Listen to the episode here.
LINKS & FURTHER SPIN-OFFS
- WHOA DANG JAY IS WRITING A CYCLOPS ONE-SHOT! It is called X-Men Marvels Snapshot #1, or possibly Marvel Snapshots: X-Men #1; but either way, you can read more about it here and find preorder information here.
- Speaking of things Jay writes, if you didn’t get enough Lila Cheney in this week’s episode, she’s stealing hearts and valuables all over Episode 8 of Thor: Metal Gods!
- We talked a lot about Legion and the ways his powers intersect with mental illness in Episode 44 – Assembling Legion, feat. Si Spurrier.
- Here is some context for Jay’s joke about Autism Speaks. (If you’re looking for an organization to support that actually helps and amplifies the voices of Autistic folks, we like the Autistic Self Advocacy Network.)
Hello, I am new to the podcast and I am would like to join the discord server. All of the invite links I found did not work. Is there anything I can do to join? Thank you.
I do not believe that in the 80’s that autism was used in the way that we understand it today. It used to refer to people who withdrew into themselves (much as gay used to refer to joy). A modern reading of these comics certainly put the term into questionable light but I am giving them the benefit of the doubt. It would be interesting to ask Claremont about it if the opportunity arises.
Also, I appreciate the disambiguation of Highlander. It’s a pet peeve of mine that people use the term for all of the immortals in those movies. Connor McCleod was THE Highlander. If it was intended as a group title for all immortals it would have been called “Highlanders”.
do not believe that in the 80’s that autism was used in the way that we understand it today. It used to refer to people who withdrew into themselves (much as gay used to refer to joy).
If you mean (I apologize if I am misunderstanding you), that autism was equivalent to “gay” as sn everyday word that just meant “introverted,” I don’t think that was ever the case. The word originated as a technical medical and psychological term, and the largest difference between popular understandings in the ‘80s and those of today is probably that at that time a medical model of autism as a mental illness was overwhelmingly dominant.
For a specific example of how autism was popularly conceived of in the ‘80s, there’s Rain Man.
I didn’t necessarily mean as an everyday word, but used in psychology to describe someone who did not react to external stimuli.
This certainly seems to be the intention Claremont had when he used the term based on context.
As someone who was around back then, I’d have to disagree, autism was not just another word for extremely introverted.
It was used to describe what was regarded as a severe disability. A chronic inability to relate to the outside world, or communicate “normally” because “their brain s just weren’t wired that way”.
Many people were only aware of it through fiction, and in order to make such characters interesting and plot useful, creators usually added in that they were a savant, in something like calculating numbers.
There also wasn’t much of an awareness of there being an autism spectrum. It was something you had, or you didn’t.
Voord 99 mentioned 1988’s “Rain Man” and that’s definitely the go-to example of how autism was regarded in popular culture (and is held repsonsible for some of the assumptions people STILL make).1998’s “Mercury Falling” took a very similar view (mostly non verbal child with uncanny facility with numbers and codes), suggesting little had changed.
Comic books threw the term around, for characters like David Haller, or Laura Dean over in Alpha Flight in the 80’/90’s (another example of a socially withdrawn, barely verbal character) though as they used her more, they used the equally winceworthy idea that she “got better” to the extent that even her Marvel bio mentions that she “..for a time, was autistic”.
The New Universe’s Psi-Force was another such case in the 80’s where they had Heatseeker as a member, a pyrokinetic with “severe autism” who was rescued from an sinister research lab, and who was pretty much non-verbal, to the extent that they never knew where he came from or what his actual name was. Even the team telepath, who became his caregiver, wasn’t able to interact with his mind.
A lot of such cases are down to assumptions being made so I suspect more creators of the era would simply say that it was what was understood about the confition at that time.
I didn’t intend to define autistic as being synonymous with “introverted”. Perhaps I chose my wording poorly.
My intent was to explain that in terms of Legion, Claremont was talking about someone who was severely traumatized to the point that he’d completely withdrawn from the world mentally. Certainly, Claremont describes Legion as becoming autistic. It may have been intended to refer to catatonia instead and I freely admit to being unqualified to make the distinction.
It’s also worth noting that autistic as I have tried to explain it was also used in Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex to mean shutting off communication, i.e. “We’re going in, switch to autistic mode.”
And again, this is purely speculation on my part. Claremont may have been working from a misconception about what autism, as we understand it today, actually was.
I think most people were working from a misconception, because that misconception was the common (mis)understanding of the time, outside of professionals in the field of developmental psychology (of which I am not one either, I hasten to add).
“Autistic mode” in GitS is perhaps another such example since it’s being used as a buzz word for, rather than a diagnosis.
Based on what I could find via the interwebs, in GitS it means that whilst the brain is left in full control of the body, the brain’s ability to communicate with the outside in any way is (in GiTS case, that especially means links to computer networks and other data signals) is shut off. (It’s likened to your phone or ipad being put into “Aeroplane Mode”)
Now, communication issues for those on the spectrum may be fairly common, but they are a lot more complex and varied than that.
Now, I don’t think any of those writers (like Claremont) were attempting to be dismissive or cruel, but I think they were accepting the pop culture context, without looking into whether that was what autism acutally was.
I think there might be a bit more to that in Claremont’s case. The history of research into autism is intertwined with the history of research into dissociative identity disorder and schizophrenia (which at the time were not really distinguished, at least in the popular imagination).
Not being a psychologist myself, I don’t know whether there’s good evidence in reality, according to our current understanding and state of knowledge, that autism appears disproportionately often alongside DID or schizophrenia. But historically, psychologists have often regarded that as being the case.
It seems to me that the conceptual starting-point for the creation of David Haller was probably “multiple personalities.” I suspect that Claremont did a little reading about what would now be called DID and found references to autism, and threw it in as added “realistic” detail. Very much after the fashion of his beloved midcentury science-fiction writers.
Oh dear, I’d forgotten how “schizophrenic” meant “mutltiple personality disorder” back then too.