Part 32: Rain, Man!

Hello, and welcome back to The Autistic Writer.

A few days ago, I was given a 30-day ban from the r/autism sub on Reddit, for breaking the rules. The specific rule I broke was that I posted screenshots of unsolicited private messages that had been sent to me on Reddit, from a user who had been active on the r/autism sub. The messages were abusive, threatening actual physical violence and murder, toward myself and to some person identified by a Twitter handle I’ve never heard of before. The screenshots I posted showed the username of the person making the threats. I’m going to post the shots below, but on here, I’m redacting any identifying usernames. Have a look:

It’s pretty disturbing stuff. The thing is, I had no previous interaction with this person. The messages popped into my inbox completely unexpectedly. I also have no idea who the Twitter user is that this person mentions – although I have tried to contact her on Twitter to flag up this torrent of abuse, I haven’t received a reply. Bizarre.

EDIT, 04/04/2021: I have now received a reply from the person whose Twitter handle this abuser quoted. The person is safe, but has been dealing with abusive messages from the abuser for an extended period of time. Hopefully, it will get resolved, and he will be dealt with.

It’s a shame I’ve been banned from r/autism, because I enjoy the interaction on there, usually. By and large, it’s a very supportive community. While I understand the rule about not posting screenshots that identify people, I think that in instances like this, that rule should be waived. A rule that protects the identity of abusers is not a good rule; these people should be publicly shamed.

The relationships and interactions I build on social media are hugely important to me. My particular set of coordinates on the autism spectrum locate me in a place where I find social interaction difficult, and decades of aggressively masking those problems have left me exhausted, and somewhat hollowed out. I find autistic people talk to each other on social media about their difficulties in a very honest, open way. I imagine many autistic people feel, like I do, that it is easier to compare notes about the autistic experience via social media than it is face-to-face. I also find it hugely liberating. I find the same vibe with non-autistic disabled people, and people dealing with serious or chronic illness, too.

I had one interaction on Twitter, answering the question, “Do you experience more sunny days or rainy days in your life?” Here’s the answer I tweeted:

Some people will find my reply a little saddening, perhaps upsetting. It’s probably not nice to hear someone say they are unhappy more than they are happy, but that is just my honest life experience. I’ve mentioned on this blog previously that I don’t think I can experience true happiness in the way many people claim to. That’s not to say I don’t experience pleasure – I do, quite often. I do have positive and enjoyable experiences in life, along with all the stress, unhappiness and anxiety that come with being an autistic person in a neurotypical world.

I get a lot of pleasure from a sense of belonging to an online autistic community that is spread across Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Reddit and WordPress. And there has been a lot of autistic interaction across social media lately, due to the current Autism Awareness Month / Week / Day / whatever.

On Facebook, I came across a “sponsored” advert for some autism-related merchandise, that was a bit unpleasant. Some company was flogging blue sweatshirts with puzzle-piece branding. Two offences for the price of one: blue, for the light it up blue nonsense peddled by Autism Speaks, and the puzzle piece insult, also peddled by you-know-who. Now, autistic people don’t always agree with each other. This may come as a shock to some, but not to actually autistic people, seeing as we know we are individuals with personal world-views. The disagreements in the comment thread attached to this sponsored advert were disappointing, though. There were plenty of autistic people commenting on how offensive the advert was, and rightly so. There was also a deluge of well-meaning but badly informed neurotypicals commenting on how lovely the products were, and how they were going to order some for their autistic niece / cousin / whatever. Some of the neurotypicals engaged with the autistic people, and asked why the advert and products were seen as offensive. And then we had a few – tiny minority – autistic people, who totally backed the products, and indeed, Autism Speaks. Of course, these people are entitled to their opinions, but it seems to me there are good reasons for autistic people to despise Autism Speaks, and the whole puzzle-piece, light it up blue bullshit, and it’s really goes against the grain when people close their eyes to it. I’ve covered Autism Speaks previously in this blog, so I’m not going to rake over it too much again here, but for anyone unfamiliar with the issues, I gave a brief summary in last week’s blog.

Another hot topic online in this Autism Awareness Week was the meta-discussion of autism awareness itself. The notion of raising awareness for any cause or subject has become so cliched these days, it almost feels like parody when you try it. But as I’ve discussed recently on here, autistic people are, I believe, a forgotten minority and awareness does indeed need to raised among the non-autistic population. But understandably, many autistic people are turning away from the #AutismAwareness hashtag, and demanding #AutismAcceptance instead. I’m totally in agreement with the need for autistic people to be accepted by society at large – I’m sick of us being the forgotten minority that is too easy to abuse. (If you want an explanation of what I mean by the forgotten minority, again, I gave a brief summary in last week’s blog.) Personally, I’m going to use the #AutismAwareness tag alongside #AutismAcceptance for a while, simply because at present, #AutismAwareness probably gets more exposure. I’ll fight the fight from within as it were.

And on the subject of fighting the fight… while I have been temporarily banned from r/autism on Reddit, there are other autism subs on there, and feeling a little tongue in cheek, I posted this meme, which garnered a flood of responses…

I was a bit surprised by how much interest the meme attracted. In the comments, there was a bit of banter about an autism uprising, but just the fact that banter emerged tells me a lot about how disaffected many autistic people feel, and how badly we need an upsurge in awareness and acceptance.

