Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Are we ready for Autistic humor?

       A little self-deprecating humor can be therapeutic for both society and the individual. Instead of responding to stigmas and stereotypes with blind defensiveness it's a way to desensitize people and can do a lot to promote tolerance in a round-about way. So far I haven't heard that much in the way of Autism/Aspergers jokes as they may be walking a thin line at this point. I did find a excellent article today analyzing this issue and if you read it the rest of this post will make sense.
       As I am also Italian-American I am familiar with Italian jokes and I usually tend to enjoy them whether I relate to them or not. Some of them are a little tired and cliche, but I can't say I have ever been refused a job or put on the back of a bus for my ancestry. A century ago things were not as pretty, and Hollywood has done it's share to portray the dark side of Italian culture, but at the same time Hollywood has been a mixed blessing for Italians. It has also showed the good side to the culture and even in the "Mafia" type movies, the "dark" side of the culture has been romanticized. I noticed how many times the "bad" guys are represented by heart throbs and carried a strange mystique. By later in the century Italians no longer had to Anglicize their names and it became trendy and exotic to be Italian. I can't even say I'm offended by the word "guido" as it only refers to a specific East-Coast USA rooted subculture and not really a racial slur. The immensely popular Mtv reality series "Jersey Shore" stirred up a huge uproar about Italian-American stereotypes in the media. I wasn't sure what to think at first, but the Social Science major in me took it as an opportunity to try to find some meaning in all the chaos. The show is about a working-class rooted subculture among Italians that I might not necessarily relate to, but I grew up in the Northeast and am somewhat familiar with it. The exaggerated, raunchy, melodramatic and eccentric behavior on the show cause people to have a love/hate relationship with it. After a while it got so over-the-top that people were treating the show like an addictive train wreck. From what I've seen the characters don't seem like bad people at all, but some of the behavior was pretty low-brow and everything most respectable Italian parents would not want their children to be like. What made it somewhat more tolerable is that they didn't take themselves too seriously and there was a decent self-deprecating sense of humor. Italians can be self-deprecating in their humor but perhaps not as much as other ethnic groups. Overall I don't feel that the show made it any more difficult to be Italian as America is more familiar at this point, but 50 years ago it may have been a different story. Before anyone rolls their eyes I have a reason I am using this as a parallel. People are not as familiar with Autism and the wrong joke taken the wrong way can not only offend people, but it can promote misunderstandings and be taken out of context.
       The article in the link about addressed a show called "Glee" which I am not familiar with. I don't even watch that much TV. According to the article this show had a girl on it with self-diagnosed Aspergers and was rude and difficult to deal with. I can't read the intentions of the shows writers, however I wonder if such a show is using humor to hint a scepticism about the reality of Aspergers and to make it look like it's something people use as a "get out of jail for free card". I'm not saying that never happens as people have used ADHD and Bipolar in the same way- although those conditions are indeed real. I don't imply that Autistics are never culpable for their actions, that has more to do with the individual and only God knows for sure. I also don't imply that Autistic people should be getting away with murder because they're Autistic however, I think more often than not the opposite is true. This is where I'm going to refer back to "Jersey Shore" and reality stars in general. If an Autistic person in real life displayed half the behavior that is glamorized on these shows, it would be a huge issue and people's reactions would be quite negative. While I know plenty of people also get appalled by the behavior on reality shows. They still come out with a level of respect from the public that a decently behaved Autistic person would never get away with. The same goes for the mentally challenged or other labeled people, If they were to throw temper tantrums and fist fight it would be dealt with as a "behavior" or at least immature, while in other people it is portrayed as hyper-masculinity, glamorous, and a part of their aesthetic. It's a double standard. Generally Autistic people follow the rules, and that includes the unwritten ruled if they have learned and understand them. Other people can do all the opposite get far more respect in the long run. I understand TV is just TV and I question how much of reality TV is scripted, however I see this in real life. We all know a few "I tell it like it is" people. Many times they can dish out the truth but cannot take it but that's beside the point. A lot of people pride themselves on their directness and can get away with saying all sorts of crude, rude, irreverent, and politically incorrect things. They take pride in thinking that they don't care who they offend and oddly enough they usually don't offend people. Sometimes people find everything they say cute, witty or funny. Many times they do offend people when they cross a certain line but no one loses respect for them in the long run. People cool off and say "He's a character- he/she tells it like it is". I don't necessarily mind direct people, sometimes their transparency makes them simpler to get along with then polite people. I just find myself thinking "If I said something even half that blunt I'd be burned at the steak". Autistic people have faults just like anyone else, but sometimes we just lack the charisma, the aesthetics, the timing, the quick wit, or the charm to make our vices "cute" and forgivable. On top of this people tend to be most harsh in judging their own vices when they see it in others. Also Hollywood tends to romanticize "bad guys" but not "geeks". Perhaps people need bad guys since they make us feel a little better about ourselves and good people feel they need a foil to their character.
       As for Autistic jokes it's only a matter of time until we see "You know you have Autism, when..." lists. Hopefully they will be respectful and if they are I may even laugh.

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