Whenever I start to really think about things like culture or how I look at others around me, I start to ask questions. Why do I see people in the manner that I do? How did we reach this point? Are the ways in which I see this person or this group of people fair? Questions like that can keep a philosophical person up at night, and I think it is only fair that these questions get proper exploration.
There is an episode of The Simpsons in which Homer and his bowling team manage to con funds for their efforts out of Homer’s boss. (A quick look around the webs revealed that I am referring to season seven, episode twelve, titled Team Homer.) In this episode, as Homer’s team plays one game, we see them playing a team that, among others, contains a high-pitched, rapid-speaking man with kinky black hair that gesticulates a lot as he speaks. Said team is called The Stereotypes. The Italian chef member of that team, well, he is a stereotype. But the thing is, this sight gag also contained a rare example of when a stereotype is used well.
In order to understand what I am getting at there, it is important to talk about where I think stereotypes come from and why. In this earlier post, I referenced an article by David Wong entitled What Is The Monkeysphere?. In a nutshell, a Monkeysphere is the term that Wong assigns to the limited circle of other people that each individual Human being is able to conceptualise as a person. This point is important to this current gripe about stereotyping because, in effect, stereotyping is one of the many means by which a Human being deals with individuals that are outside of their own Monkeysphere. In fact, that is pretty much the point I am wanting to make here.
A good stereotype is good because it is generally lighthearted and has some relationship, however small, with the truth. The Simpsons stereotype called Groundskeeper Willy, for example, is funny even to people who have Scottish relatives or are Scottish themselves because after a fashion, there really are Scottish men who resemble the character. And I do not mean a tangental, less than one percent fashion, either. Although not every Scotsman sounds like that, enough of them sound exactly like that that it makes the joke seem funny, even clever at times (depending to a certain degree on the dialogue that is being delivered).
Positive stereotypes also depend a bit on context, or so I think. Around places like the one that my male parental unit worked in during my childhood, words like “wog” flied about as freely as actual coarse language. Thing is, the men in that factory worked together on a very regular basis, and saw each other very regularly. So when the Scottish-descended folks like my male parental unit addressed their Italian or Maltese-descended co-workers as “wog”, it was not a verbal attack or derision. It was a light-hearted jab that the “wogs” were expected to return, and return it they did.
To give some idea of what I mean, I am going to provide specific examples of when I do use verbal attacks or derisions, and what they mean. If I call a person a “passive”, for example, I want them to take it mean that I think they would sit idly by whilst their children or significant others are being raped in front of them. If you have read enough of my work already, you know of several examples of what I mean when I spit out the word “passive” in a similar manner to how others spit out words like “slut” or “whore”. If you have read enough of my work, you will know that when I call someone a retard, often with conjunctive expletives, I mean that in the truest sense of the word’s actual meaning. Let me concrete that by offering the following definitions from dictionary.reference.com:
1. (verb, used with object) to make slow; delay the development or progress of (an action, process, etc.); hinder or impede.
2. (verb, used without object) to be delayed.
3. a slowing down, diminution, or hindrance, as in a machine.
4. Slang: Disparaging .
a. a mentally retarded person.
b. a person who is stupid, obtuse, or ineffective in some way: a hopeless social retard.
5. Automotive, Machinery . an adjustment made in the setting of the distributor of an internal-combustion engine so that the spark for ignition in each cylinder is generated later in the cycle.
As you can see, I consider the people who cry “waaah, dun use the arrr-wurd” to be, well, pretty retarded. The fact of the matter is that when I do use that word, and I can assure you that I will use it, I am using it in the most correct sense possible. If I tell you that my sense of smell is retarded, for example, I am telling you that my sense of smell is diminutive, hindered, possibly even slow, and I mean that to the point where you can hold seconds-old shit under my nose without my olfactory nerves registering a thing. But when I use it in reference to people, I mean something exceptionally nasty. I tend to mean that the person in question is hindering the rest of the Human species through the mechanism of expecting everyone else to slow down to their level. Classic examples of this include… well, the entire population of Queensland, pretty much.
But I am getting off-track here. I have just described why I use a descriptive term that is accurate, not why I am rambling about stereotypes. You see, advertisers, salesmen, and people who write fiction in any form for a living, know the power and value of stereotypes. I could go on all day about all kinds of stereotypes, but for the purposes of this discussion, I am going to limit it to a very specific kind of stereotype. The stereotype of the autistic.
