03 January, 2011

on fruit bats/the r word/everything in real life

I just want to talk about, well, everything I have to say, using this one scene from Skins.

Basically, JJ (who has ASD and some other stuff) doesn't like the way his friends Cook and Freddie are acting, and they won't listen to his opinions. He can sometimes need a lot of support, and he's not as cool as they are, so they treat him more like a little brother than an equal friend. Then JJ overhears Cook referring to him as a "barmy fucker" and gets even more pissed. He tries to tell Cook how annoyed he is at him and Freddie, but Cook brushes him off as usual.

Cook: Now, are you coming or do I have to keep look out myself when I'm buying gear?
JJ: (softly) Just care, okay?
Cook: About what?
JJ: (suddenly shouting) About me! About me, you twat! You're all fucking twats!
(Cook looks surprised and concerned, and hugs JJ and holds him, stroking his hair. Cook has a tendency to be overly demonstrative and sentimental.)
Cook: I pissing love you, J. Nothing's gonna change that, man. You're my very own little fruit bat. Fuck Freddie. It's just me and you now, J. Feel the love. You feeling it? Right?

--3x07, about halfway through

What Cook says is really sweet, but there's something that has the potential to ruin its sweetness--Cook calling JJ a fruit bat. We see at multiple points in this episode that JJ really doesn't like Cook to use nicknames or make jokes that are based on JJ's disabilities. In context, it seems obvious that "fruit bat" is a reference to "fruitcake," and therefore fits into the category of names JJ doesn't like to be called. But JJ doesn't say anything. He arguably winces at the word "fruit bat" and doesn't look completely satisfied by anything Cook is saying; but he closes his eyes and seems to enjoy being held.

Now, on some level, this interaction--Cook saying "fruit bat" and JJ not responding--is kind of fucked up. And one thing it reminds me of is something that sometimes happens when you belong to a minority that your friends don't belong to. You end up accepting stuff that offends you, because if you spoke up every time something offended you, your friends would just think you were annoying and be mad at you. This can happen to anyone (I love this post about token black friends)--but it's particularly hard to fight when you depend on your friends for support, or don't think you have the ability to make new friends.

When I look at the scene that way, my smile disappears, as does my desire to write a slash fic. It becomes a really sad scene. JJ seems isolated, marginalized in his own friendship, intimidated out of standing up for himself. I think this is a totally correct way to look at the scene; it's not just an interpretation, it is what's happening.

However, even though I think this is objectively true, it's not the only thing that's objectively true. Cook doesn't realize the effect his language has on JJ and, rather than consciously choosing to ignore something offensive, JJ is probably too emotional to let the word "fruit bat" outweigh everything else Cook is saying. And maybe he has a point. Sometimes people close to us say things that are offensive, and that doesn't make it right--but it doesn't always mean they don't care about us. We have the right to say we're offended; intent doesn't make something okay--but if we choose not to say we're offended, this isn't always a sad thing where we're submitting to the dominant culture, or whatever. I mean technically maybe it is. But you know, also our friend is hugging us. Maybe we "pick our battles." Maybe in our personal lives, sometimes we decide how we feel about intent, and maybe in some moments intent is good enough.

Can I say this? Do you know what I mean?


  1. I know what you mean. Story of my life. I burned a lot of bridges last summer after being treated this way--except without the affection--for a very long time, and I still have more burning to do.

  2. Yeah, I know what you mean.

    I'm really, really trying to not feel tempted to get into Skins, because right now I really want to focus on my drawing (I've signed up for a figure drawing class and studio) and getting obsessed with a tv show would totally derail that. At least for a while.

    ::is valiantly resisting the siren call of tv perseveration::

  3. oh my gosh it's so good. everyone in it is so good-looking.

    (thanks for commenting you guys when I talk about my special interests. I feel like it's kind of dorky of me. and jb, I was sort of writing this for l-n; do you think it's okay for that? like, the reason I think it's relevant is because I'm trying to talk about the idea that calling people out or writing them off isn't always the only acceptable/healthy course of action.)

