The Fictional Spectrum: Scorpion

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This TV season, there were three shows I was excited about: The Flash, Constantine, and Scorpion. I’ll be talking about The Flash later in June, but for now, let’s talk about Scorpion.

Scorpion follows the adventures of a crack team of geniuses recruited by agent Cabe Gallo (played by Robert Patrick of Terminator 2: Judgment Day fame). The team is headed by Walter O’Brien (played by Elyes Gabriel. It should be noted that Walter is a real person the show was inspired by), who has an IQ of 197, higher than Albert Einstein’s IQ of 160, as relayed in the show’s opening monologue.  When he was a little boy, Walter hacked into NASA’s computers for blueprints for a rocket, which he wanted as a poster. He was caught and imprisoned, which is when he met Gallo. Gallo became a surrogate father to him and he later formed Scorpion to assist Gallo.  The rest of the team is a follows:

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Sylvester Dodd (Ari Stidham): A “human calculator” who is proficient in statistical equations and is also a grandmaster at chess.
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“Happy” Quinn (Jadyn Wong): A whiz at machines. She had a bad childhood and it makes her somewhat hostile towards others.
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Toby Curtis (Eddy Kaye Thomas) An expert psychologist who specializes in the criminal mind. He also seems to enjoy pushing everyone’s buttons, especially Walter’s and Cabe’s.
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The cast is rounded out by two “unofficial members of the team. One is Paige Dineen, a friend of Walter’s. She has a son named Ralph. Unlike the others, Paige does not have an advanced mind. As Walter says in the opening monologue, “Paige isn’t like us. She’s normal.” She is there to help the heroes cope with the world around them which is designed for people of normal intelligence.
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It is Ralph and Walter that I want to talk about. In the pilot, we see that Ralph shows signs that he may be autistic. He is withdrawn from others, usually speaking only to his mother. But in the same scene which introduces him, Ralph is playing chess with Sylvester, using saltshakers for the pieces. Despite the fact that Ralph is much younger than Sylvester, we see that Ralph has checkmated him in eight moves. This is an indication that Ralph is a highly intelligent boy, especially since Sylvester himself is a grandmaster. It is not stated anywhere in the scene that Sylvester is accommodating for Ralph’s age, so it is safe to assume that Ralph has genuinely bested him. Walter calls this to Paige’s attention, and throughout the first season, Walter attempts to help Paige teach Ralph how to interact with the world. They become good friends, and the rest of the team accepts him as one of their own. There’s even a scene in the second episode where Walter tells Ralph that a group of scorpions is formally called a cyclone, and that he considers Ralph part of his cyclone. Later in the season, we meet Ralph’s father, who also wishes to connect with the boy. However, Ralph doesn’t seem to be interested in baseball, which his father enjoys. At first, Walter is understandably jealous of Ralph’s father. But at Paige’s insistence, Walter comes up with an idea. Walter suggests that he show Ralph the statistical side of baseball, such as figuring out a batter’s runs batted in or a pitcher’s earned run average. This connects to Ralph’s interest in mathematics and he shows Ralph how they can determine the outcome of a game.
I also think that Walter may be autistic as well. When it comes to his job, Walter is completely focused on his mission. He is constantly forming strategies for stopping terrorists and other criminals. However, when he is not after criminals and terrorists, Walter is out of his element. He also not good at getting along with his coworkers, especially Toby. Autistics, like myself and Walter, are often at odds in social situations because we are socially withdrawn, even if we attempt to socialize (I myself am actually an extrovert)
I am pleased to announce that Scorpion has been renewed for a second season as of January 2015. I think a show like this can help people to see how beneficial we autistics can be to society. I am eager to see what new adventures lie ahead for the team.

The Fictional Spectrum: Carl from “Arthur”

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Arthur, based on the book series by Marc Brown is the second-longest currently-running show on PBS, after Sesame Street. It follows the daily life of Arthur Read, and aardvark living in the fictional Elwood City, and all his friends, including a moose named George.  What I think is great about the show is that it has an autistic rabbit named Carl. Carl was introduced in the episode “When Carl Met George” (aka “The Missing Puzzle Piece”). He went on to appear in four episodes, not counting cameos. He was voiced by Dwayne Hill in his first appearance, but beginning in season 14, Dylan Hoener became his voice actor.

His debut episode is told from George’s point of view.  At the beginning of the episode, we are introduced to Carl. George tells us Carl is honest and knowledgeable of various topics, and hard to stop when he gets talking about them. (showing off the “little professor” trait aspies are often characterized with) We learn that two of his interests are trains and puzzles. The rest of the episode is told in flashback and recounts how they became friends.

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Fictional Spectrum: The Curious Incident of The Dog in the Night-Time

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I am a member of many autism groups on Facebook. One day, I asked if anyone knew of any great fictional portrayals of autistics as inspiration for future installments of my “Fictional Spectrum” series. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon was mentioned several times, so I decided to try it out.

