In this blog I will summarise selected episodes and then show and analyse scenes that depict common autistic experiences. My main focus will be on Abed’s fear of abandonment and his striving for relationships and, well, community.
This blog is wonderful. I’m crying. I am reminded how good it felt watching such fully-developed and compassionate representation. I’m also reminded of the intense feels as Abed processed trauma that hit close to my own experiences.
When I first watched the show, I was thrilled to have found autistic representation, that didn’t make me cringe or feel like I had to correct it all the time. But I soon found out that with accurate representation comes accurate depiction of trauma.
The interpretation of objectivity as neutral does not allow for participation or stances. This uninvolved, uninvested approach implies “a conquering gaze from nowhere” (Haraway 1988). In many ways, claims of objectivity allow one to “represent while escaping representation” (Haraway 1988) and mimics the construction of Whiteness2 in the racialization of marginalized peoples (Battey and Leyva 2016; Guess 2006). Indeed, there is extensive evidence suggesting that STEM cultural norms are traditionally White, masculine, heteronormative and able-bodied (Atchison and Libarkin 2016; Chambers 2017; Eisenhart and Finkel 1998; Johnson 2001; Nespor 1994; Seymour and Hewitt 1997; Traweek 1988). Thus, while purporting to be a neutral application of a generic protocol, science-and STEM more broadly-has a distinct set of cultures that governs legitimate membership and acceptable behaviors. The concept of a meritocracy is often used to justify who succeeds in STEM cultures. However, far from “leveling the playing field”, meritocracies exist in cultural systems that prioritize people who have, or to a lesser extent closely emulate, these traits. Success in science, then, tends to privilege cultural traits associated with the above identities and often marginalizes scientists who can not or will not perform these identities. This introduces structural inequities in the pursuit of science that align with social manifestations of racism, colonialism, sexism, homophobia and ableism (Cech and Pham 2017; Wilder 2014).
I would insist on the embodied nature of all vision and so reclaim the sensory system that has been used to signify a leap out of the marked body and into a conquering gaze from nowhere. This is the gaze that mythically inscribes all the marked bodies, that makes the un-marked category claim the power to see and not be seen, to represent while escaping representation.
That requires some unpacking, but really gets to the heart of it. The “power to see and not be seen” comes up in journalism regarding any reporter reporting on their own community. It comes up in autism research regarding autistic autism researchers and in conversations between autistic parents and parents of autistics.
Every trans journalist who reports on trans issues gets labeled an activist by newsroom managers. https://t.co/mJBxBPMBgQ
Haraway’s “marked bodies” reminds me of “spoiled identities” and the masking required to fit into “cultural systems that prioritize people who have, or to a lesser extent closely emulate, these traits.”
With a pathologized status comes the experience of stigma, dehumanization, and marginalization. Stigma refers to the possession of an attribute that marks persons as disgraced or ‘‘discreditable,’’ marking their identity as ‘‘spoiled.’’ Stigmatized persons may attempt to conceal these spoiled aspects of their identity from others, attempting to ‘‘pass’’ as normal. Investigation of ‘‘passing’’ and ‘‘concealment’’ has been explored in depth in other stigmatized populations; however, the application of stigma in autism research is a relatively new endeavor. Stigma impacts both on how an individual is viewed and treated by others and how that treatment is internalized and interacts with one’s identity.
Maybe someday we’ll get to where we can s/weird/neurodivergent/ in popular media and do so compassionately and authentically, laughing at the deficits of our spiky profiles while celebrating our strengths and whole selves.
Though we don’t get to hear the word autistic aloud, leaving the family’s neurodivergence to headcanon, there’s some great autism rep: stims, special interests, monotropism, hyperfocus, meltdowns, autistic empathy, and more.
I found the following scenes very relatable to neurodivergent family and life (mildly spoiler-ish):
“Hi. Would you like to talk to me about dinosaurs?”
“…we can make ten seconds of unobstructed family eye contact.” [straining]
“After all these years, I’m finally gonna meet my people.”
“These dinosaurs are inaccurate!”
“Check out this pencil topper.” [romantic music plays]
“What would a functional family do right now?”
“Mitchell family on three! Three.”
“Zebulon, scan those people for flaws.”
“Guys, can’t we all just be terrified together as a family.”
“We’re here because we don’t think like normal people.”
“The Mitchells have always been weird, and that’s what makes us great.”
“Don’t hide your feelings, man. That’s no way to live.”
“Just look for anyone who can’t keep it together.”
“They’re pretending to be capable.”
“What kind of maniac has one of those in his pockets at all times? This kind of maniac.”
“Rick, Rick. Let’s not re-litigate this.”
“Sometimes you have to listen to long monologues about Triceratops migration…”
“If this obstinate man could change his programming, we decided we could change ours.”
“I wonder if you could come over and talk about dinosaurs casually sometime!”