Possible Triggers: Bullying, abuse, familial murder, suicide.
“Bully” is a documentary about bullying in America. It’s been a subject of a debate regarding its former “R” rating, which was -thankfully- reduced to PG-13. I do agree it’s an important topic, it’s personal to me and many people I know. In part two of this dual posting I plan to go more in-depth with that.
All of that being said, some recent information about the film deeply concerns me. **
There has been criticism in the Autistic community about the omission of the Asperger’s diagnosis of one of the students – Tyler Long, 17, who committed suicide in 2009 – featured in the movie “Bully.”
The response from the producers is as follows:
“The fact that Tyler was on the spectrum does not reduce the school system’s responsibility to provide a safe learning environment. As filmmakers we felt that was the bottom line. For this very reason, we chose not to introduce his autism in the film.”
To which the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network responded:
We certainly agree that Tyler’s diagnosis does not reduce the obligation of his school district to provide a safe learning environment – in fact, recent legal decisions interpreting the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act’s guarantee of a Free and Appropriate Public Education in the Least Restrictive Environment suggest that it may necessitate a greater legal obligation to act against acts of bullying and harassment (T.K. v. New York City Dept. of Education 2011). … [M]entioning his disability diagnosis would have placed Tyler’s situation in the context of the larger scope of prejudice faced by students with disabilities in general and Autistic youth in particular. Research has consistently demonstrated that Autistic students, along with other groups of students with disabilities, face much higher rates of bullying than non-disabled peers. Failing to acknowledge Tyler’s disability constituted a missed opportunity to acknowledge the larger experience of prejudice and harassment faced by school-age Autistic youth.
While I completely agree that bullying shouldn’t happen for any reason, this documentary still discussed the sexual orientation of another child. Landon at ThAutcast discusses this in his strongly-worded reply to the comments made by a producer of the movie on an earlier post:
I think if you told Tyler Clementi’s story and left out the fact that he was gay, you would be shut down by GLAAD. We lack the power to do this, but what you did was as awful as that would be. Would you have done that? Would it be okay with you if someone else ignored sexual orientation or race or gender the same ways you so neurodiversity?
Additionally, one of the mothers – Jackie Libby, mother of Alex – had commented on Landon’s post, in which she states that her son was also autistic:
My son Alex is also a subject of “Bully”. He also has Asperger’s and it was also kept out of the film. Admittedly at first, I did not prefer it because of the comments people would make about Alex’s “weird” behaviors in the film. I thought if they had an understanding as to why, it may have softened their sometimes cruel remarks. However, after being around the country and meeting so many families and kids who have been tormented by this issue I came to realize it shouldn’t matter. This is not a film about Aspergers, it is a film about bullying. It shouldn’t matter if it’s Aspergers, homosexuality, race, religion, or even if the child is just perceived as”weird” for no reason at all.
Again, the “it shouldn’t matter if child was ‘xyz'” logic fails because it’s applied unequally. It’s apparently important to teach why it’s wrong to bully GLBTQ people; it is not important to teach why it is wrong to bully disabled/autistic people.
Having covered this, let me point you in what may initially seem off track:
The day before the start of Autism Awareness Month, Daniel Corby aged four, was murdered by his mother on March 31st, 2012. The news article I was linked to on April 2nd contained the following heinous language:
San Diego police sources told 10News Corby was a stay-at-home mother pushed to the edge handling a difficult child with autism.
Later articles hardly acknowledged the child’s autism, and it’s beginning to look like Patricia Corby claims that the goal was her own suicide, and she felt that her son “did not have a life or a future without her.” Note that she failed at her own suicide, likely after realizing how horrible it is to drown and couldn’t do to herself what she did to her own son out of some kind of ‘mercy.’
This was right on the heels of a nationwide campaign of candle-light vigils prompted by the media response to the death of George Hodgins, 22. He was shot by his mother before she turned the gun on herself on March 6th, 2012. In other words, less than a month before Corby’s murder. This article is a great example of what went so very, very wrong after he was killed:
But Elizabeth Hodgins was not just a mother. She was her child’s nurse, his advocate, his playmate, his cook, his personal hygiene assistant, and his communicator. Elizabeth was the mother of an autistic adult child. And she was her son’s entire world, meeting his every need from the moment he was born. And she was desperately fearful for his future and exhausted beyond belief.
