This week’s Bones felt like an extended commercial for Avatar, not too surprising since Avatar is also a Fox property, and it has cost a small fortune to make, so of course Fox is going to hedge its bets and promote it wherever possible. I’ve written about Avatar elsewhere, so I’ll spare y’all a rehashing my problems with the film, but I couldn’t help but be amused to see the characters on Bones getting all excited about it.
When the show wasn’t advertising Avatar, it was covering some troped old ground.
Part of the plot revolves around the squints waiting in line for Avatar, trading off to hold their place in line. Which creates lots of opportunities for stereotyping science fiction fans, of course, although Bones did turn some stereotypes on their heads. For example, discarding the idea that “geeks” never have sex or aren’t sexually attractive, or that all nerds are male. This intertwined with the primary plot, involving a video game champion, which gave the show an opportunity to showcase a female gamer character who was pretty awesome, although we only saw her for a few minutes.
But, as a tattooed woman, can I just say how irritated I was that they chose to represent female geeks in the Avatar line with a heavily tattooed woman who was incredibly sexually aggressive and pushy? There’s a stereotype that tattooed women are “sluts” and I’m not really a fan of reinforcing that stereotype, personally; this is not to say that women like that character do not exist, or to be a condemnation of women who are like that, but when the only representation of someone who looks like me is a stereotype, it makes me very uncomfortable. I wish that they had balanced it out with some other female geeks who behaved and looked differently, to illustrate that lady geeks are diverse. I also didn’t really like the exoticization of her tattoos, as though “bagging” a tattooed woman is some sort of manly triumph (an attitude I have actually encountered before, as well).
And, let’s talk about how the show handled autism. Numerous people have speculated that Dr. Brennan has an autism spectrum disorder, even though this hasn’t been acknowledged. This week, the show included a character with autism, and…it was pretty awful.
I had a sinking feeling when we first saw him on the screen, intently focused on a video game. As soon as the word “autism” entered the dialogue, I thought “oh no,” and it turned out to be a well grounded “oh no.” In the grand finale of the episode, we are treated to a scene in which the child’s father goes on a disability-as-tragedy, autism-is-like-a-death-sentence monologue. The child “can’t speak” and the game is his “whole life,” the “only thing he has,” and his parents see him and see “emptiness.”
Gee, could that be because his parents are neurotypical and they can’t/won’t develop alternative methods of communication? The thought of parents looking at their child and seeing “emptiness” chills me to the bone. That this is how Bones chose to present autism is deeply upsetting and disturbing; it tells me that perhaps Brennan does not have an autism spectrum disorder because the writing team can only conceive of one form of autism, and that’s the one depicted here.
The one where everyone talks around the actual human being instead of trying to communicate with him. The one where other characters speculate about emotions and motivations instead of establishing connections with the child. The only character who made any effort at all was Brennan, in the scene where we first meet the child and he turns to look at her and she smiles back at him. He turned away immediately, but it was like the opening movement in a dance we never got to see.
Obviously, if you don’t/can’t speak you can’t communicate, in the world of the Bones writers. This is the whole attitude behind campaigns like Autism Speaks, where actual people with autism are not allowed to participate, and the attitude that actual people with autism have nothing important to communicate is shared with many other supposed advocacy organizations. Their voices are not centered or represented because no one wants to take the time to find their voices.
And people justify this with a disability-as-tragedy narrative, informing actual autistic people that their voices of protest don’t matter, because, well, “there are parents of autistic children on the board” or “I understand the pain.” No, you don’t. Because when you do not have autism, and you silence the voices of people with autism, you are not contributing to their well being. You are, in fact, just being oppressive. When you say that you are “helping” people and the people that you claim to be “helping” say that you are hurting them, you are, in fact, hurting them. Saying “but it’s for a good cause” does not excuse the harm that is being inflicted.
The patronizing attitude towards autism in this episode really upset me. Because it’s a reflection of larger cultural attitudes about autism and disability in general. That autism is scary. That people with autism can’t communicate. That people should speculate about/speak for people with autism instead of allowing them to communicate for themselves.
“I don’t understand your system, but I can see that it works,” says Brennan at the end of the episode. That was the closest this episode got to even beginning to suggest that different brains have equal value, and that line seemed to contradict the entire episode, which made sure to remind viewers pretty much constantly that there is a hierarchy of value when it comes to brains, and neurotypical ones are at the top.
I did enjoy the peacock poop reference, though.
Laura at Adventures of a Young Feminist has also written up this episode.