Friday, October 21, 2011

You Do Realize That Disorder Exists?

Okay, I've got a problem with story writers who take mental illnesses or atypical conditions and then play with them like they're myths that have no relation to the real world and real people. I'm cool with the idea of taking some myth about something like vampires and building a story around the undead because the undead don't exist in real life. However, these stories that deal with fantastic elements on that level sometimes include variations on real atypical mental conditions as if they were just public domain stories anyone could mess around with.

This happens an awful lot with autism. They can't just be neuroatypical; they have to be vessels for God/aliens/etc. A specific example is Kevin Blake from Eureka, whose autism isn't really autism but some connection to the pseudo-scientific BS of the show. He later uses his savant powers to rewrite reality so he gets to be a normal kid in a different timeline. Yeah, not at all condescending. Then in Eli Stone, there's an autistic kid whose unfathomable actions are actually a message from God to Eli as opposed to God's normal hallucation method of communication. Because autistic people can't just be people whose mindsets are hard for neurotypicals to understand.

There's that synesthesia thing. Heroes decided they'd give deaf woman Emma the power to experience sound waves visually. Only, that's not a superpower. They might have just given her hearing back, maybe made it advanced like the mechanic from the first season. This would have at least followed the example of Daphne gaining superspeed to compensate for a walking disability. Technically, it's revealed that Emma's power is "enhanced synesthesia", tied into her proficiency with musical instruments and ability to create destructive sound waves. Why not call it sound manipulation and have the synesthesia just be synesthesia? I also suspect its name came from Heroes Wiki's title for the article as a bit of Ascended Fanon, but wiki consensus temporary titles are not always very illustrative. Then Alphas, which I swear is a Heroes rip-off more than another X-Men rip-off, has Rachel, whose power to enhance her senses is referred to as synesthesia. They didn't even bother to learn what the word meant. I figure they just read "enhanced synesthesia" in a list of powers on the Heroes Wiki and decided for themselves that it meant "ability to sense really well".

Then there are fictional concepts more ingrained in culture such as demons who possess people. Brian Dunning, who makes the excellent podcast Skeptoid, denounced horror stories about demonic possession because they exploit people with schizophrenia, who are often victimized by religious nuts trying to exorcize them. I'll quote his thoughts on the subject: "Would the same movies have been made exploiting the victims of other true-life crimes, and would we have laughed at the depictions of those actual victims in their dramatized death throes? For some reason, exorcism seems to have been given a pass, on the mistaken presumption that it is the victim who is the monster. These victims are often critically ill individuals — they may have medical or psychiatric problems that need treatment — they deserve neither to be tortured, killed via negligent manslaughter, nor to have their ordeal glorified as some kind of pop-culture horror story." I have similar issues with witches as villains. These images come from destructive religious ideology that (literally) demonizes others and has a history of violence associated with that belief.

Sociopaths also get this treatment. I'm not offended on their behalf so much as just annoyed at another manifestation of this trend where neurotypical writers think that all of the DSM is there for inspiration. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Phillip K. Dick (adapted into Blade Runner) pretty much casts androids as the strange sociopaths few humans can understand, and though he acknowledges real sociopathy, it seems like he took the general concept and turned it into a bogey man figure that can only exist in a future world. Other stories have it that sociopaths are ordinary people possessed by demons and stuff like that. Angel implies that sociopaths are humans born without souls.

The whole phenomenon bothers me. It plays up the idea that there are normal people and that this is the proper state of being and that any deviation from that is so unusual that it must be the result of extraordinary occurence. The concept of neurodiversity is seen as too boring, and there has to be demons or magic or aliens or divine involvement. It basically ignores the existence of neuroatypical people in order to make entertainment to appeal to neurotypical people, and I think that's often quite offensive.

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