Well, hello there Dandelions! So, I dropped the ball with updates. Um. Oops. In my massive list of topics, everything kind of fell by the wayside. Now it’s time to get back on track! And today is another hot button for me as it is for many. Ready?
Getting offended at representation.
Every so often, I come across a YouTube video or article with disabled individuals reacting to disabled characters in works of fiction. More often than not, it’s reacting to those who have physical challenges. I cannot personally speak from that perspective, as my disability is an invisible one.
And there have been outcries to do mentally ill individuals react to mentally ill characters, I never really find one. Which bummer, because holy fuck I have a lot to say.
But here’s the cravat in that. I realize my experience is not the only one out there.
What I believe is helpful, could be another person’s harmful.
I’ve spoken a lot about the portrayal of mental illness in Hollywood (and video games!) But I am just one voice. I am just one experience. And some may agree with my experiences and some may find me way off-base.
I try to understand why some are hurt by certain representations while others love them. I loved the shit out of Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. But fucking detested to the point of outright avoiding M. Night Shyamalan’s Split. And to be perfectly honest, I’m not open to having my mind changed about it. And that’s my failing for not seeing it myself to make an educated opinion.
So, who am I to have an opinion and declare my opinion as gospel? (Because holy Jesus, that seems to be the only testimony of opinions that matter on Facebook, right?)
Let’s break it down. Here’s what I relate to, and here’s where my baseline started.
I was diagnosed at 13, so I had a lifetime of experience to get used to being the butt of an internet joke or a plot point or the typical fictional psychopath.
One of the first films I ever saw with mental illness was Mr. Jones with Richard Gere. My mother actually took me, so we could watch together. I haven’t seen it since, so my memory may be flawed if a re-watch would be utterly painful and insensitive, or if it would hold up. I remember telling my Mom during the movie “That’s me. I do that. That’s me.”
When I got older, and characters like me were always a villain, which was fucking tiring, along came Girl, Interrupted. Which, again, I gave a hard pass on. It was consistently plugged as “that psycho lesbian movie.” And as a person who was in a committed relationship with another woman at the time, I wasn’t so down with a film I was led to believe was sensationalizing my sexuality mixed with mental illness. Basically, going the “Gurl B Cray But Hot” factor.
I’ve seen Silver Linings Playbook all of once. And it is celebrated for its portrayal of bipolar disorder. I did enjoy it quite a lot, save one tiny issue. Everyone yells in the movie. Which I understand dealing with a noisy family, but I’m sensitive to noise. So, I dealt with mild anxiety through the whole thing because everyone was so freaking shouty. If you have issues with shouting, be prepared.
Strangely enough, there are far more films dealing with the autism spectrum or autistic characters at 51 according to Wikipedia than about bipolar disorder at 23 also according to Wikipedia. This isn’t a dig, though, maybe. I’m only human. This is some food for thought.
Someone sadly will always, always find something to complain about. This is unfortunate that people feel this way.
Someone will say, “This is not my experience therefore it’s wrong.”
One of the very first books I ever read from my own publisher was by a well-known author and had a side character with bipolar disorder.
One: Side character. Blech. But okay, I could deal.
Two: The portrayal of my illness…left much to be desired.
To be blunt, I was fucking pissed.
But years have passed and perspective changes things. Just because the author’s portrayal wasn’t my experience doesn’t mean it wasn’t someone else’s. Or even someone the author knew.
It’s been years, and I’ve since met the author and found them to be warm and kind. I discovered one of their children was a huge fan of mine, which was surreal for me.
But I have since forgiven the trespass into my sacred space as it were.
Also, something that’s way not my experience is autism. One such film that deals with autism is the movie Adam. I watched it because the lead is Hugh Dancy, and I’ll watch him play Paper Bag #20 to be fair. But the reaction from the autistic community either found it uplifting or dangerous. There was no in-between.
And that’s kind of where I’m at.
There might be something I find reprehensible, but to someone else, it may mean everything.
And that’s the thing.
Everyone, no matter who you are. No matter your walk of life or ability, wants so desperately see a mirror image of themselves in fiction.
They want an author, director, actor, musician, artist, and any other creator to speak directly to them. Have a story custom made to them.
We all want that.
Think about that statement.
We all want that.
And in all of us wanting to see stories about just ourselves, creatives fail. As a creative, I face the hard reality that I must be everything to everyone.
Meaning a percentage of the audience will be beyond fucking offended and go into Tumblr rants (you so know who you are), some will be ambivalent, and some will 100% see themselves and go on tearful Tumblr epiphanies (again you know who you are.)
It goes to show you that you absolutely cannot please everyone. We resolve to do better, be more inclusive. But of course, along the way we’re going to dick it up. And along the way we may make something great and come back years later and find it utterly culturally insensitive garbage. (Ask me about a two second out of context clip from the Murphy Brown revival. Murphy Brown! You have betwayed my tiny twust!)
Look. Let’s be real.
We’re flawed as fuck. And in our attempts to do better, we’re going to keep fucking it up until it’s right. And while frustrating as it may be, that’s okay.
We may fall twenty times, but we get up on the twenty-first.
So, be kind, be open.
Understand you are a human being with opinions you tout as facts. And be open that what you believe may be skewed until you’re proven otherwise. I’ve learned tons of things while spending 20 minutes on Google to search some asinine thing random person on the internet popped off with and I couldn’t let go of. Actually this post was born from that very thing.