22 August, 2010

oh oh oh call on me

A few months ago I made a post saying that most physically disabled characters in mainstream media have acquired disabilities and that I thought this was because audiences couldn't identify with characters who identified as disabled, and weren't miserable about being disabled. Disability has to be a relatively new thing that you can do montages about, like on House. Or it has to come out of a tragedy like on Glee (Artie was of course in a car accident that killed his mom when he was a kid).

I wandered in while my mom was watching Covert Affairs and I was like, "That guy is bad at pretending to be blind," and my mom was like, "Oh, he just became blind in an accident." Surprise surprise. Doesn't that make things easy for Christopher Gorham?

Anyway, in my previous post I didn't address non-physical disabilities at all. But I was thinking maybe the reason ASD tends to suck in fiction is sort of another version of the same thing. Writers cannot imagine what it's like to have lived your whole life with a disability, so they write about ASD as though it's something that just happened to the character last week. That's why characters with ASD suck at everything. (To be specific, I'm referring to characters who are verbal and whose problems are portrayed as being mainly social.)

This is something that always makes me really mad. My mom was trying to get me to watch the movie Snow Cake, which I've heard is very good and everything, but just the idea of watching an Autism Movie makes me feel ashamed and sick. I know that like most people I can be selfish and stupid, but in Autism Movies these are portrayed as defining traits for someone like me and it just sucks to know that people are watching movies and thinking that's what ASD people are like.

Lots of people with ASD have anxiety and anger problems as a result of social failure, but this is often not portrayed in fiction because to acknowledge that someone can have anxiety and anger problems, you have to acknowledge that they can have awareness of their social failure, which in turn means acknowledging that they have lived with a disability their whole life. The really oversimplified "oh I just got autism yesterday" ASD characters in the mainstream media are insulting because their portrayal implies that ASD people don't have common sense or the ability to learn from mistakes and cope with impairment.

Seriously even coping badly is okay with me. I am so in love with Mad Men 3x01 when Pete thinks he's about to be fired so he starts making an awkward speech about how he should have socialized with Lane Pryce more. Because it shows that Pete knows people don't like him. A lot of Pete's behavior in early seasons comes out of his (sometimes buried) knowledge that people don't like him, and that's one reason I enjoy him as much as I do. He is someone who has lived with whatever-he-has for 26 years when the show starts, and this hasn't been a good thing, but it has made him complicated. What really frustrates me about intentional portrayals of ASD is that the characters are incredibly uncomplicated. They have not responded or reacted to anything in their lives.

There's also the fact, of course, that these characters don't just suck on TV, but they make non-disabled people suck in real life because they think that ASD is uncomplicated, and think they're qualified to diagnose or misdiagnose people based on brief interactions. Good times for everyone.


  1. That's interesting what you said about anxiety and anger problems, because I've had those all problems, as well as social ones. And I've often wondered if I had ASD, but I've always considered myself not to, primarily because I don't seem to fit the brilliant/cold/unemotional meme.

  2. dude no one is like that, don't worry.

    I mean, some people are but most people aren't. pop culture/scientists just heard the words "autism" and "social impairment" and they made up a bunch of stuff about what it means that isn't actually true.

  3. I find that reassuring, actually.

  4. Artie's mum didn't die in the crash though, just correcting you on that one thing

    1. oh I must have him confused w/ the protagonist of quid pro quo. I appreciate that. I think having characters acquire disabilities in an accident that kills family members/friends is popular because non disabled people think disability is as tragic as losing a family member.