02 September, 2010

Whyyyy did this happen

This post is the dumbest example of Oppression Olympics I've ever seen. I know that they come from a place of caring about their friend, but that isn't a reason to set up a weird competition between depression, eating disorders, and autism. This person is jealous of all the portrayals of autism in pop culture, because "so many more" people have depression and eating disorders, and every TV show and movie about eating disorders doesn't count because it's either too cheesy or not popular enough. "Don't let society get you down just because YOUR mental health issue isn't 'popular'," the person admonishes. Oh, the joys of having a "popular" "mental health issue."

Okay dude, I know the pull of Oppression Olympics is a strong one, but seriously? It's almost always wrong. God knows I find myself thinking, "Oh man, wouldn't it be cool if people thought about autism the way they thought about intellectual disability? Instead of thinking it just makes people be insensitive geniuses who do weird shit, who we should all crowd around and stare at like zoo animals, wouldn't it be cool if people just understood that autism makes you not be able to do things that most other people can do? Which sometimes seems to result in insensitivity, genius, and weird shit, but isn't really those things?" (Note that despite all the autism pop culture Southpaw has consumed, they haven't realized that autism is a disability not a "mental health issue.")

But then I remember that even though people with ID aren't treated like circus freaks, they have their own giant pop culture pile of shit. The fact that they're not seen as ~fascinating geniuses~ often means that they're not treated as present at all. Most references to intellectual disability in pop culture consist of making fun of people with ID or using words like "retarded," in a tone that implies people with ID don't actually exist except as the subjects of jokes. A little space is reserved for glorifying the non-disabled people who live and work with people who have ID. Since pop culture forgets that people with ID can be fun to be around, or even have unique personalities, they can think of nothing more saintly than spending time with one of those boring blank slates.

I think about Precious, and I think about Glee, and I totally stop feeling jealous of people with intellectual disabilities.

Similarly, I remember being a kid and watching a Lifetime movie about a girl with anorexia and bulimia. Lifetime movies are too cheesy according to Southpaw, but let's for a second ignore the implication that all eating disorder pop culture has to be good in order to count, since most autism pop culture sucks and therefore doesn't count either. I have never seen a Lifetime movie about someone like me. I have never in my fucking life seen any movie or TV show where a person with autism was the protagonist instead of a device to shock or burden the protagonist. (I know that at least two movies exist with Autistic protagonists, but a sitcom also existed where all the main characters had eating disorders. Being able to point out some exceptions doesn't disprove the overarching trend.)

I also feel really fucking scared and uncomfortable when I realize that a TV show or movie contains a character with ASD. It is so often that the character hurts or kills another person or is involved in crime. Even when the character doesn't do anything worse than unknowingly insult people (which is pretty much a constant factor in autism pop culture), that is still damaging to the lives of people with ASD. We are portrayed as more likely to hurt people than help them.

It is not very fun to talk to some person who has become "interested in autism" thanks to consumption of autism pop culture or the almost as deadly autism pop science. These lovely people will insist that a verbal person has Asperger's even if the person has a different ASD diagnosis (or simply doesn't identify as having Asperger's, which should be enough). They will patronize the fuck out of people with ASD and explain a bunch of basic shit to them because they mistakenly think we can't learn. Awesomest of awesomes, they will announce that someone is "claiming to have autism when they're just a little awkward." You see, based on the wacky, overdramatic behavior of Autistic fictional characters, APC consumers think that all ASD people act really weird in a very specific way, all the time. And since they'd rather listen to pop culture than real PWDs, these poor creatures never get better. They are truly trapped inside a shell of autism pop culture, which prevents them from connecting with other human beings.

However, I'm not saying it doesn't suck that depression and eating disorders aren't portrayed that much in pop culture. It sucks a lot. Good observation! But why can't you just write a post about that, instead of a post about how people with autism have it sooo easy with our "popular" "mental health issue" (a post which includes the bizarre caveat "I love discussing Autism"--well, good for you, I fucking don't)? Wouldn't that be nice?

(By the way, I was googling "Oppression Olympics" and I found this post on Racialicious about it. I really love comment #13, and the whole comment thread in general.)


  1. I totally felt this way when I read that post. It seemed like the author thinks that autistic people are happier, or our lives are made easier because of the "pop diagnosis" thing. Actually, it makes everything so much worse! I can understand why people with less "popular" disabilities want to see their disabilities represented in the media -- but surely they want to see those disabilities represented WELL, not IN HORRIBLE DAMAGING WAYS like ours have been.

    I wanted to comment saying this but couldn't find a way to comment. Could you find one?

  2. No, I couldn't, you can just like it or reblog it. (I thought of reblogging it on my tumblr and saying this stuff, but there's no need to be that confrontational. Plus I knew my answer was going to run long.)

    They also haven't posted my comment about it on the fwd/forward recommended reading post--I don't know, maybe they felt I was overreacting/being rude, so it's legit. Given that they recommended it I feel like maybe I missed the point and I seem like I'm really obsessed with proving that ASD people have it worse than everyone...maybe? It just seems ridiculous though. Why would you make it a contest about which disability/illness has it worse?

  3. Thanks so much for this. I was bothered by that post but couldn't quite articulate why. You've done that extremely well.

    I for one am not very happy about the "popularity" of autism in pop culture right now. That just means more stereotypes to overcome for us real people. Two recent portrayals that I'm familiar with, the show Parenthood and the Jodi Picoult novel "House Rules," for instance, are both bad to horrific. I really would rather autism not be represented at all in pop culture than have bad representations such as these. As it is I worry about not being believed when I tell people about my diagnosis because I'm not like the boy from "Curious Incident" or any other pop culture autism icon.

    I'm sorry your comment on FWD isn't going through. Since they did post a link to it, I really think that a critique like this should be heard.

  4. Sarah, please write your blog again, it makes me so sad.

  5. "I have never in my fucking life seen any movie or TV show where a person with autism was the protagonist instead of a device to shock or burden the protagonist."

    Take a look at Leverage. Parker is one of five protagonists on a team of... (ex?) criminals targeting bad guys to help good guys. There's also a genius computer hacker - a *completely separate character*. Anyway, she's never ID's as such on the show, but she is pretty blatantly (to me) autistic. But she has her own storylines and plays key roles in operations and occasionally saves the day.