Every culture of individuals that I consider to be an enemy for whatever reason has a stereotype that they wish to force upon the autistic. Curebies and groups thereof like Autism Speaks have the Rain Man stereotype, a sinister exaggeration that bears as much relation to reality as the majority of American television. So-called “geek culutre” has this peculiar stereotype where everyone who is not a homoerotic bodybuilder or sports star is some kind of nerd, or “geek” stereotype, that thinks nothing of buying the life-size model used in the 1960 film The Time Machine and putting it in their living space. Certain others, fragments of the curebie movement, essentially, have this peculiar and stereotypical idea that the autistic are perpetual children who stay children, or even infants, forever. Or vanish into thin air when we reach our eighteenth birthday. Take your pick, obviously. All of these options are highly disingenuous, but possibly their worst quality is that they are “designed” with malice aforethought. Unlike the positive stereotype examples I have used, such as the “mama mia”-exclaiming Italian man, these stereotypes have a specific purpose when they are shared.
You see, as I stated, stereotypes are a byproduct of how we respond when we encounter people who are outside of our Monkeysphere. Remember how the Monkeysphere was summarised, too. It is the absolute limit of how many other Human beings we are able to conceptualise as Human beings. Or, I should say, as people, real and whole. The reason that the curebies use stereotypes to represent the autistic in the media that they have control of, whether it be direct control like in Autism Speaks advertisements or indirect control such as idiots in the media who think they have a social conscience, is because we are not in their Monkeysphere. We are not people to them. We are not even sentient animals to them. We are nothing more than slabs of meat that they wish to be excused to poke, prod, or otherwise torture, as they please.
But the game has also changed since the 1980s. Diverting from the topic for a moment, I have to wonder how differently the game would be playing today if Hans Asperger‘s research had been found with all of the documentation and evidence that the Allies recovered. Because what we live with now is the result of more than half a century of the curebies’ side of the story being the only one heard.
As I just said, the game has changed since the 1980s. Autism Speaks and the rest of the curebie brigade cannot be the gatekeepers of how autism or people on the autistic spectrum are depicted anymore. For one thing, the accidental good portrayals of the autistic that have been occurring for much of the past half-century are being brought to the attention of the unwashed public out there in increasing amounts. When they try to claim for us that nobody has portrayed autistic adults better than in Rain Man or Big Stereotype Theory, we can simply counter by saying “it was called Blade Runner, and it was released in 1982″. Hell, we can go back even further and cite examples with names like Midnight Cowboy (in which Dustin Hoffman also stars, ironically, and was released in 1969).
So the answer, essentially, lies in more stereotypes. Of course, this is not the only prong in their strategy. It cannot be, because they know full well that their control of what is seen in the media is waning. This has been the case ever since Asperger’s Syndrome was added to the Diagnostic And Statistical Manual Of Mental Disorders in 1994. So whilst we cannot limit our focus in terms of counter-strategy to media, stereotypes, or how the two work together, we can accomplish much if we keep the media and stereotypes in mind as we work to counter the curebies. The scale of effort being made to redefine autism to exclude autistic people who are perfectly capable of doing most of the basics for themselves (like myself) speaks to the importance of division in the strategy. By dividing us, they can conquer us.
We already have great divisions in the autism civil rights movement. That is perfectly natural because, contrary to what the curebies would like to convince everyone else of through stereotyping, we are not all identical. With 46.66 million of us in the world (realistic, not scaremonger estimate), how can we be? This is why we need governments like those of Australia, the United States, and the United Kingdom, to recognise and ratify a bill of rights for the autistic. And by the autistic, I mean autistic individuals of every stripe, not just whichever fragment of the autistic population is convenient to any side of the argument.
One essential component of a bill of rights is the right of response. This means that all media, not just television, must be subjected to what is described as a Fairness Doctrine. That is, every time a piece of media relating to autism is broadcast, simulcast, distributed in theatres, or printed, one more more publishers must devote an equal amount of time, pages, or disc space to whatever the autistic have to say about it. And no, do not tell me it has to work both ways, curebies. You have had your run of unchallenged, unhindered media access for more than my lifetime. Our right of response is inextricably linked with our right to live like actual people, and thus overrides your right of… well, anything.
I am not going to kid you that I am a saint here. There have been times in the past when I have thought of people in stereotypical fashion. The people in question have been ones outside of my usual experience (this is partly the point). As I have hinted, I am a man who grew up in a neighbourhood populated by English, Scottish, and various European or Asian folk, or descendants thereof. Sure, it is a small window, a limited window, but compared to the view that people who have only grown up with people of the same race or society that they were born to be part of. It is one thing to make a unilateral statement about or on the behalf of a group you have no experience of. It is another thing entirely to do as Suzanne Wright has done, and proclaim that you are completely unaware of any of them acting in opposition to you.
So when you are confronted with a depiction of any group, no matter how outside of your experience that group may well be, you need to ask yourself questions. How much does that depiction tell you about the group? I mean, really tell you? And who is doing the telling? Is it a person from that group? Is it a person speaking to members of that group? Is that person allowing the members to speak freely, for themselves? Or is he guiding their answers by whatever means? These are just a sample of the questions that you need to ask about what you are seeing.
This is why stereotypes are like firearms. Put them in the hands of a person who is ill-educated in their power, and disaster will follow as surely as night follows day.