decisions about political causes. I do not want to be told that I should be offended, and I do not want neurotypical individuals to be offended on my behalf.

About Tor Parsons 41 Articles
Tor Parsons '24 is a well-known figure on campus. I interviewed three random LC students to gauge the public opinion on Tor. "Who?" - A student with a really cool backpack "I have no idea who you're talking about." - Some dude on the Pio Express "He's cool, I guess." - Tor's roommate

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