  4. I just wrote an excessively long comment and then accidentally hit the back button and lost the whole thing. ugh. I don't remember most of what I wrote. I'll try again-

    I'm having a hard time with this. I think it's because I keep thinking about how my family says stuff that is hurtful and I don't say anything because I depend on them and I don't want them to be mad at me. I don't like that I do this. It makes me mad at myself and it happens every day.

    I don't have any friends right now but when I did, I had the same problem, though I wasn't as aware of it as I am now. But if I were to make a friend, I'd hope I wouldn't do it again. When I had friends, I was afraid they wouldn't be friends with me anymore and I'd be alone. But I'm alone now and am okay so I think knowing that, I'd be less afraid of pissing off a friend.

    But then, I'm not everyone - everyone can't be okay without any friends. So I can see how someone in that position would tolerate the sort of things JJ tolerates. I still have trouble seeing it as a good thing though? Like, I'd rather he have a friend who doesn't ignore him. Of course it's not up to me to decide what friends other people keep but from what you've said it doesn't sound like this situation is JJ's ideal friendship.

    Your posts about it are making me want to watch Skins but I also have to resist. I watch too much tv already and I have so many things I want to start watching that I can't add another to the list, haha.

  5. For whatever my subjective perspective is worth, I think you interpreted that scene just right.

    We're meant to be conflicted by on one level a sweet scene depicting Cook's (genuine within the bounds of his own interpersonal limitations that I'll get to in a second) love for JJ and on the other a sad scene displaying the inadequacy of that love due to his inability (or unwilling?) to tune into how alienated and belittled JJ feels within the friendship.

    I think Cook is a lot more mentally impaired and "tragic" than JJ. I read him as having a death-wish in the psychatric sense of the term. He also seem impaired in the sense of regular/healthy expresion of his feelings. Cook is very emotionally underdevloped and perhaps not fully "conscious". His emotional state manifests in primal and often violent ways. I honestly feel even at his worst he's generally well meaning (or at least without conscious malice).. he's just- ironically for a character who's not the "autistic one" in a show - quite lacking in empathic functioning. All caught up in his whirlwind of COOOOOOOOKness. "What if you stopped?" indeed.

    JJ himself appear relatively empathic in the show, though I think that comes from being very observant about human behaviours on an intellectual level rather than a neurotypical kind of empathy. This is how I empathise with others, so perhaps I'm reading myself into his shoes a bit..

  6. to the 2 people who are thinking of watching Skins: stop trying to get away, I'm in the process of making a picspam from which you'll be helpless to escape.

    anyway Josh I'm really excited you finally commented. I agree with everything you said about Cook. I think he's my favorite of all the characters in both generations.

    (I was partly worried that the way I took "fruit bat" was difficult to justify. I just immediately always reacted to it that way--I mean it's not like if he said "you're my very own little psycho," but it feels like a disability reference especially because JJ called himself a fruitcake earlier. But I guess I've never really heard the word fruit bat used that way. But that definitely is what it means, right?)

    I feel like JJ is more or less empathetic and aware of what's going on depending on whether the writers care about portraying him well or whether they want to use him as a plot device. Which really annoys me, and I guess kind of happened with Cassie too (well, not in terms of empathy, but in terms of being a cryptic and sometimes volatile person in a believable way that comes from a motive, and just being completely awful and ridiculous).

    In both of JJ's centric episodes, he is really sensitive and knows a lot about what's going on (mostly indicated in 4x06 with his speech to Emily about how she needs to trust people). But then! Just in terms of gayness, for example:

    In 3x07 he is shocked by Emily's explicit declaration that she's gay, but it seems to be a non-issue to him ("that's ridiculous, Emily's gay"). And he's a lot quicker than most non-disabled boys to accept "lesbian = probably not going to have sex with me;" he's really surprised when she wants to have sex with him, keeps thinking she's joking, and easily agrees, "this is a one-time thing, because you're gay."

