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The Autistic Love Story at the Heart of it
By Zack Budryk
Headcanon --an idea, belief or aspect of a character’s personality or physicality that is present in a piece of fanwork that does not correspond with information present in the canonical material. [source]
I’ve written before on the frustration of being an autistic person and trying to find positive, non-patronizing representation in fiction, so extensively that I could probably write another article on the subject entirely using autocomplete. Such examples are few and far between, and almost always disputed; for example, Will Graham, the protagonist of Thomas Harris’ “Red Dragon” and the NBC series “Hannibal,” is all but confirmed to be autistic in the series pilot, but show creator Bryan Fuller has since feverishly backpedaled on the idea. In the meantime, I, like a lot of people, have sought solace in headcanons of characters I love who have features common to the autism spectrum. Which brings me to the much-beloved, recently-concluded NBC sitcom “Parks & Recreation.”
Leslie Knope (played by Amy Poehler), the show’s protagonist, has vibed autistic to me for a while. As this video points out, Leslie’s autistic traits originate from a much more grounded place: she’s hyper-focused on her “special interests,” extremely reactive, fairly literal-minded, and, while capable of deep empathy, tends to project her passions onto others. (“You made me watch all eight Harry Potter movies. I don’t even like Harry Potter,” her best friend Ann protests. “That’s insane! You love Harry Potter! You’ve seen all eight movies!” Leslie responds.) Leslie’s unflagging enthusiasm about even the most mundane functions of local government make even more sense under this interpretation: of course she’s enthusiastic about those functions, because they’re her routine.
One of the major shifts in the show’s dynamic occurred late in its second season when it introduced Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott), Leslie’s eventual husband. If anything, I related even more to Ben than I did to Leslie. He has far more of the stereotypical nerd traits associated with portrayals of autism than Leslie does, in addition to sharing her tendency towards literalism (When a friend makes a joke about “Game of Thrones” being cancelled, he immediately denies they would ever cancel the show because “it’s a crossover hit” that is “telling human stories in a fantasy world.” To say nothing of this.) Ben is far more rigid than Leslie (he also appears to have generalized anxiety disorder) in a way that is eminently relatable to anyone familiar with the routine-focused, ritualistic nature of autism. To be perfectly honest, I haven’t gotten such a strong suggestion of autism from a television character since “Gilmore Girls” ended its run.
Another of my oft-discussed pet peeves about media portrayals of autism is the almost universally desexualized, deromanticized nature of the characters in those portrayals, which is a big part of why Leslie and Ben have meant so much to me over the years. Here are two driven, successful, functional people with myriad autistic traits, and not only are they capable of the deep, abiding love they’ve been shown to share, they share that love while having disparate personality traits that, to the untrained eye, might seem irreconcilable in two people so hyper-focused on their own way of doing things. That is one of the things I said goodbye to with the conclusion of “Parks & Recreation:” a hilarious, multifaceted, heartfelt and yes, realistic portrayal of two autistic people in love, even if that was never officially the case. And as an autistic person who is similarly deeply in love with a shorter, indomitable woman, I’m really going to miss seeing so much of myself when I turned on the TV.
#Real #Television #TV #Parks&Rec #ParksAndRecreation #Autism #Autistic #Love #Romance #Relationships #InTheMedia
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