October 5, 2017

Invisible history

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , , , at 2:00 pm by chavisory

I started watching Westworld last week. In a scene in the first episode, one of the android characters, a “host” in the immersive Wild West-themed amusement park, has found a photograph in his field, discarded by a guest, depicting a woman in modern clothing standing in Times Square at night. Disturbed and confused, he shows it to his daughter, Dolores, but she’s not similarly affected (at least, not yet).

Lacking any possible context or way to make sense of what she sees, she can only say over and over again, “It doesn’t look like anything to me.”

She can’t process the possible existence of a whole reality that she has no framework at all in which to understand.

 

With the premieres recently of both Atypical and The Good Doctor, I was having a conversation about fictional representation of autistic characters–what we wish we saw more of, what we find intolerable.

And one of the things I have managed to put my finger on that unsettles me consistently, that leaves me unable to connect with a lot of the portrayals I see, is the tendency for autistic adults or near-adults to be portrayed as baffled, bumbling, almost complete naïfs about the non-autistic social world and its expectations and the realities of how things work.

As if, at the age of 18 or even older, they walked out their front door and encountered an overwhelming and often hostile world for the first time yesterday.

When, in reality, and unless we have been terribly, inappropriately isolated or sheltered (though often even then, often especially then), we’re actually well-acquainted with the fact of a world that doesn’t work terribly well for us, and we’ve been navigating it for a long time.

We aren’t dropped into our world for the first time in the opening teaser of a television episode.

A lot of writers and actors seem to be able to get their heads around what autism basically is, in terms of language, sensory, and social communication difficulties. But then it’s as if they don’t know, or can’t extrapolate to, the full range of experiences that autistic people actually live. That things have happened to us, and things have happened in certain ways for us all our lives, and those things have had consequences for who we become and who we are.

So, for instance, by the time we’re adults, we have made a lot of social mistakes and had to deal with the fallout.

We’ve often had to be responsible for ourselves in ways that other people our age haven’t, because adults haven’t been reliable sources of support. We’ve had to teach ourselves things that everyone else seems to just know.

We’ve had to be careful in ways that other people don’t and problem-solve for ourselves in ways most people haven’t.

We have to know things that most people don’t about navigating the non-autistic world. And we know more about what we don’t know than most people even realize there is to know.

We have to anticipate being mistreated or misunderstood almost constantly.

We have dealt with a lot of abuse, ostracism, isolation, loneliness, being disbelieved about our experiences and perceptions, and violation of our autonomy.

We’ve had to work harder to not just fall through the cracks of the world. We’ve also experienced uniquely intense beauty and joy, as well as many of the common experiences and challenges of growing up that most adolescents and young adults experience.

All of those things have impacts, besides that people learn and grow and are affected by their histories as they age. People become competent at dealing with the circumstances of their own lives.

 

And without that grounding in personal history, you’re left trying to construct a character’s personality around a diagnostic checklist, and you wind up with characters who are basically walking autism in some kind of imaginary pure state—without patterns of experience, without memory, resilience, or emotional connective tissue—who therefore have the social navigation skills of 6-year-olds no matter how long they’ve supposedly actually lived on this earth.

 

The more I thought about it, the more I started to suspect that this is actually what people are talking about when they say things like “But you don’t seem autistic.”

It’s not just that we don’t behave like children or that we don’t have the same “kind” of autism as a character they’re familiar with or don’t seem to occupy the same place on the spectrum as their own or someone else’s child.

It’s that the autistic characters they are used to seeing have no depth of experience.

They are people without history.

A growing number of people know children diagnosed with autism. But autistic adults are still overwhelmingly likely to be undiagnosed, or closeted, or both—if they’re not isolated from their communities in group homes or institutions or segregated workplaces, and many still are. So many people don’t really know autistic adults, or at least don’t know that they do. Their knowledge base of autistic people is still being drawn from children, or from fictional representations based on clinical knowledge of children.

