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First Michael Savage, then Denis Leary, now Rex Reed

Red reed Managing Editor's Note: Jake Crosby reviewed the Fox Searchlight pictures movie Adam on Age of Autism HERE. You can read Rex Reed's full review of Adam in The Observer HERE.

By Jake Crosby
 
Every once in a while, some celebrity will make highly offensive comments about a group of people, and tick a few people off. In the case of autism spectrum disorders, three celebrities in the past year made such statements. The first was Michael Savage, far right-wing talk radio host already known for spewing hate-filled garbage over the airwaves, calling autism “in 99% of the cases” a “fraud” and that a person with autism is “a brat who isn’t told to cut the act out.” Rather than apologizing, he said “far-left Stalinists” took him out of context, as if a comment like that could ever be given a context where it would lose its offensive meaning. Despite losing a number of sponsors, Michael Savage has been allowed to keep his show on national airwaves. He wasn’t even forced onto Satellite Radio like Howard Stern was.

Unfortunately, history often has a habit of repeating itself. Denis Leary, a comedian known for ripping off jokes from the late Bill Hicks, published a new book a short couple months after Savage’s rant entitled “Why We Suck.” In it, Leary writes, “There is a huge boom in autism right now because inattentive mothers and competitive dads want an explanation for why their dumbass kids can’t compete academically…” and “I don’t give a shit what these crackerjack whack jobs tell you –yer kid is NOT autistic. He’s just stupid. Or lazy. Or both.” Like Savage, Leary also claimed his comments were taken out of context, saying he was referring to self-diagnosed older men, but his comments clearly refer to children, who would have received professional diagnoses. Unlike Savage, Leary was decent enough to at least apologize, but humor does not excuse such tasteless writing. I still get disgusted whenever I change the channel on the TV to Comedy Central and see his face.

With the reputations of the previous two celebrities left primarily intact, it would only be a matter of time before another public figure would make equally asinine remarks about Asperger Syndrome, in a review for the movie “Adam” of all places.

On July 28th, film critic Rex Reed of The New York Observer wrote, “Asperger’s is an incurable neurological disorder similar to autism that turns outwardly normal-looking people into high-class idiot savants…They are incapable of thinking of anyone or anything outside of themselves,” and “It is lethal to get involved romantically with any person with Asperger’s syndrome, since they care nothing about other people’s feelings, needs or priorities. Almost without exception, they leave you perplexed, riddled with doubt and totally depressed.”

Fans of Savage have often claimed what he said was okay because he is a “shock jock,” fans of Leary have similarly condoned his slurs because he is a “comedian.” In spite of both excuses being utterly lame, Reed can use no such excuse. His job permits him to bash movies, not groups of people they are about.

Ironically, Rex Reed overall gave the movie a very high review. The title of his article even read, “Hugh Dancy Is on His Way to Superstardom.” I can’t imagine a bad movie putting an actor on his way to superstardom. It is very unfortunate that this movie which seeks to empathize with people with AS and spread awareness about their challenges, something that movies have been devoid of for too long, would receive a very offensive and stereotyping review by someone highly regarded as a “film critic.” He obviously has a personal grudge against people with Asperger Syndrome saying, “I know at least two people with Asperger’s.” Ironically, part of the problem with Asperger Syndrome is the tendency to generalize, yet Reed is generalizing about all people with Aspergers based on the two people he has met. Even worse, he attacks us for lack of empathy, but nothing is more lacking in empathy than his review. What kind of a film critic would bring his own issues into his movie reviews, to make offensive, untrue attacks against an entire group of disabled people?

It is positively mind-blowing that this would be allowed online; in a major New York publication, it is unconscionable. Every comment under Reed’s article takes offense at what he said. The easy pass Leary and Savage were given, I’m afraid, has sent out a message that it is okay to bash people with Autism Spectrum Disorders. But this is not okay.

How many more slurs by celebrities will it take for us to get the message across that insulting people with ASDs is wrong? It seems a person’s reputation and career would have to be compromised before these sorts of remarks would truly become discouraged. So far, I do not see that happening.

Ever since Michael Richards screamed racist profanities during what was supposed to be a comedy show three years ago, his career had been dead and only started reviving last month. When talk radio host Don Imus called the players of the Rutgers women’s basketball team “nappy-headed hos,” he was suspended for six months while his show, which had been running since 1971 was threatened with being taken off the air for good. Yet we have another talk radio host, a comedian and a film critic who at least for the time being have managed to keep their careers and overall reputations intact in spite of remarks made against people with autism. Bigotry is still bigotry no matter whom it is against.

Rex Reed’s article has been out for weeks, but the worst consequence he has received so far is a thread full of angry comments under his article. Unfortunately, it will take a lot more than angry comments to even begin to discourage others from making similar statements again. Reed has a stain on his career and reputation that should severely tarnish both.