The story begins when the book’s narrator, Christopher John Francis Boone, discovers a dead poodle in his neighbor’s yard.  He is 15 years old, and lives with his father, Ed, in Swindon, along with a pet rat named Toby.

Christopher is never stated as having autism in the book.  In fact, Haddon himself has stated that he did not intend for Christopher to be perceived as autistic.  Nevertheless, he does possess many autistic traits.  He is exceptionally intelligent, especially in math.  He does not like being touched.  He is obsessed with both Sherlock Holmes and prime numbers. (In fact, the book’s chapters are numbered in prime numbers, starting with 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, and so on.  It is Christopher’s obsession with Sherlock Holmes that drives him to solve the mystery of who killed the dog.

Ed, his father, is not very kind to Christopher. He tries well, but does not seem to understand Christopher’s personality.  He tends to get angry with Christopher easily.

For the most part, I identified with Christopher. I was quite the chatterbox as a kid, and was dubbed a “walking encyclopedia” because of my ability to absorb what I’d read. This is a trait I’ve never fully outgrown. I found this part enjoyable, even though Christopher tended to veer off on irrelevant topics.

I did have some problems with the book, I did have some issues.  My biggest problem is that Christopher is a savant when it comes to math.  Not every autistic is a savant, and I believe that a positive stereotype can be just as damaging as a negative one.  A person might see a positive stereotype and wonder why he or she does not “measure up” to its image. I would love to see a book or TV show with an autistic character who does not happen to be a savant or a math genius.

Would I recommend this book? Actually, yes. I feel that the book was well-written and portrayed an autistic character well, intended or not. It was good at keeping suspense, which is great for mystery stories. If you like mysteries, I say check it out.

 

The Fictional Spectrum: Raymond Babbitt from Rain Man

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If there is one fictional character who has influenced our perception of autism the most, it would be Raymond Babbitt, the character portrayed by Dustin Hoffman in the movie, Rain Man, which also had Tom Cruise playing his brother, Charlie.  Barry Morrow, who wrote the screenplay, based Raymond on his autistic friend Bill Sackter, who was the subject of an earlier film called Bill. (He also based him on Kim Peek, who was  a savant)

I suppose I should give my thoughts on the movie as a whole.  Bear in mind that I have only watched this movie once, so my memory isn’t 100% good.  For the most part, I really enjoyed the relationship between Raymond and Charlie.  Charlie is attempting to learn more and connect with Raymond because his father has give $3 million of his estate over to a brother he knows nothing about and doesn’t even remember.  It’s easy to understand his frustration.  While I’m not the biggest fan of Tom Cruise, I did like the way he and Hoffman played off each other.  Cruise plays Charlie’s confusion and anger quiet well. There’s even a point in the movie where he becomes so frustrated with Raymond that he says “You know what I think, Ray? I think this autism is a bunch of shit! Because you can’t tell me that you’re not in there somewhere!” But he soon realizes his mistakes and learns to accept and love his brother for who he is, flaws and all.

By far, however, the star of the movie is Dustin Hoffman.  Raymond has all the classic fallacies of autism–he’s afraid of change and shows little emotion, except for bouts of distress when things go against the routine he is used to.  He is unable to cope in any social situation, although part of this could also be attributed to having been placed in a mental institution, where he is unable to truly interact with others. He is naïve and doesn’t realize his brother is using him for a get-rich scheme at a casino when Charlie learns that Raymond can predict which card will be dealt based on probability, revealing that Raymond is also a savant.

Do I see some of Raymond in me?  To some extent, yes.  I do not adjust well to change.  There are some changes to routine I can adjust to, but drastic changes to my routine can bother me. I’m such a slave to my routine that sometimes if I want to do something different, I may forget that I wanted to do it.  One good example of a change that frustrated me occurred a few months ago. For those who haven’t read every article on this blog, my father is a bricklayer and I assist at his jobs.  A few months ago, we’d gotten a job so far out of town that my family and a co-worker had to stay at a rental house that had satellite TV (which we don’t, thankfully!) and no computer, meaning no wi-fi.  I have become very obsessed with the Internet, so I did not enjoy myself when I was not needed at work.  I was glad that I had prepared for this by saving some podcasts to my iPod beforehand and I had a book to read. But I was still unhappy because I was unable to watch the anime I was watching online for reviewing on my anime review blog, Lobster Quadrille.  (if you’re interested in this blog, you can access it at this address. And yes, that’s a plug)

The movie has caused people to assume that autism and being a savant are coinciding, meaning that all autistic people are savants. This is not so. I certainly am not a savant, and one can be a savant without even being autistic.  It’s a positive stereotype, in a way, but a positive stereotype can be just as damaging as a negative one.  It can cause one to wonder why they aren’t as gifted and be unhappy.

However, I will say that I appreciate the impact that the movie has had on our culture.  For better or worse, Raymond Babbitt is a character who has helped us to understand autism. I would certainly recommend this movie, despite its flaws.

The Fictional Spectrum: Twilight Sparkle

twilightA few years back, I did an article on here about my discovery of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. As I have continued to watch this show, I have noticed something great–Twilight Sparkle seems to have autistic traits! I really have to applaud the writers for this bold move. Let’s look at some of them.

