um, WHAT?

Sep. 20th, 2011 11:51 am
eruthros: Aang from Avatar:TLA facepalming (Avatar - facepalming aang)
[personal profile] eruthros
I haven't been paying much attention to the new tv schedule, and I had mostly dismissed Alphas as soon as I saw ... anything about it (fyi it started airing in July). But the detention center in the show is in upstate New York, so I keep seeing links about it. Which is how I came across this interview with Zak Penn in which he talks about the premise and characters of Alphas:

(disability fail, half of the tv tropes pages on disability especially disability superpowers, mostly about the autism spectrum)
So Gary Bell, played by actor Ryan Cartwright on SyFy’s "Alphas," is certainly groundbreaking. An autistic young man who's able to see electromagnetic signals, he's one of five super-powered human overseen by Dr. Lee Rosen (David Strathairn) as they track rogue elements out to harm others.

"Alphas" co-creator Zak Penn said in an interview last week that he and partner Michael Karnow were inspired by the works of groundbreaking neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks as well as their own desire to ground their series firmer in reality than most superhero stories.

"Just from the very conception, we set strict rules for ourselves. After working in the 'X-Men' world, you have a character whose mutant ability is that he can turn into a ball of gas and fly into outer space. OK, that's cool, but I just don’t know what the rules are – the rules are whatever we want them to be," he said. "The X-Men generally does a good job of that – a very good job, which is why I'm such a big fan of it, but it's on a much bigger scale. Our goal was to do something where it's all about the brain, it's all about things that exist, just push a little bit further.

"Part and parcel to that, we came up with the idea very early that, when you read a lot of Oliver Sacks case studies on people who have extraordinary abilities, it usually comes at a price. I remember reading about Einstein that the part of his brain that processed visual and spatial relations was enormous, but his language center or speech center was a little bit stunted, which explains why he didn't speak until he was 5. To me, that makes a certain amount of sense – I'm not sure all the fans always get it – but that's the downside. Your brain pays in one way for whatever else it can do. Sometimes the cost is pretty high and sometimes it's pretty low.

"With Gary, given that that’s the case, it was inherent that one of these characters was going to have Asperger's or autism. If you read enough Oliver Sacks books, you're going to come across a lot of people like that, so we realized we just had to do that. Once we decided that, we had to ask: How do we keep this as real as possible? How do we make sure we avoid the trap of him being the 'magical autistic kid who always says the right thing and never does anything wrong.' I know a lot of kids with autism and I know a lot of people with autism, and they're just like the rest of us. They have great sides, but they have flaws and they have faults."

In episode 4 of "Alphas," named "Rosetta," the team meets Anna (Liane Balaban), who seems more severely disabled than Gary. The two develop a rapport – and perhaps more – before it's discovered that she directs activities as part of Red Flag, a terrorist cabal.

"With the Anna character … we said, 'OK, how do we violate your expectations?' Just because she seems to have tremendous infirmity, that doesn't mean she’s a wonderful person, which is the way things usually work in TV and the movies," Penn said.

"It's funny, because I was talking to the actress who plays Anna – who we will see again, I can tell you – that people talk about the character and have a tremendous amount of sympathy for her. Sometimes even the writers will talk about how she's pretty justified in what she's doing, and I'll have to remind them, 'Yeah, except she does actually order people to get killed.'
(That's only part of the interview; here's the link to the rest of it.)

I have some sympathy for his attempt to make characters with disabilities more complex, but omg it's so embedded in the disability superpower trade-off and the idea that that's how the brain works, aaaaah, that whole section about extraordinary abilities coming at a price has me flailing in their general direction. And omg, like, wow, you made a PWD - a person with a "tremendous infirmity" - evil instead of sympathetic! That's totally new and cutting edge and not a tv trope at all! It's not like at fifty percent of serial killers on cop shows are serial killers because of OMG mental illness or anything! Gosh, I'm so happy that you've showed up to fix the stereotypes about inspirational disability with someone who kills people!

After I'd pretty much ignored Alphas to begin with, I'd seen a couple people mentioning Gary as a superhero who is also autistic, which had piqued my interest a little. I'm bummed out to learn that he is a superhero because he's autistic, or autistic because he's a superhero, because there's ~a price~ to be paid.
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eruthros: Delenn from Babylon 5 with a startled expression and the text "omg!" (Default)

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