And, this statement which is probably the true argument here:
[Lack of services] should have not happened to Elizabeth Hodgins.
It wasn’t Elizabeth who shot her son, it was the system. And the system failed Elizabeth, not George. George is mentioned once. His name is reduced to a concept, a poster child for autism. He is not named specifically, but a category: “The George Hodginses.” Lets leave stupid statements like this to Gollum, okay? Though, when you read the statement made by Autism Society of America, his name is not mentioned even once; the sympathy is all for the mother, and such an obvious political platform that you can practically hear them snatch up the murder and go, “My precious…”
And, if you’re still not convinced, there is yet another article from DisabilityRightNow, which actually compiled a healthy amount of information about what George’s life was really like, and how there WERE services in place; Elizabeth inexplicably felt a bullet was better-suited for his long-term needs:
George was affiliated with the Morgan Autism Center in San Jose, California. He was there for schooling and to learn life skills. His mother pulled him out of this program, but did not actively pursue other opportunities for him as she said she would. A representative of the Center stated that they had services available for adults as well as for children. George would have been eligible for adult services at age 22. Instead of letting him continue working with the Morgan Autism Center, Elizabeth Hodgins had something else in mind. George would have learned to be more independent, and he could have made friends and become more active in his community. The opportunity for a full life was stolen from him, and then life itself was stolen as well.
In another article, an executive director at the Morgan Autism Center was told that Elizabeth Hodgins was desperate for services (before continuing the sympathy parade for Elizabeth):
When told that Hodgins was having trouble finding a new program, Sullivan became upset: “I wish we would have known. He could have come back here. We loved George.”
So, what do these murders (and these are just the most recent two, and this is not a problem unique to autism; there have been others who were killed simply for being disabled) have in common with the exclusion of the autism/Asperger’s diagnosis from the movie “Bully”?
We are at a higher suicide risk, higher bully risk, and higher abuse risk compared to the average kid. We are murdered for being born the way we are and our murderers are largely sympathized with by the general public who has been getting its Autism Awareness Month message in the form of fear-mongering by organizations like Autism Speaks. (an aside: This is a great article by Tiger Beatdown on Autism Awareness Month and Autism Speaks) This is capitalized on by more than just the disability community; PETA used us in ’08 in an attempt to scare the world off of milk, complete with a billboard campaign that has since been pulled:
Removing the autism from “Bully” only succeeds at removing any compassion for autistic people and the extra prejudice they face in a country that is doing everything it can to get rid of us, hide us, use our challenges to scare others and promote political campaigns, and even KILL US and receive a kind of distanced sympathy in which people say, “Oh, that is such a terrible thing to do… but I kind of understand it.”
A clip from one of Autism Speaks own videos in 2007, featuring former executive vice president Alison Singer, and please note her autistic daughter wandering around in the background while her mother states that the only reason she didn’t kill herself and her autistic child was because there was still a “normal” child that needed her:
How different is the Autism Speaks video, really, from this, the 911 call of a mother who killed a two and five-year-old because they are autistic in July 2010:
The passive message is that we are less-than, and when a minority is viewed as less-than, they are dehumanized and it is so much easier to treat them cruelly… after all, society doesn’t give a shit, society is trying to get RID of autism, so how much value could we possibly have? Who would care if they should bully societies own very public rejects?
Bullies hear it loud and clear: Open season on autistic kids. Nobody wants them anyway; they’re just a burden on their parents and society. Students at Tyler Long’s school demonstrated this point with depressing clarity:
“Other students, including some of the bullies, wore nooses around their necks after they learned of his [suicide], to school, and got away with it[.]”
Lastly, how can one ignore the fact that these murders seem to be, like suicide, “contagious” and copy-cat prone? Zoe Gross writes in an article:
We need to start looking at these murders as copycat crimes, which are encouraged when murders of disabled people receive positive press coverage. … Daniel Corby’s murder follows George Hodgins’ murder, and subsequent media coverage which excused, explained away, or even promoted the murder of disabled people by our parents.
We have created a culture of “awareness” that is sheer negativity and then we act surprised when parents kill us, or when we kill ourselves.
* Yes. The title is a Hunger Games reference. Copyrights to their respective owners.
** I’ve been unable to see the movie for accessibility reasons – if it was ever accessible to the hard of hearing in my area, I missed it. It’s also possible that it’s a movie that may be too triggering for me to watch anywhere but in the safety of my home.