To send a letter to the editor, write to this email address
editorial@observer.com 

To contact New York Observer Staff and Executives, enter comments here:
 http://www.observer.com/contact 

In the subject box, bring this to the attention of Jared Kushner, Publisher, Arthur L. Carter, Founder and Editorial Director, and Tom McGeveran, Editor.
http://www.observer.com/masthead

Jake Crosby is a history student with Asperger Syndrome at Brandeis University, and a Contributing Editor to Age of Autism.

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Jeez, John Doe, that was really dumb.

BAAAWWW some people have opinions that I don't agree with BAAAWWW

Jake, excellent piece. Thank you so much for your writing!

Rex who...?

Nice article, Jake. Thanks.

Assuming you remember me, it should not surprise you that I very much agree with your article. I will help spread the word in forums such as wrongplanet. I would like you to know that I now have more respect for all your writing, even those articles with which I disagree, because you have shown that your writing is not based on how people claim you ought to feel, but on your own heartfelt opinions.

Jeff,

The vaccine-autism connection is based on actual evidence, regardless of whether or not some may choose to ignore it because they are offended to hear that their precious vaccines, or that their precious autism is "inherently toxic," as Kathleen Seidel put it.

There's a fine line between that, and hateful, untrue garbage spewed by an arrogant movie critic in a New York newspaper whose slogan reads "Nothing sacred but the truth" about people with Aspergers based on personal dilemmas he has with TWO people he knows who also happen to have the condition. So he decides to offend us all. We do not owe people like Reed a rebuttal for what he wrote, he owes us a retraction and an apology.

Yes, what he wrote was offensive. However, a more positive response is a reasoned, rational argument as to why what he said was wrong, not suggestions of banning offensive speech.

Jake wrote: "It is positively mind-blowing that this would be allowed online; in a major New York publication, it is unconscionable."

I certainly understand the sentiment and it pains me that public figures would make such insensitive statements regarding the conditions that afflict my son. That being said, there are plenty of people that think saying "vaccines are linked to autism" is offensive and would like to ban our speech. A restriction on what people are allowed to say or write is not the answer.

The world is filled with boors and boobs; there is little we can do about that. What we can do is educate the public and help bring about a change in attitude and understanding amongst those decent folks who understand, and try to live by, the golden rule. As for the blowhards, pointing out their ignorance and arrogance is our best weapon in marginalizing them and their message.

What an idiot.

He could have just critiqued the movie and consulted with an AS expert to define Aspergers. That would have helped the general public better understand AS.

Those who can ... do.

Those who can't ... teach.

Those who can't teach ... become critics.

When the comments Michael Savage made first came out I was absolutely outraged, thought about a proper response to such ignorance for days! But you know what, these people are idiots, they don't know my family, my son, most likely have never met an autistic person. After stewing on this for a good long time I decided that the next time somebody makes a joke at the expense of my child I would - INVITE THEM TO DINNER AT MY HOUSE! Come, see what life is like for us, leave him alone with my son for a few minutes while I do the dishes and see where your ignorance gets you! Other than that I honestly don't get upset about such comments anymore, because I have better things to do. I am too busy recovering my son from autism. And for any "personality" who is trying to "help" our cause by making outrageous statement at the expense of our children: butt out, you are NOT helping, lead, follow or get out of the way. And if you do have kids be grateful you don't have to fight the battles we have to face on a daily basis.

Wow. Talk about self-centered. I supposed he complains about all those veterans with no legs because, "you have to push the lazy sob's around in their wheelchairs all the time" and can't abide pregnant women because, "you have to hold the door open for the fatties".

You know what... people with special needs have "SPECIAL NEEDS" and you have to accommodate them as much as you can.

Clearly he is not into accommodating people who were not given the skill set that he was.

My son was once left perplexed, riddled and (not depressed) but deflated.

He was(is) crazy about Hilary Duff. She starred in a movie "Agent Cody Banks" He forced me, his mother(since there was no one else) to go see that movie with him.

Unfortunatly someone thought it was a cute joke for Frank Munitz (boy star of the movie) to become totally akward in her presents and her line was "Are you in special ed?"

My son sitting there in his movie, trying to get away from the way things where at the time, and they were bad, he had undignosed seizures and was jerking almost constantly. I heard him draw in his breath and he said very quitely, "Ouch!"

He found out what the little average, but pretty middle school girl "Lizzie McGuire" character that he allowed into his life every evening, really thought, and it wasn't at all funny.

Rex Reed is 71. He is an artifact of attitudes many decades past, and socially rather irrelevant. (On YouTube you can find a 1969 video of Reed at his peak, with talk show host Dick Cavett ridiculing Reed's garish Bill Blass suit.)