    Then in 3x08, he wonders why Naomi and Emily were moving around in the tent, even though he knows Emily's gay and he saw them kissing before. I can sort of deal with this because it's just a one-off joke. BUT THEN!

    In 3x09:

    1. he apparently told Freddie he had sex with Emily and was according to Freddie really delighted about it
    2. he apparently told Freddie this without mentioning that Emily is gay
    3. he thinks that he might have sex with Emily again

    Noooo! In addition to the whole "Katie has a good chance of breaking up Emily and Naomi by telling Naomi that Emily had sex with JJ" plot, which I happen to think is dumb because it reduces the awesome Emily/JJ sex to a (very weak) plot device, and it's also just really heterosexist because why does their obviously not serious encounter have to be seen as so important that it would make Naomi feel threatened when she and Emily are in a much more serious relationship?...

    um I forgot what I was saying

    oh right, they had to make JJ really naive and out of it, and apparently unaware of what gayness means, just to advance the story in that episode. Except, they actually didn't have to do that. They just did.

    And I feel like they do that a lot with him and it makes me annoyed. He's not the only person who gets their character fucked with to advance the plot (Cook and Cassie are obvious examples) but I guess it's just because he is such a wonderful Autistic character, and such a baller character in general, when they actually focus on him and write him properly, that it really gets on my nerves and stands out to me when they don't.

    Wait, maybe this is a post and not a comment. Shit. Sorry.

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. think you've spot on about how the characters are presented can frustratingly vary in terms of integrity/sensitivity of writing, usually giving the best account of an character in their-centric episode.

    I suppose one way of reconciling that is being aware that each episode is very much from one charater's perspective/eyeview.. and we can see people on the margins, or even central in our lives as a somewhat simplified and stereotyped collection of traits sometimes. So therefore if I don't like the characterisation at points instead of finding it jarring, I just think for example "oh thats how Effy SEES JJ" or something.

    Ha, the problem with that is it opens up all sort of fascinating/head ache enducing questions about if the happenings in the show are an empirical reality (within the Skinsiverse) or coloured by the potentially "unreliable narrator" this is the character whos episode it is this week!

    "Noooo! In addition to the whole "Katie has a good chance of breaking up Emily and Naomi by telling Naomi that Emily had sex with JJ" plot, which I happen to think is dumb because it reduces the awesome Emily/JJ sex to a (very weak) plot device, and it's also just really heterosexist because why does their obviously not serious encounter have to be seen as so important that it would make Naomi feel threatened when she and Emily are in a much more serious relationship?..."

    I'd defend this plot by saying that while what you say is very true, Katie obviously isn't the most senistive and clued in person when it comes to gayness/sexuality in S3 to say the least, so it probably wouldn't seem that way to her - the one creating the drama. In the Skins novel (which yes I own! haha it's basically a long sanctioned fan fic) its revealed Naomi wasn't the least bit bothered about Emily sleeping with JJ. (wait does she get upset about it in the show? I can't remember!)

    I've been thinking about why I've always disliked the JJ/Emily sex. The more I think about it, the more I think I've possibly got pretty weird/narcissistic ideas about sex. I'd be horrifed to be offered charity/pity sex no matter how respectfully. Possibly cos I'm proud and I don't like being a charity case in anyway (even if I need it.. I know, I know.. not healthy! Working on it) and to me the appealing thing when I think about sex is not so much the physical act itself but the affirmation/self-esteem boost that someone wants you, finds your attractive, so I wouldn't have to feel as crap/repulsive blah blah, which obviously wouldn't exist as much with sex as charity. Though I suppose the point I'm missing is that Emily DOES like JJ and IS affirming his worth by wanting to give him something special to show that.. in this case one of the things he wants most.

    ps deleted and reposted, cos some typos bothered me when I posted first time.