Why Taika Waititi's Oscars rant was no joke

During his post-win interview backstage at the Oscars, director and writer Taika Waititi threw journalists a curveball when he was asked what writers should demand from the upcoming Writer’s Guild of America talks. Without hesitation, he said, “Apple needs to fix those keyboards. They’re impossible to write on.”

During his minute-long dig at Mac, Taika revealed he suffers from occupational overuse syndrome (OOS, or repetitive strain injury as we call it), resulting in shoulder, forearm and thumb tendon pain. His ‘rant’ was dubbed by Variety and several tech websites as ‘hilarious‘. But from one RSI suffering writer to another (hi), I didn’t see ‘jokes’, but a serious issue thinly veiled in light-heartedness. I loved that Taika used the Oscars to talk about his chronic occupational pain. And it’s no joke. Yes, his Kiwi twang and satirical air for which he won his Oscar emanates, but for some reason it was his delivery that became the headline, not his message.

When Taika said the WGA needs to “step in and actually do something about it”, it was met with a cackle. Why is calling on your union to do something about your working conditions funny? The Twitter comments were a mix of, “just plug a keyboard in!”, to “I feel seen”, but the former is oversimplifying the matter, and the reality is we don’t know Taika’s set-up or how he’s expected to work during writing meetings. But with his mimic of hunched shoulders and twisted wrists, it looks terrible. This isn’t just about the lack of bounce back he says he’s not getting from his Mac, but this enduring sense that posture and frequent breaks are to be laughed away as nonsense before we can get back to churning out content from our keyboards.

A recent study found 78% of office workers have suffered backache, knee pain and repetitive strain injuries as a result of their role, with a fifth experiencing tingling or numbness in their fingers or hands. In my experience, a typical working day at the office doesn’t tend to encourage breaks, stretching or movement, especially when you’re knee-deep in work. And now, more of us use laptops as our main computer – in fact it feels like it’s expected thanks to our culture of occupational mobility, work from home days, hot desking (urgh) and being in meetings where everyone brings a laptop rather than a pen and paper. But is it actually helping us be more productive?

Figures show UK workers took 6.9 million days off in 2018/19 because of work-related musculoskeletal conditions – 41% of which were for upper limb conditions – hello poor posture. Using laptops full time, with their narrow width, low screens and all-round ergonomic inflexibility can only contribute to this, as their long-term use has been found to increase the risk of developing pain disorders.

I saw Taika’s ‘rant’ as a plea that challenges the culture of afterthought around workplace setups and suffering in silence. A report by Benenden found nearly half of UK employees don’t tell their employer about their health issues, and work-related aches and pains undoubtedly fall under this, where employees feel they have to accept pain as part of how we work. But we don’t. I know too well the pain of sitting at your desk feeling as though your tendons are on fire while everyone else squirrels away pain-free at their keyboards. It’s tormenting. You feel isolated. All you want is for someone to help you make it go away, to offer a solution, any solution that’ll help you continue to work and avoid an end your typing career. My setup and environment was wrong, and it needed me to point it out and ask for help to get me out of the situation.

Behaviourists have envisaged the posture of the future and it’s crippling us, turning us into a swollen mess of discomfort because of infrequent breaks, sitting too long and working in poor setups doing repetitive tasks. Let’s not make that the reality by taking occupational pain as read. Let’s all be a bit more Taika.

Picture credit: Matt Petit / ©A.M.P.A.S.