Okay, I’ve had my good night’s sleep, and I’m ready to wade back into the fray. Yes, I’ve gotten triggered in a big way by all the brouhaha around “To Siri With Love”. But that’s not a bad thing, in itself.
I’m of a slightly different mindset about triggers than a lot of people I know. I don’t necessarily avoid them, or think they’re bad things. I mean, the whole experience is sucky, yeah. But that’s an experience I’m having. It’s not the real deal. And depending on my state of mind/body from one day to the next, I can have either an extreme (and borderline debilitating) response to something, or I can be like, “Meh… whatever.” And that tells me I shouldn’t structure my life around avoiding things that potentially trigger me, ’cause, well, just about anything and everything can trigger me, so what am I s’pposed to do? Just never do anything? Never go anywhere? Never read anything or watch anything? I can’t do that! I’ve gotta live my life! There’s so much to experience and explore and learn! I can’t be held back by fear or anxiety, even if it tears the living crap out of me (literally) at times.
Now, I do draw the line at horror and overtly, intentionally cruel violence done to people and animals. I won’t subject myself to that. It’s way more work to overcome, than it’s worth, so I avoid media about that as much as possible. That includes zombies. I’m really not a fan of The Walking Dead and other zombie movies where humans are forced to fight for their lives against the flesh-eating undead. And I don’t much care for the zombie themes in Game of Thrones. That’s put me off the show.
Here’s a weird thing — I feel a strange compassion for zombies, and I don’t think t.v. shows about destroying them is good entertainment. The whole dynamic just doesn’t entertain me. Maybe it’s because the threat of zombies, while real and justified in those dramas, seems to reside very much in people’s minds. It’s the thought of what zombies can do to you that terrifies people and prompts them to fight them. It’s the look of them, the fact of their existence, that sparks the violent reaction.
If zombies didn’t care about us at all, and just went about their own business, I think people would still be inclined to kill them. Because they make people uncomfortable. Zombies are unattractive. Herky-jerky. Hungry. Uncouth. They’re an expression of our dark side — and what nobody ever wants to become. And since they’re not even technically human anymore, of course, they’re open season to anyone with a rocket launcher.
It’s funny. I don’t even like zombies. The whole concept seems overblown and contrived. I went to see the “Night of the Living Dead” sequel “Dawn of the Dead” in college, in one of those massive outdoor movie theaters they set up on the quad, with hundreds and hundreds of chairs for all of us to sit down. I don’t remember much about the movies, other than the fact that I watched it and I rapidly went into sensory overwhelm and pretty much shut down. After all, the speakers were really loud, the sound quality was shite, the quad was full of people, and it was outdoors, an unfamiliar setting for watching a movie. I couldn’t relax at all. At first, that seemed cool, but then it got to be too much for me.
I stuck it out, though, and I completed watching the film. Then I did the requisite thing of hanging out with friends afterwards and comparing notes on the movie… insofar as you can compare notes on a zombie movie.
Anyway I digress. Or do I? It seems to me, the drama around “To Siri With Love” is the rough equivalent of a zombie movie playing out in the autistic community.
It applies in both directions — on the one hand, we autistic folks don’t seem to be considered 100% human in the neurotypical way. We’re considered gadflies and whiners, “developmentally delayed” malcontents who can’t take a joke, or even understand that there was a joke. After all, we’re autistic, so if we identify as such, we’re proclaiming that we’re diagnostically less-than, disadvantaged by our own admission. Autism is still considered a capital-D Disorder. Sigh. Forget about differences. Forget about divergent developmental profiles. The diagnostic manuals don’t provide much insight there. So, if we willingly “admit” that we’re autistic, we’re proclaiming our Disordered status — and that in itself is viewed askance by a society that prizes and rewards “normalcy” above all else. If you’re willing to admit you’re Disordered, that’s even more damning than the supposed Disorder, itself.
Maybe we should start just referring to ourselves as 299.00 (F84.0). That’s the DSM-V billing code.
On the other hand, the autistic community has its own villains. There’s the dehumanizing publisher, HarperCollins, that put the book out. There’s the whole system that kicked into gear to take the book from concept to marketable commodity. A whole lot of work went into this project over the course of years, and yet, nobody thought it was a bad idea? Everybody was fine with “joking” about a young boy’s prospective sex life, revealing personal details that will easily disqualify him from prospective employment when hiring professionals Google him, and a mother openly discussing her plans for taking legal control over his body and sterilizing him (maybe temporarily, but even so).
That didn’t raise a flag for anybody?
Seriously, what were they thinking? How did that book even make it to print in its current form? A whole boatload of people are pathologically clue-deficient, when it comes to basic decency, in my not-so-humble opinion.
And then there’s the oblivious author, who seems quite comfy in her echo-chamber-y corner of the world, where everybody gets her jokes, and she’s a hero, not a villain. I have to wonder what it’s like to live in a world where none of what she’s done or said has any consequence at all. In all honesty, what I see — rather than a Terrible Person who’s abusing her son (I haven’t finished the book, so I can’t speak to that for sure, yet, tho’ I do see some trouble spots) — is someone who’s been sheltered and provided for and shielded from the very dire realities faced by autistic folks who are a lot less well-off than she. And when I say “well-off”, I mean in terms of money, connections, buffering from the stupidities and brutalities of life, and general acceptance of who she is by an environment full of admirers (and not a few flatterers).
Judith Newman has been called all sorts of names, but ultimately, I think she just has no idea what she’s done. She’s also afraid to confront it. She was afraid to confront her son’s diagnosis (she said so), and she lost some really valuable data about what makes him how he is, in the process. She doesn’t have enough information to be making all the statements she’s made (but again, the publisher didn’t exactly stop her), and yet she forges onward, defending her right to say / write / publish / reinforce exactly the kinds of misinformation that makes it impossible for me to disclose my autism at work, and thus actually worsens already challenging conditions. Her refusal to educate herself, and then jump up on a “lived experience” soapbox to draw attention to her pervasive clue deficit, makes the world a lot less safe for folks who can actually be harmed by attitudes shaped by her limited world view and experience. She seems more comfortable in Paris, than she is in the America she’s helping to create. She can fly away, anytime. But the rest of us have to live here, in the world she’s helping to shape according to her (limited) sensibilities.
So, both sides have their Enemy in this drama. And that simplifies things, doesn’t it? The author and publisher can look at us as major buzzkills who are impacting their bottom line out of ill-mannered spite and SJW fervor. And the autistic community has another example of WTF is Wrong with the neurotypical world, and how it really can (and does) hurt us.
I, for one, am willing to walk the line between the two sides and examine both critically. I’m also willing to view myself critically, understanding (of course) that I don’t have all the answers, either, and in Newman’s shoes, I could easily create something that does some damage to someone, somewhere. Mwahahaha. Both sides in this kefuffle have their hurts — right, wrong, or imaginary — and they’ve gathered their compatriots to support their sides, but I think there’s much more to be gained from stepping back and really studying this situation. We can learn a lot about what’s wrong with the current popular climate around autism, and we can pinpoint specific things that need to be addressed.
Newman’s book is a veritable treasure trove of indicators of what needs to change, what needs to be informed, what needs to be directly addressed. As long as we get hung up on the hurt, we can’t think clearly. And we sure as hell are not going to make a substantive difference in changing that sh*t into something useful.
This is more than a zombie movie. It’s an opportunity. What we choose to do with it, is our business. Everybody can do what they like. I plan to do something constructive about it.
Let’s fix this shit.