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Media portrayal of autism must change direction

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I remember the first time I saw myself represented on the screen: I was blue, I was fast and I was passed by Robin Williams.

Do you remember the first time you saw yourself represented in the media you consume?

Do you remember the feeling of seeing a character, person, or story that made you point your finger at the screen and say, “It’s me! As an ecstatic Leonardo DiCaprio meme? Do you remember the first time you actually saw each other?

I do.

I was blue and fast, and voiced by Robin Williams.

Mark of magic never fails

Corporate children’s media in the 1990s was all about diversity. This usually meant cartoons where a white kid, black kid, nonspecific Asian kid, uppercase G girl, and, budget permitting, a kid in a wheelchair, came together to take down bad guys with names like The Greedozoids by harnessing the power of recycling used syringes.

The symbolic nature of these characters / products made them as relevant and engaging as the multi-level marketing plans that spawned them. That, and there was a looming feeling that you must have felt represented, otherwise. My friend who used a wheelchair hated it when he had to be Professor X when we were playing X Men. He wanted to be Gambit, because, in his own words, “Gambit loves card tricks and checkers love Gambit.

Not that I had to worry about all of this. I was a middle class little white boy who loved dinosaurs and ??? other. I could be Dr. Alan Grant, James Wheeler, damn it, I could be a goddamn Gambit if I wanted to, and nobody could say anything. I fit into the dominant race / class / gender mold of the media (sexuality was not a consideration), and I was not in a wheelchair, the only handicap, so that was it. I was an ordinary man.

And yet… I remember the feeling, that spark, seeing myself for the first time “represented”. I would have been about five or six when I looked Aladdin on a VHS in my cousin’s basement. When Robin Williams burst onto the scene as a Genie and started singing “Friend Like Me” while transforming between this, that and all, I remember that tingling creeping up at the base of my spine coming up. to the head and whispering, “It’s you, nuts.”

Can your friends do this?

A few years after being diagnosed with autism, I found myself watching Star Trek: The Next Generation for the first time. I had always avoided Star Trek for the same reason I had always avoided the heroine: I knew I would love her too much too soon, and I had seen what it had done to enough friends to be suspicious of her. But I was there in my shoe room in Brooklyn, busy busy Star Trek like a Ferengi Sick Boy.

I sent a message to a friend who knows me too well: “I am watching TNG for the first time and this character resonates so much with me.”

“It’s Data,” they replied. “You are data”.

It was Data, the omniscient android Pinocchio who aspires to be a real boy. It was Data, and I wasn’t sure what to think about it.

Immediately after my diagnosis, I said to one of my oldest friends, who told me, “Nonsense, you are not a robot. Exactly, I thought, I’m not a robot. “You are too excitable,” they added.

I saw the autistic traits that I liked the most about me: info-dumping, excitability, obsession, disarming and unexpected charisma, and above all, exceptional otherness.

Precisely, I was too excited. I was bipolar, wasn’t I? Was I still bipolar !? I wasn’t sure how everything was working at the time, but I remember thinking, who ever heard of a manic robot? Not two days later, this same friend sent me a picture of Rutger Hauer in Blade runner with the message: “Lol this MF reminds me of you.”

When I came to terms with my diagnosis, I found myself clinging to certain characters and texts as both shields and numbers. Back in the days of formalized autism, it was androids like Data, Roy Batty, Android 16 and texts like Ghost in the shell.

I went from androids to psychics through a Akira review and then implement a very autistic New Years resolution to “become a real weeb”, which led me to a new show called Mob Psycho 100 about a medium little boy who was, to me, the greatest achievement of a child on the spectrum that I had seen yet, perhaps only through Ludo, the genius of the boy from the novel about the shattering of the specter of Helen DeWitt, The last Samourai, which had become kind of a walkthrough for me at this point.

In these characters, I saw the autistic traits that I liked the most about me: info-dumping, excitability, obsession, disarming and unexpected charisma, and above all, exceptional otherness.

The other thing these characters had in common was their deep desire for acceptance and understanding from those who were unlike them. Whether it was Data’s desire for humanity, Mob’s quest for popularity, or Ludo’s search for his real father, these characters’ journeys were shared by their methods, which were based on observation, absorption and mimicry to help them appear typical in spaces where they were not.

I clung to Mob, Data and Ludo like pool floats as I found myself wading through a sea of ​​talk about autistic identity that I had until then perfectly ignored. The more you find yourself presented as something, the more you are asked to represent it, while simultaneously being charged with evaluating all other representations of it.

Well look here

The conversation around autistic portrayal appears to be designed by and for neurotypical people to help them assess minstrel’s acceptable limits.

Pop culture representations of autistic people have gone beyond the Rain man/Young Sheldon polarity he got stuck in before Boo Radley could say, well, boo, and so on in a pretty insufferable pablum of sweet mumbles, flat scholar and socially awkward tubby types. It is limiting in a whole other way, difficult to explain to non-autistic people.

Whenever a character or text is capitalized on Autistic, I’m often asked to write about any show, movie, or comedian that concocted them, and I always invariably skip the task after 15 minutes of boredom. to die by what I am told is meant so that I feel “seen”.

I can’t tell shows like Love on the spectrum, Atypical, or even Everything will be alright (an autism show with an autistic cast and an autistic writer / creator) are not for autistic people, but I can say they are not for autistic people. I haven’t yet come across an “explicitly” autistic text that seems to be aimed at an autistic audience, and I’m starting to understand that this may be because such a task is impossible, because it doesn’t exist. A specter cannot be ‘represented’, and that is fine.

I like to think of the spectrum as that of light projected through a personal prism, a prism cut into the different facets of your loves, your lives and your stories. Sometimes a work of art shows up and reshapes that prism, changing the angle and color of the spectrum in ways that can be both imperceptible and immense. In this remodeling, in this moment of transformation, is our representation, ephemeral and changing, and that is perhaps why it remains impossible to grasp.

For this reason, I continually argue that true autistic portrayal will come in form rather than content. But for that to happen, neurotypical audiences and industry gatekeepers must be more willing to get lost in autistic thought patterns, stories, and memories – to truly succumb to our endless transformations – than to see it. translate into something familiar for their benefit and for their benefit. alone.

Until then, the representation is where it is found. Is it so strange that a person described as “divergent” diverges from the basic path or rote representation and instead turns to deeper instances of recognition that may go beyond understanding the “typical”?

To me, the representation may be the excitement and ticks of Paulie Walnuts, or the compulsive evil of Bart Simpson, or the flow of consciousness and recreation melodies of B-MO, or the sensory sensitivity and artistry of Reynolds. Woodcock, or the consciously organized social. graces of John Franklin of Sten Nadolny, or the zero to 100 emotional outbursts of Mob, or the proud otherness of Roy Batty, or the unmasked humanity of Data, and certainly, the shapeshifting, the self-leap, the mask swap, bound but the overwhelming excitement of Robin Williams’ genius.

You might think you’ve never had a friend like me, but here we are. It’s just a turn of light.


Patrick marlborough is a writer, actor, musician, and author based in Walyalup (Fremantle) in Western Australia, being barked by their dog, Buckley.


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