1. Her OCD. What I really like is that the writers have shown that OCD can be a positive as well as a negative, as “Winter Wrap-up” suggests.  In “Lesson Zero”, we see that Twilight maps out her entire day (in “Spike at Your Service”, we learn it’s rubbed off on him as well). This is also shown in “It’s About Time”.

2. She’s socially awkward. In the 2-part pilot, we see that she’d rather read than hang out.  She doesn’t even consider pursuing friendships.  She’s not like Fluttershy, who’s initially not even brave enough to speak clearly, she’s just not interested.  Princess Celestia uses this in her plan to free her sister, Princess Luna, from her evil form, Nightmare Moon. This is an excellent plan, because if Twilight actually knew the whole pan, her attempts would seem forced rather than genuine. Thus, the story teaches the moral that friendship cannot be forced. As she continues to socialize with her newfound friends, we still see signs of her awkwardness in episodes like “The Best Night Ever” and “Sweet and Elite”.

3. She has terrible meltdowns.   Twilight is prone to freak outs if her organization goes awry and causes her to forget something important or things don’t go as she planned.  This becomes a major obstacle in “Lesson Zero”, when she realizes that she hasn’t turned in a letter to Princess Celestia and decides to create a problem because no one seems to have one for her to be solved. In “It’s About Time”, she receives a message from her future self, but it’s cut off and she freaks out. When she realizes her folly, she sends herself back in time, creating a time loop. (It’s one of the funniest endings in the show.) Thankfully, Princess Cadance taught her how to do cooldown breaths in “Games Ponies Play.”

4. She has obsessive behavior.  She’s an avid bookworm and is obsessed with her two heroes, Starswirl the Bearded and Daring Do.  She even dresses up like Starswirl in “Luna Eclipsed” and “Three’s a Crowd”. (And I just love that costume!) In “Daring Don’t”, she discovers that Daring Do is really the writer herself, and she and Rainbow Dash (who is equally obsessed with the character) geek out about the books, sounding just like arguments I’ve seen my fellow geeks get into. I think this is a great way to show that even non-aspies can have geek out moments.

I applaud the writers for creating this character. It’s a small step in showing children that they should reach out to those who are different from them and befriend them.

 

The Fictional Spectrum: Lain Iwakura

lainThis time on my Fictional Spectrum series, I am spotlighting the protagonist in Serial Experiments Lain.

What is it about Lain that makes me feel she is on the spectrum?  First of all, she rarely looks at anyone who is talking to her.  She always has this faraway, distant look.  As a child, I did the same thing.  My mom, not knowing how normal this is for someone like me, helped me to outgrow this behavior, but I still have my moments.

Lain has few friends.  Sure there are three girls who talk to her, but only one of them, Alice, seems the friendliest.  The others don’t even seem like they’d socialize with Lain if she didn’t.

Lain catches on to her new computer quickly, with very little help from others.  It’s an obsession for her.  I can identify with this, as I have several obsessions, ranging from anime to sci-fi.  In Lain’s case, her obsession causes her to be more detached. Her entire life is literally online and it begins to blur her perception of reality.

To me, Lain shows us why we should not leave people like her in their own world and not help them.  Because she was not encouraged to come out of her shell, she retained her shell and became more detached from society.

This anime is a great story and I think it’s neat that it has a seemingly autistic protagonist. I highly recommend this series to my readers.

 

 

The Fictional Spectrum: Kevin Blake (Eureka)

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Doctor Who is just one of many sci-fi programs I watch. This time around I will talk about a program called Eureka, which played on the Syfy Channel for 5 seasons, focusing on the character of Kevin Blake.

I suppose I should start by explaining the premise of Eureka.  It’s about a town founded by the scientists who participated in the Manhattan Project that is now populated almost exclusively by geniuses.  The only non-genius person is Sheriff Jack Carter, the main protagonist.

Jack’s romantic interest is Allison Blake, who has an autistic son named Kevin.  At first, we learn that Kevin is a math savant.  In the pilot episode, he figures out that he and Jack were born on the exact same day of the week.  Later, in the same episode, he’s the only person who can complete an equation that will thwart a major crisis that is causing things to disappear.

Kevin is portrayed very well by child actor Meshach Peters in the first two seasons.  He gets a major story arc in the second season, when it’s discovered that he has a mental link to an alien artifact.  When the arc is over, he is absent from season three.  Apparently, he was absent because they were getting a new actor, Trevor Jackson (who also played Young Simba in the Broadway version of Lion King)

With the new actor and new season came a retcon. When the main cast went back in time to the town’s founding, they change history.  As part of this new timeline, Kevin is no longer autistic.

I really don’t like the direction of the final two seasons, and Kevin is one of the reasons. He was fine just the way he was. Autism is not, nor should it be, something you can just turn off. This can send a bad message to autistic children who may be watching the show (it actually is very family-friendly), that they would be better off if they were “normal”.