Whenever autistic people get talking around Awareness Week / Month time, you can guarantee one subject that will always come up is the movie, Rain Man. There is a lot of frustration, anger, and resentment toward this old Dustin Hoffman / Tom Cruise movie, and this has been crystallised in the wake of the hugely damaging and insulting movie, Music from the pantomime villain-like narcissist and musician, Sia. I think the issue with Sia and her movie has been done to death on social media now, and pretty much anyone reading this blog will already be very familiar with it, so I’m not going to rake over that, either. But what I do want to chat about is this: Does Rain Man deserve the hate it is getting?

Rain Man is a kind of road movie in which neurotypical Charlie Babbitt (Tom Cruise) meets and gets to know his autistic savant brother, Raymond (Dustin Hoffman). As a result of the burgeoning relationship, Charlie Babbitt develops from being a total asshole, to something less than a total asshole. The movie has come in for considerable criticism. The main issues taken with it seem to be:

  1. The movie is inspiration porn.
  2. The character Raymond isn’t actually autistic, and so shouldn’t represent autistic people.
  3. Raymond perpetuates an unhelpful stereotype of autistic people.

Inspiration Porn

The concept of inspiration porn is this: A disabled character is used as a prop or crutch to highlight the development of the non-disabled main character. The disability, and achievement against odds, experienced by the disabled character exists only to allow the non-disabled character to grow, develop and thrive.

This criticism does seem relevant to Rain Man, to some extent. Charlie sees Raymond in a way that forces him to examine his own life, personality and behaviour. Raymond is also used as an object, the ownership of which is fought over. In mitigation of these points, I would say that the performance by Dustin Hoffman should not be underestimated or dismissed. I think this portrayal of Raymond is sensitive, although, ultimately, the character does not go on a developmental arc in the same way Cruise’s character does. So, the sensitive portrayal from Hoffman does not prevent the movie from being inspiration porn, but does kind of cushion the blow a little. For me, this is one of the major differences between Rain Man and Music, in which Maddie Zeigler’s gurning, garish, misguided performance lacks humanity.

Raymond Is Not Autistic

This criticism is a result of a couple of misunderstandings. Many people will argue, Raymond Babbitt wasn’t autistic in the movie – he had savant syndrome. Actually, the character of Raymond is both autistic and a savant, so this criticism doesn’t stand up. One of the reasons people claim Raymond is not autistic is that the character is based on two real people; both of whom may not have actually been autistic. It is widely reported that Hoffman modelled his performance on the behaviours of Kim Peek and Bill Sackter. Peek had been officially diagnosed as autistic, but this diagnosis has since been cast in doubt, and it has been reported that he in fact had FG Syndrome. Sackter, on the other hand, is usually reported to have had intellectual disabilities, rather than having been autistic. Two things to bear in mind here are that both men might still have displayed autistic characteristics, regardless of any diagnoses. But more importantly, Raymond Babbitt is a fictional character, and that character is autistic.

Unhelpful Stereotypes

This criticism has some validity. It is a constant annoyance to me when people trot out phrases like Autism is my superpower. This phrase, and the misguided notions behind it, are well known, and subject to mockery from many autistic people. Funnily enough, I tweeted about this recently, too:

In Rain Man, Raymond has savant mathematical abilities. He also has certain marked physical mannerisms. Both these perpetuate stereotypes: one being that all autistic people are brilliant at maths / have incredible savant abilities, and the other being that all autistic people have marked physical behaviours such as tics or uncontrollable stims. The truth is we don’t all have these superpowers, although some autistic people do have savant abilities… just like some non-autistic people do. The subject of the stims or tics is something that people who don’t have them should really leave well alone; it’s none of their business. But in Rain Man, we have Hoffman acting those behaviours – the same thing Maddie Zeigler and Sia have been criticised for in the horrific Music. Is there a difference? Should Hoffman and Rain Man receive the same criticism? Many would argue yes. Again, though, I would offer some mitigation. Hoffman based his behaviours as Raymond on very specific behaviours he had observed from an allegedly autistic person he had with him, helping him to get it right. And as I have already mentioned, Hoffman brings a certain humanity and authenticity to his portrayal. I also think we have to view Rain Man in its historical context. The movie is 33 years old, and back in 1988, there were no autistic stereotypes; autism simply hadn’t been visible enough in the public consciousness for stereotypes to develop. Looking at it through the lens of 2021, yes, the viewing can be uncomfortable, and you’d like to think that movie could not have been made today with a non-autistic person in the role of Raymond… but the release of Music proves that shit can still happen. My verdict on this is that the stereotype criticism is valid, but due to the historical context, Hoffman’s genuine good will to autistic people, and the fact that the movie did get people talking about autism, we should cut it some slack.

I can’t let this week’s blog pass without mentioning one last thing: On Tuesday I had my second dose of the covid-19 vaccine (Pfizer), and so, obviously, I had to go to social media with this…

On that note, I will bid you a fond farewell. Have a good week, stay safe, and I’ll see you back here next time.

Why do I write this blog?

When I was first diagnosed as autistic, at the age of 54, I quickly learned that there was a serious shortage of information and resources for newly-diagnosed adults.  It’s my aim to inform about autism and autism-related issues as I learn.  I will never hide what I do behind a paywall.  If you like what you read and want to chip in, feel free to “buy me a coffee” by clicking the icon below.

You might also be interested in David Scothern’s blog, Mortgage Advisor on FIRE, which covers a range of topics including mental health issues and financial independence. 

3 thoughts on “Part 32: Rain, Man!

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