AlieNation


“I mean, you can’t say they don’t look like that, that’s what they look like, right? They look like prawns. ” ~Police Officer, DISTRICT 9

I’m sure everyone is burning with curiousity as to where I got the name of this blog. It’s a reference to District 9, the sleeper hit sci-fi/social commentary film from last summer, and also my latest fixation in a long string of them.

Think of an Aspie fixation as a cat toy. (I thought this metaphor was also a good one, as the “prawns” who live in D9 are also inexplicably addicted to, of all things, canned cat food.) One day it can be the center of that person’s universe. Then suddenly, it might disappear. Six months later, when you happen to be cleaning that yucky area behind the dryer, you find the little plastic ball or felt mousie covered in dust, and think, “Oh, yes…I remember when Tiger just LOVED that thing…”

These fixations are at-will and seem to have no rhyme or reason or even time frame. Many young children go through these “fixations.” Most parents can tell you about a period of time during which their son would speak of nothing but dinosaurs, or their daughter refused to wear any color but lavender. The difference between this idea and that of the Aspie fixations is that we need our fixations beyond childhood. They comfort us, help us to cope with an overwhelmingly sensory world.

So, back to D9…

I didn’t want to watch it in the first place. I had my favorite (The A-Team) and wasn’t about to budge from it. Think about how a child refuses to try a new dish and scarfs down chicken nuggets or mac and cheese night after night, seemingly happy with the routine. That’s it. I capitulated and watched it because, naturally, there was a connection to my existing fixation. The lead actor in D9, the at-the-time unknown South African Sharlto Copley, had been cast as my hero in the film version of The A-Team. Naturally, I had to check and see if he passed the “Murdockworthiness” test.

And now, I give you this big fokken' gun...

(Some of you may know this story. I’m sorry to beat a dead horse, but one thing anyone knows about me is how much I enjoy telling the same stories over and over again. Bear with me, as this rendition has new material included.)

I was suprised and delighted to see that D9 was indeed worth watching. It functions well as a sci-fi movie on its own, but also serves as a nice nudge-nudge, wink-wink allegory for the many years of apartheid in South Africa, or even the Jim Crow South in America. That’s not what I’m writing about here.

It has often been said that anyone on the autism spectrum feels like an alien from another planet. I can vouch that it’s true. Another metaphor that is often used is that of an android or robot. Think of Star Wars’ hapless Threepio, who understands several million forms of languages but “cannot understand human behaviour.” Mr. Data of Star Trek: The Next Generation, or the cold, ultra-efficient cyborg Terminators.

Getting back to the aliens, though (my mind drifts. Please forgive me.)

The concept of science fiction movies is very much a 20th-century idea, as is that of science fiction itself. As humanity continues to shed more and more light on many of the mysteries of the world, so our imaginations use the information in new contexts.

Aliens in sci-fi movies are generally portrayed as cold, monolithic, pitiless beings bent on destruction and/or conquest (Independence Day, Alien, Predator) or, in fewer cases, childlike, benign figures who are misunderstood by most but ultimately embraced by a few (E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind being the best examples.) Either way is an interesting context to look at autism: we’re either thought of as being utterly without emotion, or else on the same level as a child and treated as such.

The “prawns” inhabiting District 9 fit neither of these two categories. They are perhaps misunderstood, consigned to live in a ghetto-like existence scrounging for food and scrap metal (and the ubiquitous cat food.) It is implied that some humans desire a peaceful coexistence and that some learn the aliens’ language…but most simply live in fear of them.

Don't even think of drinking from our water fountain!

 

So how does this wonderful sci-fi story, with its obvious condemnation of xenophobia, racism and apartheid, fit into the world of autism spectrum?

The protagonist, Wikus, formerly a bureaucrat in charge of evicting the aliens from their current slum to a newer camp, finds himself changing into one of them. An old Native American saying goes that we should not condemn or judge our neighbor until we walk a mile in his moccasins. And so the story goes: putting oneself in another’s position does a great deal to increase our levels of tolerance for him or her.

It has also been said that everyone has a shade of autism in him or her, no matter how NT (neurotypical) he or she is. Autism, like the arrival of the alien mothership over the city of Johannesburg, may have been around for hundreds of years previously, but it has only recently become a visible issue. We cannot “change” or “cure” the way we are any more than aliens can change the fact that they may have six legs instead of two, antennae, or green, insect-like skin. They (and we) simply are.

Ironically, when Wikus finds his body rapidly mutating into that of a “prawn,” he becomes obsessed with the possibility of being “cured” and reclaiming his human form. It is only when he begins to accept the situation that he is able to evolve from a self-centered, self-serving office lackey into a freedom fighter for the oppressed aliens.

Autistic people don’t have to be feared, or segregated, or institutionalized their whole lives. They may have a different understanding of language, a different reaction to stimuli that many people don’t even notice, even different tastes in (cat) food. Their sudden “arrival” onto the scene should not be a cause for fear, but rather one of celebration. Dr. Temple Grandin, arguably the most famous public figure on the spectrum, is a great success and a great contributor of her unique gifts to society. She is a role model to me and countless others like me.

And they all lived happily ever after...

I promise not to talk about my fixations in every single post. That would be boring to you, the reader. I only want to help share my insight of having both lived in the NT world and the AS world, and know that the two have much to teach one another. The first step is acceptance that the “alien” and the “human” may not look or sound or act alike…but they have the same desires and motivations. Love. Acceptance. Fulfillment. Those are not just widely understood ideas; they’re universal ideas.

Wikus: Oh, this is fantastic! You [prawns] are brilliant, eh?

I appreciate any and all reader feedback. You, my readers, are brilliant and I feel privileged to share with you. And I do promise not to bore you *all* the time with my fixations. Just once in a while.

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~ by Howlin' Mad Heather on August 17, 2010.

One Response to “AlieNation”

  1. I too love D9. Really, any movie about outsiders, underdogs, the misunderstood, they reach me in ways no other story can. Cool Hand Luke will always be at the top of my fav movies list.

    I have only recently discovered that I am an Aspie, not by a doctor’s diagnosis, but by my own searching. I am so very glad to find the answer to the question of, “what’s wrong with me?” Yeah, I know that “wrong” really isn’t accurate, but that is the common language used, isn’t it?

    Anyway, I just started seeking info about Aspergers, joined the GRASP group recently. This comment is my first contact with another Aspie. I have enjoyed reading your posts. You are a good writer. I have blogged for a few years at http://thehomelessguy.blogspot.com

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