Film and lit crit about disability

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Asperger's, or lack of same, on TV
autistic spectrum beauty
rainbow_goddess wrote in crip_crit
There are many TV characters who people suspect of having Asperger's Syndrome -- Maura Isles in Rizzoli and Isles; Spencer Reid in Criminal Minds; Dr. Brennan in Bones; Sheldon in The Big Bang Theory. Yet even when they show all the signs, none of them is identified as actually having Asperger's, other than a brief throwaway line by an UNSUB on Criminal Minds that mentioned Reid as being on the autism spectrum.

The only time I can recall an adult character on primetime TV was actually identified as having Asperger's, Jerry on Boston Legal, his Asperger characteristics were exaggerated to ridiculous levels, he was turned into comic relief, and they conflated Asperger's with other conditions such as Tourettes Syndrome and implied that it is common for people with Asperger's to have a sexual fixation on objects when a girlfriend of Jerry's left him because she "fell in love with an iPhone."

I'm wondering why the characters are given all of these Asperger-like characteristics but not said to have Asperger's. Is it because writers think that all scientists are geeky/nerdy/socially awkward? Is it because if the character is suddenly identified as having AS, then the writers/producers are afraid that they won't be able to poke fun at the character anymore because "he/she has a disability"? Are they afraid that the audience won't like the character anymore? Is it just a lack of awareness -- not enough people know what Asperger's is, so they won't use the word in the show?

It really puzzles me why so many characters are given characteristics that are so obviously Asperger-like yet the producers of the show won't use the actual identification.

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I agree that it's weird, because Bones in particular shows lots of different scientists, so it's obviously not that they're writing "all nerds are like this". I believe the producers of Bones have said in interviews that they write Brennan with Asperger's, so I have no idea why they won't actually say so in the show. They could have a perfectly good Watsonian explanation for most of the characters - Isles and Brennan might be too old (and too female) to ever have got a formal diagnosis, Reid is terrified of any kind of what he sees as mental illness - but that doesn't take care of the Doylist explanation!

I was going to mention this, that they've said in interviews that Brennan has Aspergers. It's also been suggested for the character Zach Addy, which I agree with, and Lance Sweets, which I'm not sure about. Anyway, Brennan is my age, and I'm fairly sure I have friends my age who have been diagnosed with Aspergers.

The depiction of Jerry in Boston Legal really bothered me as well. It was often sympathetic, but that doesn't stop the problem that it was being played for laughs. Admittedly everything is played for laughs in that show, but the Alzheimers "mad cow" plot seemed more sensitively handled to me.

Edited at 2012-06-09 11:00 am (UTC)

I agree with Dr. Brennan and Zach Addy but not Lance Sweets.

The people my age (mid-30s) who have been diagnosed were all evaluated as adults, mostly because we were seeking answers about ourselves or having continued problems functioning at work or graduate school. Since Asperger's wasn't labeled as a diagnosis until 1994, most of us either didn't come to attention earlier or did but were labled with other things (ADHD, depression, anxiety, just weird) So for a TV character our age to have an Aspergers diagnosis, either the character themself or those around them need to believe there is a problem and seek out a professional evaluation. (Evaluations can also be hard to find and expensive, although expensive is not a barrier for either Temperance Brennan or Maura Isles, at least.)

Except for one episode I can recall where Dr. Brennan asks Dr. Sweets to help her read people better, she generally isn't written as percieving herself as having a problem

(Deleted comment)
Well, they still do that with gay characters, and especially bi characters, who remain under-represented, poorly written and so forth. But they do it less often than they used to, and they do it furtively. They are at least aware that they would be in a lot of trouble if they made parallel announcements about LGBT characters. There was quite a fuss when Rowling casually mentioned that Dumbledore was gay, for instance.

Reid is smart enough to know that Asperger's is NOT a mental illness. He might even be relieved that he doesn't have schizophrenia like his mother, as people who are autistic and people who have schizophrenia often have similar problems with social skills, etc.

Edited at 2012-06-09 07:51 pm (UTC)

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