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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Sadly, I think they are trying to. . . get the best of both worlds, so to speak.

If they label the character, they are afraid that non-disabled people can't identify with the character. This is sort of like how EVERYONE is supposed to be able to identify with the straight, white, non-disabled male hero, but minority characters are minority role models. And also they think that a character who definitely has Aspergers/autism then needs to have every single autistic trait out there.

By not labeling, they are able to use just the parts of Aspergers they think make a good story. The characters on your list who I have seen are all portrayed as brilliant yet socially awkward. They have intense interests in their own areas of work/study. Those are considered the interesting and convenient parts of Aspergers and the writers are then free to ignore the rest. None are really given any motor manerisms that's I've noticed - Maura Isles has a somewhat unusual head movement that may count here. They mostly use conventional gestures and eye contact typically. Only Sheldon is shown as having real problems with routine changes. I haven't seen much representation of sensory over- or under-responsiveness in any of them. It's played for laughs that Maura Isles can't lie - in that she breaks out in hives when she does. Not that I want every character to have every single trait, but I do want them to have enough to meet DSM IV-TR criteria.

Sasha Alexander said in an interview that she would like it if Maura DID have Asperger's, because she thinks it would be great to have a character who is obviously intelligent and successful, good at her job, to have Asperger's to show it's not a negative thing.

I have watched Bones for only about five minutes, but the scene I watched showed Brennan turn away from her computer to talk to someone who spoke to her, and I thought, "An Aspie would keep looking at the computer while she talked," though of course not all Aspies are alike.

Matthew Gray Gubler is convinced that his character of Reid has Asperger's, and he has said that he makes an effort to play him as if he does, though I don't know how much he can do that since he doesn't write the script. Some fans have said that the reason Reid is socially awkward is not due to Asperger's but due to the fact that he grew up with a mentally ill mother who never taught him proper social behaviour, as well as being a boy genius.

Hey, I look away from my computer to talk to people. Now I often have to think, "gee, they are expecting me to look away from my computer to talk to them" before I do it and I generally don't look at them for very long, but. . .

The Temperence Brennan character mostly has the social communication symptoms, lack of picking up on social cues and talking in depth about her own areas of interest while missing what other people may be saying, thinking or feeling. I haven't picked up on any routines or repetetive behaviors or non-verbal differences with her beyond that.

I haven't seen Criminal Minds. Brennan has an abusive/neglectful backstory also, and the writing has been inconsistant on if that is the cause of her social struggles or coincidental.

I saw that Sasha Alexander interview too. It's a shame that the producers/writers don't seem to agree with her. Or maybe they will come around.

Also, I see you all over diabetesland and all over disabilityland online. And are one of the few other people I know with diabetes and autism overlap. And I like reading what you have to say in those places. Might I Friend you?

Yes, you may friend me!

Brennan has an abusive/neglectful backstory also, and the writing has been inconsistant on if that is the cause of her social struggles or coincidental.

I remembered another character who is thought to have Asperger's (to the extent that other characters in the show say he has it, though he's never confirmed it) -- Bobby Goren on Law and Order: CI. Goren diagnoses a suspect as having Asperger's, describes the symptoms, and his partner starts saying, "And you know he has it because you have it too?" and others say, "Hey, Goren, is that your long-lost twin?" The interesting thing there is that Goren's mother also has a mental illness, the same as Reid's mother. Both of them have mothers who have schizophrenia.


This is what I was gonna say - they want to have their cake and eat it. The nearest analogy I could think of was with LGBTesque characters. They enjoy the fan buzz of "is he? is she?" without having to do the hard work/face the backlash if they confirmed yes, s/he is.

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