And that leaves the reality of our life experiences, both positive and negative, and their impact kind of invisible. So if autistic people change or grow as people, or pick up skills we weren’t expected to, it must be because we overcame or outgrew autism, or “must be very high-functioning” in the first place…and not because we are capable of learning from our own experiences and the demands of our environment.

I speculated once (apparently in a comment now lost to the depths of the internet, sorry) that the myth of autism as developmental stagnation or eternal childhood, and a lot of “not like my child” rhetoric directed at autistic adults, stems largely from this inscrutability of what the passage from childhood to adulthood looks like for autistic people.

“They’re taught to overlook our humanity, and a lot of what happens to us is hidden from them,” writes Rabbi Ruti Regan.

Most people just don’t have a framework of knowledge about the substance of our lived experience.

So it doesn’t look like anything.

 

A lot of the time, when autistic people complain that autistic characters are unrealistic, it’s presumed to be an issue of a character not representing the traits or experiences of a certain faction of the autistic community, and we get responses like “But one character can never represent all autistic people.”

But that isn’t the problem. It’s not that they’re not exactly like ourselves; it’s that they have no depth or complexity because they have no lived experience, because their creators didn’t know how to give them one.

Well-meaning non-autistic people frequently protest that “You aren’t only autism!” but it usually isn’t we who seem to think that we are only autism and not an intricate amalgam of our innate character traits, our strengths and weaknesses, our personal histories, our thoughts and desires and fears and embodied experiences of the world.

And yes, autism pervades all of that. But it doesn’t comprise our personalities in a vacuum.

Just because we’re new to many non-autistic people’s conception of the world, doesn’t mean we’re actually new to the world. We have histories, and we are affected, like all people, by those histories.

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September 4, 2017

Fix your hearts or die

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 8:39 pm by chavisory

This post contains SPOILERS for episode 18 of Twin Peaks: The Return.

It occurred to me, as I was looking for a RedBubble artist who might put this motto on a t-shirt or sticker for me, that, to the extent that this show could be said to have a thesis or a moral in any coherent sense, this might well be it.

“Fix your hearts or die,” we’re initially told is what FBI Director Gordon Cole said to his skeptical colleagues upon Agent Denise Bryson’s decision to live openly as a transgender woman, but throughout this season of Twin Peaks:  The Return, we see this warning play out in the lives of other characters and in the world of Twin Peaks as a whole.

Nadine fixed her heart, deciding she was capable of finding joy apart from maintaining her control of Ed and giving Ed and Norma their freedom to pursue true happiness together.

Ben Horne has fixed his heart.  We last see him at the end of season 2 bemoaning that he’s only ever wanted to do good, to be good, and at long last he seems to have mostly figured it out, though it clearly hasn’t been an easy endeavor for him.

Bobby Briggs has fixed his heart.  We’ve seen him capable of such impulsive malevolence and recklessness in his younger days, and such goodness, joy, competence, and responsibility more recently.  Bobby has individually embodied many of the dualities of Twin Peaks that most of its characters seem to sit on one side or the other of.  It hasn’t been easy on him, either.  He knows what it is to do both good and evil, more than maybe any other character in this world.

Whereas many of the characters who’ve met nasty ends, or seem to be hurtling towards them, or who cause the destruction of others, are those who would not fix their hearts.  Steven.  Richard.  Ray.  The “truck you” guy.

Becky is learning, maybe, that you can’t fix the hearts of others.  Only your own.

We can’t undo the catastrophic vulnerability, the moral damage to the fabric of the world itself done by something like the advent of the atomic bomb.  But we can work to fix the corruption of our own hearts, the juxtaposition of the overwhelming scale of the sin of Trinity and Hiroshima and Nagasaki with the more pedestrian struggles of the characters to make their own lives bearable seems to say.  We can’t always help what happens to us, what is done to us, but we have a choice about whether to follow that darkness into the future.

