Saturday, July 17, 2010

Eureka, Autism and was That Really Necessary?

I am not sure what the point of one of the latest plot twists on Eureka happened to be, but I found it rather unsettling and quite disturbing. For those of you who don’t know what Eureka is, it is a sci-fi television show on the Syfy Channel. It is about a unique town of brilliant scientists that cause all kinds of mayhem and consternation while they invent new ways of using technology to enhance our daily existence, with the odd military contract thrown in (of course). Oh yeah there is the regulation soap opera overtones and the teenage angst overtones to go along with any modern television program.

What they also happened to have is the requisite autism story line as well. The brilliant head of the corporation along with her brilliant ex-husband who is (was) a scientist in Eureka had an older son who was autistic. Now I say was because the latest plot twist is that six of the character were transported back to 1947 when the town was first formed (here), and due to their interruption of the space-time-continuum, they changed the present in many ways. One of the ways that everything was changed is that the child is no longer autistic. (here) When it was discussed on the show how that could have happened, there was the pat answer that autism is the outcome of a combination of genes and environment and an untold number of coincidences that come together to create the autism. (I guess we should be lucky that they didn’t say that they had safer vaccines in the new time line).

What I do know is that the show annoyed me to no end. I really hate it when Hollywood decides to pontificate about scientific research and gives simple ignorant answers to questions no one knows the answer to. (No, this is not a diatribe about Jenny McCarthy. Personally I do think that she has done a great deal of harm with her anti-vaccine crusade, but that is not what this post is all about.) What annoyed me is that some writer in his little office somewhere on a Hollywood sound lot has decided to take an issue that is so much a part our lives and give it short shrift as if autism is just another whoopsidaisy.

What would have been more interesting and more informative for those that watch the show is to allow the audience to see just what the family and the autistic child go through in certain circumstances. It would have been great if they showed in that giant brain of Eureka scientists working to find the cause of autism and yes, a cure. It would have been better, if like in Parenthood, the writers showed just how different and outcast so many of our children happen to be and that even in the world of geniuses there are real problems.

But yes, this is a feel good show, not one full of lessons and philosophy, except that a lot of the science that is portrayed on the show is actually real. There is a link on the show website that allows you to learn about the new science that is discussed every week. It really is fascinating what is out there in the scientific domain. You never hear about that. You never hear about the strides and what glorious inventions and future does bode for humankind. But yes, that is part of the show. So why they could not have made the future where they were experimenting with new therapies or ideas to help this child is beyond me.

I did like one scene that involved the mother of the autistic child. The time machine/portal was still in operation and the others were thinking of going back in time and trying to relink to “their” time. The sheriff of the town caught the mother on her way to destroy the machine. She didn’t want to lose her son again she said. You know what, I would have done the same thing if I had been found in that same exact situation. No I would not go back and I would fight damn hard to make sure that my baby didn’t go back either. The reality is that some screwy electrical storm ended up destroying the machine and they stayed in the alternative time line, leaving the autistic child an NT. In some ways, a dream I know we all share.

I suppose what made me upset more than anything is how autism is now the prop du jour of the entertainment world. That if they throw in an autistic kid or adult somehow it gives a hook into reality. In a more cynical world, I think the financial managers of the entertainment world may think that the autism hook will cause the autism community, which is growing exponentially every day, a reason to watch their show, improve their ratings and improve their take home pay. But then again that is just my thought about this explosion of autism characters in television and film.

I do like the show Eureka and I will continue to watch the show. It is fun. It is enjoyable. It is thought provoking in a scientific sense. It was an escape for me from the real world I inhabit. I guess that’s why I like Say Yes to the Dress, about expensive wedding gown shopping, or House Hunters International, about living abroad or buying a vacation home in another country, things I will never really do and things I couldn’t do at the time I was married. Heck I got my wedding gown at the Filene’s Basement Bride Run;

 it cost $40 and was worth $500 at the time 27 years ago. I wonder what that would be in current pricing…hmm. Someone had put my dress back on the rack because it had a little stain, which came out in the drycleaning. I had actually missed the stampede part of the run, got to the store 15 minutes after it had opened and lo and behold there was only my dress left on the rack. Somethings I guess are meant to be afterall.

I suppose it just comes down to the fact that I just wish the writers on Eureka had actually given some real thought to autism families, that live in the real world, before they mused about time lines, environments and genes, as if none of this means anything to anyone. It would have made a good episode a great episode and opened up an entire set of new possibilities. Of course they can still do that. Maybe the autism-scientist-mom will start a project to find out why her son is no longer autistic in the new time-line. It wouldn't have to be a big story , just a little sideline of thought, but it would go along way in acknowledging that some answers are not found in science fiction.

Until next time,