About maybe two years ago, when I received confirmation that ( as I suspected) my cute little boy is afflicted with autism, the wonderful Sigourney Weaver (forget Ripley - her Tombstone will read Gwen's Galaxy Quest line My TV Guide interview was 6 paragraphs on my boobs and how they fit into my uniform!) talked to a magazine about her experience researching her role of an autistic woman for Snow Cake - and dared mention that those people are great fun to be with.
It didn't take long before someone reacted overtly and publicly with indignation. I made the unwise move of engaging via a movie message board such a person, who claimed high and dry that Mrs Weaver was a liar and didn't know what raising a "poop flinging" autistic child was like. The one thing I learned from that mostly fruitless exchange is that Autism exists on many different levels. Some need more care and attention than others. Some will seem devoid of any emotion and interest. Some are like Justin. My son. I won't launch into a psychoanalysis of the little one, but let's just say he IS great fun, and I'm endlessly proud of him.
Cut to last week. One of the very few and rare TV shows I allow myself to follow is Dennis Leary's Rescue Me, about a Firefighting Irish in post-9/11 New York. One of the many story lines in the series has womaniser Franco in love with a woman who has a mentally challenged brother. We don't know what he has exactly, we just know he's..well..slow. From my and others' point of view, "Richie" is most likely autistic.
So imagine my surprise when this little turd of a message board crusader launches into a multi-paragraphed bashing of the show for its portrayal of what he called "mentally ill" - I don't consider my son ill in any way, douche bag - as a disgusting and demeaning cliche. Richie, it so happens, has great comedic timing; he's really funny. NEVER, in any scene, did I see actor Cornell Womack fall into vaudeville and goof out in character. He shows tremendous reserve, great complexity, and he STILL manages to be funny.
Which begs the question. If Justin, whose temper tantrums can shatter nerves with the best of them, and whose constant unrelenting energy -especially when using my bed as a trampoline- would rival any Olympic athlete's stamina, were to be portrayed AS IS on television, he would be far more clichéd than Richie. Would the gentleman, and that lady before him, be even MORE offended??? Of course they would. But why? Because they don't know what they're talking about? Never, will they answer - everyone knows someone who knows someone who had a child with a deficiency. So again, why???
Because what offended Mr Marsh - yeah, I'm using your name dip shit - and that lady, and legions like them is SEEING a mentally challenged character on their beloved Idiot Box. No one, who was pampered into thinking that "not normal" is not good at all, wants to see that. So from the gentleman's remarks, I should be ashamed of loving and caring for my son, and publicly at that. It's what I call the Ostrich syndrome; if you hide your head in the sand and ignore it, it'll go away and can't affect you in any way.
Creating the character of Richie was a risk for Leary and writing partner Peter Tolan. But they took the risk because they believe the Ostrich Syndrome is an hypocrisy that deserves to be shattered. Leary, who cracked me up to the point of tears in The Ref, gained a few more notches in my book of respect. If you can't deal with it, don't blame the people who try to. THAT, Mr Marsh, is the greatest offense. And YOU should be ashamed.
And by the way, Snow Cake, from my hands-on experience - 90% accurate. AND it's a great movie. Beat that with a stick.