Will Sarah Palmer be able to fix her broken heart, or will the darkness we saw behind her face consume her totally?  Is there damage to the human heart that can’t be fixed?

I wrote a lot of this before I watched last night’s two-part finale–and as I watched Cooper find Laura in the forest and take her hand, I felt not relief or hope, but a mounting dread.  It mounted as Coop and Diane drove over the dimensional border, down that dark highway, and into Odessa.  This wasn’t Bad Cooper, but previously, I think we’ve only seen Bad Cooper driving into darkness this way.

dark road

He was choosing wrong.  Everything about the recurring visual language here tells us that Coop is making a horrible mistake, even in his determination to do good.  He’s trying to undo what has been done, to turn back the consequences of undeniable evil, rather than to carry those lessons into the future.

I do think it’s interesting that I’ve felt differently about other stories involving timeline revision before, and I don’t know what to say exactly other than that the worlds of Doctor Who and Twin Peaks are not the same and don’t work in exactly the same way.  Amy’s story isn’t Laura’s, Audrey’s, or Cooper’s.  In this one, a timeline can only be healed by reckoning fully with grief and guilt.  And the characters we’ve seen turn out for the better are the ones–notably Bobby–who have done that within their own stories.

Looking back, appropriately enough, it was Bobby who back in the very first season took the entire town of Twin Peaks to task at Laura’s funeral for its denizens’ complicity in her death, for refusing to acknowledge what was going on in front of their eyes all along.  “Everybody knew she was in trouble, but we didn’t do anything.  All you good people.  You want to know who killed Laura?  We all did.”

Laura can’t simply not die, and everyone involved not have to fix their hearts.

(Furthermore, if the events of seasons 1 and 2 catalyzed by Laura’s death didn’t play out, then BOB is still loose in the world, not banished back to the Black Lodge.)

We cannot go back on what we’ve done without compounding destruction and chaos.  Only forward, if we dare to fix our hearts.

February 10, 2016

When did ‘The X-Files’ get this cool?

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 2:01 pm by chavisory

This is a screen capture of the top headlines from the New York Times Television section one day last month.

The_New_York_Times_-_Breaking_News__World_News___Multimedia

[Image description: Under the section heading “Television” on the New York Times online home page, featured headlines are “How Well Do You Know Your ‘X-Files’ Monsters?” “The X-Files Season 10 Premiere: A Crazier Mulder Than Usual,” and “A Word With: William B. Davis: The Cigarette Smoking Man of The X-Files Resurfaces.” Accompanying photograph is of actor Doug Hutchison as Eugene Victor Tooms, with glowing yellow eyes.]

It is a little bit hard to get words around my bafflement at this state of affairs. People are gushing with happiness all over my Facebook news feed. People who I never knew previously were huge X-Files fans. People who I don’t remember as being similarly obsessed when the show was last on the air.  (Some people who I just didn’t know yet, and I’m thankful that I do now, and not only for the purposes of squealing about The X-Files.)

Don’t get me wrong; I’m happy about this. That I can flail about The X-Files pretty visibly these days; everyone else is, too.  Maybe it just seems that way.

That somehow, between when I was 11, or 21, and now, it’s become perfectly acceptable, if not normal, to be openly obsessed with The X-Files.

It’s a weird thing to feel a little betrayed and befuddled over.

When I was a kid, when I was in college even, and got on about The X-Files, other people tended to get quiet and move away. People who had professed their mutual love of it just moments before. My adoration of this show was mostly something vaguely embarrassing, tolerated, indulged. Over the years I had a couple of friends who shared my interest to a limited extent…I was really excited when I met one other girl at camp who was into it, too. But we didn’t get close.  For a short span of time, I had the AOL message boards, but I was too young to have really great conversations there…and then AOL itself became more grief than it was worth, and I didn’t anymore.