Reed's comment about knowing two people with Asperger's would be laughable if it weren't so achingly politically incorrect. Would he make similar generalizations after knowing two Norwegians? Two actors? Two grandmas?

As the not-so-old saying goes, if you've met one person with autism, you've met one person with autism.

I met Rex Reed at a party in his New York apartment. I was brought there in the "spirit of anthropology" by someone who'd known him for over twenty years and had quite a few unpleasant stories to tell. With the exception of the bit about eye contact, from what I know, the following could simply be a description of Red Reed himself:

"...incurable neurological disorder similar to autism that turns outwardly normal-looking people into high-class idiot savants...(people with Aspergers) are incapable of thinking of anyone or anything outside of themselves. Challenged by social interactions and given to obsessive routines that revolve around a single subject of interest, they do not like to be touched, they feel incapable of explaining things and they cannot cope with people in general. Emotionally blocked, they say things that hurt and sting without meaning to be rude, and are weak at understanding, receiving or exchanging the emotions of others. They cannot look you in the eye... It is lethal to get involved romantically with any person with Asperger’s syndrome, since they care nothing about other people’s feelings, needs or priorities. Almost without exception, they leave you perplexed, riddled with doubt and totally depressed."

Rex Reed has become irrelevant. He saw how much press others received by attacking the Autism issue and seeks to ride ,somewhere, anywhere, on the coattails of the issue.
An old man knowing bad press is better than no press.
He knows nothing.

Jake thank you for your comments.

Tanner's Dad I entirely agree with you. It's not that the don't "feel" it's that the feel too much. My son has autism not aspergers but for him it's over emotion felt in the extreme. Everyone who knows him loves him fiercely and as he loves them as well. This underactive "feeling" concept is not something that can be generalized ever in the spectrum diagnosis.

I also know a Man who was diagnosed with Aspergers in his late 50's. He came to my house because he heard of my son and knew I would hopefully understand him. This man's pain was great beyond words. Intense, firey, soulfull, I would never call him unfeeling or laking empathy in any way. His emotions toward my son were unwavering.

I thought Rex Reed said he was going to retire if they made another "Police Academy" movie!!! He should have been gone four times over and I hear "Police Academy 27" in in the works. We can only hope...

I worked for the company that produced and distributed "At the Movies with Rex Reed and Bill Harris" in the late '80's and met him. Having 3 injured boys with autism born in the mid to late '90's, I am deeply disappointed by his written perspective on people affected with this milder form of autism.

Although there are times when I am "perplexed, riddled with doubt and totally depressed" about how to help my sons, BUT not with them personally, it is inexcusable for him to write that it turns individuals into "idiot savants". This is an inaccurate fact and being a savant is highly rare. Most importantly, my two eldest sons who now are considered to have Aspergers, want nothing more but to have a girlfriend, friends, and are working hard in so many areas, especially in social and communication. People with Aspergers DO care about other people and have great capacity to love.

Rex Reed is just one more example of a dangerous trend that I'm witnessing: Due to the sheer growing numbers of people with autism, there is also a growing intolerance with this disability. Okay, Autism Speaks, we have enough awareness now, thank you. Time for schooling, Rex Reed.

Savage was band from travelling to the UK by our government but they do little to help those affected he insulted.
Its all just a great big PR game to them.

Just to clarify your post, Stern (who I am not a fan of) was paid big, big bucks to move to satellite radio, something like $500m if I recall, he wasn't kicked off the air. Other than that, good post.

I am the parent of a child on the autism spectrum. I attended the AutCom conference in 2008, where I heard many individuals with Aspergers present. Overwhelmingly, the message I heard again and again is how much we (NT's and Aspies & Auties) are *ALIKE*. The descriptions of their challenges navigating relationships and social situations reveal disappointment and pain, too. We NT's need to make sure our perspective taking skills are up to par -- especially (but not only) the shock jocks, comedians and movie reviewers.

It is ironic to me they say that people on the spectrum lack feelings. In most circumstances of todays mean words it is the NT's that do not express feelings for others.

I would say Jake though we are fighting a might battle. In a summer that has seen those on the spectrum hit by teachers, police officers, and ignored by religions. Also, my state proud to be in dead last for services (51st includes DC) Illinois just enhanced it's reputation by two school districts refusing to allow Autism service dogs on campus.

We all must ask... How Much Longer

Jake, thanks for addressing this. I saw Reed's review and was actually kind of confused by his remarks--from everything I've read about the movie *Adam,* the character of Adam is *not* an "idiot savant," but manifests Asperger's Syndrome in a way that rings true with what I've read from you and others.

It does seem that Reed is bringing his personal bias--perhaps his feelings were hurt by the two AS individuals he knows?--and I hope that the Observer will run a letter from you or another AS individual, so its readers can see how wrong Reed is. I hope you send this article to the Observer; it's yet another fine piece of writing from you.

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