This was an entry I was going to get to inevitably but after reading the AV Club’s take on the worst portrayals of mental disability, I felt ready to tackle this one.
So far, actual labeled portraits of AS in film and TV are few and far between. There are exceptions, notably on Parenthood, but at most we’re usually implied. Our type is also a bit more common in quirky indie films, but look, I tend to find those hard to watch and decidedly inaccurate. Instead, we’re suggested. Characters like Abed on Community and Sheldon on Big Bang Theory flirt with the spectrum, at times quite strongly.
Both are characters I should stress I really like. In fact, Sheldon’s probably one of the more honest portraits. Many of his issues are very clearly AS. We rarely get the intensity of our issues portrayed as well in fact. He’s also a refreshingly unlikable portrait. There’s nothing cute about him. Abed on the other hand does reflect the more likable side of neuroatypical individuals. He’s an awkward presence with a distinct perspective. Yet, as I noted, both characters aren’t officially Aspies. (1)
And I must admit I really haven’t delved much into the official portraits. I’ve skipped Adam and Mozart and the Whale which looked boring and cliched though Adam’s trailer at least suggested it was close to accurate. (2) I’ve heard good on the stop-motion Mary and Max but honestly it sounds a bit bleak for my tastes. The only AS centered work I suspect I need to experience is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which I hear such greatness about. (2)
Why? Well, when I’ve read books on AS., I usually feel grated on badly. Usually, the tone is unbearably condescending. I hate feeling like I’m some kind of cute thing to be studied. Some of the books written from with our community also suffer from too much familiarity with the subject. I read one written in an IMDB format and it was a neat idea but I admit I found it a hard read.
Maybe that’s because at the end of the day this is our world. I don’t need to be told what my feelings are like. I’d prefer it if I forgot that. Let me get lost in stories of billionaire geniuses who seduce impossible numbers of beautiful women. Escapism does define what I generally read. It’s hard to continually expose myself to the issues I face daily.
I also have to concede I might be too close to the subject to judge. I hate watching most movies set in newsrooms because of how laughably bad they are. Bad depictions of geek culture annoy me. (3) Perhaps I’m like the bomb disposal technician who can’t watch The Hurt Locker because all he sees are the flaws.
So, are there depictions I like? I have seen Rain Man and I think it’s definitely spot on. The handling of routines was accurate. So was the way Raymond freaked out. One scene in particular really unnerved me: the scene where the smoke detector goes off. That hit so close to home I had real trouble watching it. Great film but maybe too accurate at times.
And then there’s the ultimate undiagnosed character. Aspies tend to really connect with Spock and with good reason. Spock is of two cultures. There’s the cold, emotionless Vulcan half of him and the passionate human side. Isn’t that a lot like us? We’re not as deep in autism as those further along the spectrum but we’re not NT either. We’re in a tricky place. Spock often faces challenges dealing with society like us. Of course we claim him. And, if the analogy holds up and I think it does, we shouldn’t forget that Spock wound up at peace with himself as he aged. He found hope. We can too.
I hope that in time we do gain increased visibility. I’d love to see more actual depictions of ourselves on screen. I definitely don’t like the way we’re reduced to a punchline all too often. But, I also suspect I won’t be able to sit through them any more than I do now.
(1) Community does strongly hint at it, even referencing it openly. Not confirmed but really close. Still, they stay outside the definition so he’s unlisted.
(2) This one is also up for debate apparently but it keeps showing up in the canon. I still ought to read it.
(3) The Big Bang Theory does NOT count as a bad depiction! It’s accurate aside from the hilarious all DC comics comic shop.