A lot of teenagers would say they liked it, but then would shy away from actually talking about it. Were they saying they did just to make small talk? To placate me? Because that was the thing to do, when someone said they liked something, was to say you liked it, too, regardless of how clueless you actually were, because to admit you didn’t understand something that someone else did was the cardinal sin? (That would explain a lot, actually. Though I feel like I tried that a couple of times and it didn’t work out well.) Did they really, but it was too uncool to admit how much they did, especially to someone like me?

Was it the aliens?

My dedication remained no less steadfast over the years of the show, but it was something I got more and more embarrassed of, and in the later years of the show even fellow serious fans started dropping away. I know, I know, I missed Mulder, too. (If you watch some of those season 8-9 episodes now, they’re actually good—even I had no memory of some of them and was surprised at how good they were upon re-watch—but everyone was so disillusioned by Mulder’s departure that they just gave up.) But stuff just doesn’t let go of me that easily. And it became one of those loves that left me more and more alone over time instead of less.

I kind of just packed it away in my heart after the end of the show. I had a load-in the night of the series finale, which I made peace with videotaping for later. It was time to move on. The second movie got uniformly bad reviews; I continue to maintain its release was mishandled.  But I didn’t even get to go with anyone to the theater to see it.

A decade later I got onto Tumblr and was stunned to find a trove of loving, thoughtful, incisive commentary on the show, by people who were too young to have even watched it in its original run.

And now we’re at this point.

What happened? What changed?

Granted, for one thing, I have more neurodivergent female friends now. Dana Scully turns out to have been a cultural touchstone for a lot of girls who felt chronically weird and out of place. But that isn’t all; a lot of it isn’t coming from those people.

Did pervasive mistrust of the government come to seem less silly and paranoid in the post-9/11 Bush years?

Did everyone just get sick and tired of the culture that required we be aloof, indifferent, and uncaring?…of constantly swallowing their enthusiasm and sincerity and hiding what they loved?

(Even when I was too young to really get a lot of what the show was about, I think that may’ve been a huge factor in what attracted me to it. Mulder and Scully just cared so damn much, when all the grownups in my life always seemed to be telling me to care less.

Care less about the environment. Care less that school was an unfair, mean, and stupid waste of my time. Care less about being home by 8:00 on Friday night.)

It’s really great. It’s more than a little incredible to me. It feels in a way kind of like I just stumbled into the world the way it always should’ve been.

But I also can’t help but wonder, where was all this when I was 12, when it could’ve meant everything?

February 11, 2014

I have really complicated feelings about exhortations to tell girls they’re smart instead of beautiful, and also why I’m not a Ravenclaw

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 4:16 pm by chavisory

complimentmybrain

{Moving image depicts Dr. Christina Yang from the show Grey’s Anatomy, gesturing dramatically and proclaiming “Oh, screw beautiful, I’m brilliant!  You wanna appease me, compliment my brain!”}

The title of this might be me at my most inarticulate, but I’ve got some complex emotional history here.

I’ve see this screencap from Grey’s Anatomy flying around Tumblr a lot lately, with kind of conflicted feelings.

And I want to cheer for it.  I want to agree with Christina in this scene.  I want to clap.  I do.  I can’t.  My heart sinks a little instead.

When I was growing up, I was over-appreciated for my brain—or what people wanted out of it—and not much else.

And I get why, for a lot of women, so much importance has been placed on physical beauty and a very narrow definition of sexual desirability by culture and media that to be told you’re beautiful can be diminishing, or a denial of any other aspect of personhood as vital or valuable in a woman.

But another kind of woman got written off early and entirely in the department of physical desirability, and got told intensely and persistently that our intellect was the only valuable thing about us.

And that can be just as objectifying as the inverse.  To be treated as if your body, your sexuality, is a mistake, is off limits from being considered an asset or a real and true aspect of our personhood or something we should even like about ourselves.

Because my physical experience of the world is as totally intrinsic to the kind of person I’ve become as my intelligence is.

