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