17 August, 2010

Fictional diagnostics stock responses--part one

I've only commented at Basket of Kisses a few times, but it's one of my favorite blogs, and a place I spend a ridiculous amount of time now that Mad Men season four is off and running. Today I got the shock/delight of a lifetime because I saw that Meowser, a poster with ASD, is writing a series called Pete, Peggy, and PDD-NOS, and linked some of my posts about ASD and Mad Men! It sort of fries my brain to go to sitemeter and see that people are coming here from the Most Amazing Place in the World!

However, people have already made some of a certain kind of comments on Meowser's post. These certain kind of comments really bug me, but because I rarely post on Basket of Kisses I don't want to just go on there and act really confrontational. I really do love it there. Besides, it's not really on topic, so I'm bringing it back here.

The kind of comments I'm referring to go like this:

"I think sometimes people read too heavy into things."--Edward A.

"If [Pete and Peggy] represent an accurate portrayal of Asperger’s then everyone I have ever known fits the diagnosis."--Mrs. Blankenship

"Perhaps we can say that it is a testament to the quality of writing of the show that people seem to work very hard to find a way to say certain characters are exactly like themselves."--MM fan

I want to be clear; I don't have a problem with anyone disagreeing and saying, "No, Peggy just seems different because she has a different background, and Pete has trouble with people because of the way he was raised." What I do have a problem with is a certain kind of automatic response that non-disabled people seem to have when fans with ASD suggest that a certain character might have ASD. This response comes in two types, which can exist on their own or be combined.

1. You're reading too much into it./It's just a TV show./You're working really hard to try to make this fit.

Response #1 tries to cast the fictional-diagnostician (henceforth called f.d.) as a ridiculously obsessive fan, which is usually undercut by the fact that the Responder is on a forum or blog or LiveJournal community for the fandom. Most people who consume Mad Men (or anything else) are not involved in Internet fandom. If you are discussing this on the Internet, you've already forgotten that "it's just a TV show" just as much as the f.d. has.

The Responder also seems to imply that having a disability is like being a mastodon from outer space. It's so bizarre and out of the blue that the f.d. must have worked really, really, really hard on this theory, just so he or she could have the most original idea ever. The f.d. probably opened some crusty old encyclopedia and was thumbing through it for days on end, until finally the weirdest possible condition emerged--autism! Whoever heard of that? What could be more off-the-wall than saying that Character X has autism?

Of course, most f.d.s aren't diagnosing Character X with some random disability. They're diagnosing Character X with a disability they have a lot of experience with, or even have themselves. If you are actually living with ASD, then of course you're going to notice that Character X seems familiar in a certain way, and that ASD could explain some of his personality traits.

For example, Pete Campbell often behaves like someone who feels powerless. But in the obvious areas--race, class, and gender--he has a ton of power. Does he feel powerless because he lacks abilities that other people have? I came up with that all by myself, you guys, and it took me about a minute because I have ASD so it's easy for me to come up with theories that relate to ASD. I'm not "working hard" or "reading really heavy into things." I just tend to respond to my fandom from my own experience, like everyone else.

The implication that ASD-related theories are elaborate or ridiculous, and must take up a lot of time to think up, is insulting to people with ASD, especially when the f.d. is a person with ASD. That reaction implies that people with ASD are so other that it's not logical or intuitive to expect them to be part of a story. It also erases the fact that of course disabled people are the center of our own experience like non-disabled people are the center of theirs. I'm not other to myself, so of course I don't think of ASD as being some rare condition that no one could possibly have. Am I really expected to feel that way about it, just because that's how you feel?

Interesting new twist: MM fan's suggestion that Meowser and I desperately want Mad Men characters to be "exactly like us." Are all people with ASD exactly the same? Most of the people who think Peggy and Pete are non-disabled are non-disabled themselves--does that mean they want Peggy and Pete to be just like them?

I'm really sleepy but I will be back tomorrow with part two ("You can't just diagnose anyone with ASD! It's a serious disability! You're making it sound like just anyone could have it!"--come to think of it, that kind of overlaps). Again, not trying to be a bitch, incredibly excited to be linked at a website I love--it's just that as an ASD person in fandom I get sick of these kind of responses, and I wanted to address them.


  1. Went and read the comments, and I find it really interesting that some people are posting "Yeah, I totally see that with Pete, but not with Peggy," and about the same number are saying "I could see that with Peggy, but not with Pete."

    I was more disturbed by a few comments I saw from people who didn't like the character of Peggy and were basically saying "Yeah she's a bitch and lacks empathy/compassion like those autistic people do, so that makes sense." (Oddly, there was also one post saying how she does have empathy and therefore can't be autistic.) I really hate the whole lack-of-empathy thing and plan to write several scathing posts about it.

    I agree with you that some of the people who disagree are basically acting as if it's impossible for anyone to have autism. Which we know is not the case.

  2. Hey Amanda...I hope my linking you hasn't caused you any problems. If it has, please accept my apology in advance and I will remove the link at your request.

    Yeah, I knew there was going to be some static when I put that up. But you know, even when I have written about other things, I'm still an autistic writer, and I get some...ern... eeeenteresting responses for it. I figured I might, but so did Deb and Roberta when they took me on, and you know what? I think of it as seed-planting. Or, another way to put it, "remember the lurkers."

    One thing I do know for sure is, a lot of so-called "normal" people don't have clue one of the difference between "lack of emotional and social reciprocity" and "lack of empathy or compassion." The problem isn's so much that they don't know -- heck, *I* didn't know either, before I was diagnosed -- it's that they are stock sure that they do.

    Andee (Meowser)

  3. No of course not! I'm really excited you linked me. And really it's only a minority of the posters there who are acting that way.