There’s not really any aspect or component of a person of which it’s alright to say, “You may be valued for this alone.  This is all of you that matters.”

So yeah, I can understand the frustration of other women at being called beautiful as the highest possible compliment, when though that may be what society values, it’s superficial to what they see as their true selves.

That’s exactly how I feel about being called “smart.”  It’s the only way I was ever allowed to be valuable or worthwhile, but it’s almost completely superficial to what I actually value most about myself.

When I was growing up, it was my intelligence that was made a commodity to other people.  And that was all of me that mattered.

For a long time, I was resentful that intellect and insight were not valued or celebrated anywhere near as much as superficial beauty or things like athletic talent—by society, by the media, by the school system—because it was all I had going for me.

And then a time came when I was so, so sick of hearing how smart I was.

In retrospect, a lot of my academic accomplishments feel like stupid human tricks, compared to the qualities that I’m really proud of nurturing. And yes, I was actually proud of them, too, and wanted recognition for them.  But on some level even at the time, I knew that they were just the game I could play.  They were the game I could win, the hoops I could jump through.

In an end-of-the-year Thespian troupe party my senior year of high school, we had a ritual where the whole troupe sat in a circle, and we were supposed to go around one by one, and use one word to describe each one of our classmates.

I forbade anyone to say I was smart.  I frakking knew that already, and getting told what you already knew wasn’t the point of the exercise.  I knew that ad nauseum.  Tell me anything else.  Prove you know me better than that.  Tell me that something about me matters to you.

People said it anyway.

(Our teacher, blessedly, did not.)

There’s also this thing that happens where, once someone has gotten the impression that I’m so intelligent, expects me to not have a soul, a conscience, a sense of fairness, or a heart, and winds up really confused and disappointed when I do.

Other people’s perception of my intelligence has been over-leveraged as a survival tactic and bargaining chip for autonomy and personhood, for me to really be able to treasure it much for myself anymore.

***

I value my physical beauty now, idiosyncratic though it may be.  I love finally feeling at home in my body and the way it moves.  That’s a wondrous thing to me.  I love being made to feel beautiful by someone who really means it about the way that I really am.

I like looking in the mirror and liking what I see.

And I won’t feel that it’s some kind of a betrayal of womanhood to actually value that about myself.  After so many years of having that ability discouraged and confounded in so many ways, I get to have that.

***

Just as valuation of a particular standard of beauty above all other female attributes both devalues girls who can’t meet that standard, and devalues everything else about girls who do…how is valuation of intelligence above any other personal attribute not likely to devalue girls who don’t meet some conventional, one-dimensional standard of that?

I wish we could just stop hacking people up into pieces that are valuable and not valuable, acceptable and not acceptable.

I fear that this trading valuation of physical beauty for intelligence, really just winds up telling some girls “You do not count in this way.  Your physical experience of the world and your sexuality aren’t really things that deserve to be taken into account, because you’re a brain, and that’s what matters about you.”

July 28, 2013

In defense of Amy Pond and other impossible stories

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , , at 8:30 pm by chavisory

-or-

I do not think that Amy Pond is the Manic Pixie Dream Girl that you think she is.

~

I’ve been seeing this column linked, quoted, and excerpted pretty much all over the internet in the past couple weeks.  And I wish I were having as positive a reaction to it as, apparently, basically every other woman on the internet is.  But I’m not.

I was never a manic pixie dream girl.  Though it wasn’t for the lack of a couple of people’s trying to make me theirs.  Who decided everything about who I was, tried to treat me like I was that person, and then were continually confused and disappointed when I wasn’t.  In fact, that’s true of a lot of people in my life, in various contexts, and not just romantically.

It’s the kind of thing I can see happening to Amy a lot, too.  Not just guys with romantic intent, but people, deciding based on her looks and demeanor what’s behind her eyes.

And then it isn’t.

