"[I]f I had to live my life again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week…The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature." --Charles Darwin

Monday, February 21, 2011

Is Asperger's becoming fashionable?

Autisum made its first splashy appearance in pop culture back in 1988 with Rain Man, then subsided in a flurry of jokey references to counting toothpicks and watching Wheel of Fortune. But it seems to be undergoing a revival of attention in the entertainment media as of late, what with the obsessive-compulsive detective, Monk; one of the children on Parenthood, HBO's Temple Grandin (which is of course the true story of a woman who describes herself as a recovering autistic), Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory, and the BBC's updating of Holmes and Watson simply titled Sherlock, in which the title character appears to be aware of his diagnosis and attempts to take positive steps toward more standard socialization.

A few seasons ago, Boston Legal clearly bungled with its Asperger's character, sending him completely off the rails and given to random violent threats, despite a rather meek nature. But the current crop seems to be more acceptable to those familiar with the disorder, and in the case of Sheldon Cooper, quirky enough to be entertaining, but not so difficult as to be intolerable.

The good side of this is obvious: mainstreaming any deviation from the norm makes that deviation seem more familiar and comfortable, and those who possess the deviation or more likely to be accepted and understood. But sometimes these things are picked up for a while, distorted by the media and then dropped. PTSD is in danger of becoming a narrative shorthand which transforms into the old old trope: Deranged War Veteran Who May Blow Up and Take You With Him, which has been around at least since the First World War and perhaps longer.

Let's hope the heat around autism generally and Asperger's in particular produces light on the subject and promotes understanding of the syndrome and the people affected by it; and that it doesn't, like so many rapidly heated objects, just dissipate the energy into coolness, or else spark into something unanticipated, such as a new kind of character-typing for lazy writers and producers. Meantime-- *knock**knock**knock* "Leonard"*knock**knock**knock* "Leonard"*knock**knock**knock* "Leonard" -- you better answer the door. Sheldon's waiting.

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