And so not many people stay close.

It’s not that she’s vacant or empty—it’s that so much has happened to her that has no possibility of being put into words that anyone else would either understand or believe.  That has no analog or describeability at all within what most people in her world know and accept as the boundaries of reality.

She’s tried.  And look what happened for her trouble.  Four psychiatrists; being told all her life that she was making it up, or delusional, that what she knows to be true couldn’t possibly be.

Believe me about the wear and tear that exerts on a person’s psyche.  (And I didn’t even have a Time Lord fall out of the sky into my backyard in a police box after my entire family had been disappeared by a crack in the universe.)

(Um, not exactly, anyway.)

Is it any wonder she doesn’t let much of her interiority slip anymore?

I have always, always experienced Amy as the protagonist of that entire story arc of Doctor Who, not as a function of what she was to the Doctor.  Far from being “somehow immortally fixed at the physical and mental age of nineteen-and-a-half,” she always struck me as much older and sadder than she was supposed to be, perhaps even by her writer.  She was always the point-of-view character to me.  We saw her, and the world from her perspective, first and last in that story.

And finally, it was a world that I recognized.

That doesn’t mean that the framing of the story, and Steven Moffat’s (and therefore the Doctor’s) treatment of her aren’t sometimes often inexcusably patronizing or sexist.  Particularly the ways in which people try to protect her by hiding knowledge or information about herself from her, in an inadvertent continuation of the way she had her very existential integrity violated by the effects of the crack in her bedroom wall.

Lots of people try to take Amy away from herself, with good intent or bad—Moffat, and the Doctor, her aunt and her psychiatrists, the Silence and Madame Kovarian.  But she ultimately chooses the framing of her story that gets told to her younger self.  She ultimately makes the decisions that take her away from the Doctor.  The fact that she is put at the mercy of forces much larger than herself, that people who care about her respond rather imperfectly, that she does the best she can—with a stunning degree of endurance and courage if you really stop to think about it—under deeply irrational and frightening circumstances…I am unclear on how that makes her “the ultimate in lazy sexist tropification.”

That is shit that happens to people.

This is the problem with proclaiming that “the girl who waited” is not a real person.  She is.  I have been the girl who waited.  It’s not a part of my story that I’m particularly enamored with sometimes, but it is intrinsically part of my story.  It’s not flattering, but it’s true, and not because that’s just the way some man wanted it.  I’ve been the girl whose life didn’t make any sense.  I’ve been the girl whose memories didn’t add up.  I’ve felt like the impossible girl.

Those aren’t just the titles of stories that happened to other people because that’s what girls are supposed to be.  Those are stories that happened to me.

I’ve been told so often, in so many ways, that I wasn’t a real person, that I couldn’t exist in the world.

And oh, look, here’s another woman, doing it again.  (It is usually women.)  I guess to some women, being real is only for some women.  And not for those of us whose stories are too inconvenient.

Even Amy isn’t truly a girl I could be, in various ways; it’s just that elements of her story helped me work out a few important things about my own.  I watched “The Pandorica Opens” and could literally feel aspects of how the universe was supposed to work, turning and clicking back into place for me.  (Even as the episode made so little logical sense that in trying, unsuccessfully, to untangle its plausibility in my head one day, I completely spaced out on my subway ride to work and missed my stop.)  I had a Facebook conversation with a friend one night about how, when you’ve spent most of your life deeply disoriented with no clear explanation as to why, to suddenly not be disoriented in that way anymore is its own kind of disorientation.  It’s one of the most deeply weird things I’ve ever experienced, and that’s saying something, and I’ve never, not anywhere, seen that experience represented more adeptly than in Amy’s episodes of Doctor Who.  (And I very much think of them as Amy’s episodes.)

You know how people sometimes write letters to their childhood selves?  I could never do that.  I didn’t know what I could possibly say to that little girl.  No words would form around the things I wanted her to know.  I just couldn’t, somehow, connect the world I know, and the world she lived in, and the things she did and didn’t understand at the time.  The truth was just too much, too fractured and incomprehensible a thing to try to figure out how to lay on that girl.  It felt like there was some kind of glitch in my timeline…in my own understanding of how I’d even gotten from there to here.

But when the Doctor closed Melody Malone’s book at the end of Amy’s story in “The Angels Take Manhattan,” I cried and cried for a long time without being able to say exactly why.  And then I did understand, and then I did know what needed saying to that girl.  And I could say it.

Amy means a lot to me precisely because I couldn’t ever be the story that other people wanted.

Neil Gaiman once wrote “…the shape of reality—the way I perceive the world—exists only because of Dr Who,” and while that would be an over-statement in my case, Amy’s story finally reflected to me a lot of the emotional shape of my own world, and some of the joints and hinges that have held it somewhat inexplicably together.

May 25, 2013

The wisdom of Nickelodeon (circa 1991-96)

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 2:34 am by chavisory

I was working on a film shoot a couple weeks ago, and standing around on a break one day, somehow I got to talking with our costume designer and the 12-year-old member of our cast about how much better Nickelodeon shows were in my childhood than they are now.  While I was a little embarrassed to have almost no idea what is even on Nickelodeon these days, he was a connoisseur of vintage Nickelodeon, and we wound up talking about shows like Clarissa Explains It All, Doug, Rugrats, Salute Your Shorts, Are You Afraid of the Dark?, You Can’t Do That On Television, and The Adventures of Pete and Pete.

And one of the things we realized, in trying to figure out why those shows were so cool, and felt so good to watch, even though they were in some ways ridiculously wholesome, was that they managed to make you feel like they were always firmly on your side as a kid.

Although almost wholly non-objectionable in any way, they weren’t family shows.  They were kids’ shows.  They weren’t so much trying to teach any lessons, or make your parents happy, as they were dealing with the world the way that kids actually have to deal with the world, with all of its petty injustice, anxiety, and ludicrousness.  There was lightness in the situations, but there wasn’t trivialization or mockery of kids’ problems.  Adults were not always ultimately right, or even good or well-intentioned like they were in other network family shows.

And as I thought more about it, I realized something else that day.  Those shows weren’t just on the side of kids…they were practically always, as far as I can remember, on the side of vulnerable kids, underdogs, and oddballs.

Compare, for instance, the way Sponge is portrayed in Salute Your Shorts compared to Screech in Saved By The Bell.  When Sponge is called names and pushed around and valued only for his huge memory for random facts, it is actually wrong.  Or Sam the weird neighbor in Clarissa and Skeeter the weird sidekick in Doug compared to Kimmy the weird neighbor in Full House.  The bullies and jerks were the bad guys in those shows, and while you’re still supposed to have compassion for those characters in their own way, they are the actual antagonists of those worlds and you are not supposed to approve of their behavior and join in laughing at their victims.  There weren’t characters who were there to be ridiculed.

Heroes and protagonists of Nickelodeon shows felt dorky and inferior…and it was okay.

And I was thinking about it some more as I was going through an old journal this week (which I almost never do), and re-reading an entry about realizing that the things I’ve tended to really love–music or books or TV shows–were things that made me feel like a person.  Things that I liked okay were things that at least let me feel like a person.

Things that I could never manage to like much at all, even when everyone else around me loved them, tended to leave me feeling like I couldn’t laugh at the characters I was supposed to be laughing at.

Nickelodeon shows never did that.  And while I was warned all too often that the amount of TV I watched as a kid was going to rot my brain, I’m starting to suspect that the more subtle lessons of those shows may actually have been among the most quietly but deeply impactful sources of strength to follow me into adulthood.

(And then there was this.  How many things in life have you really been more afraid of than that?  The top comment reads “This is why we 90’s kids are so intact”…and I think she may not be wrong.)