Autism and Celebrity: Talking about The Cult of Jenny…

“To control and sort young people for the sake of institutional
efficiency is to crush the human spirit.”
–Ron Miller

I have always liked this quote, which I found a few years ago.  This reminds me of how students, depending on the severity of their disabilities, are often segregated from their peers in school classrooms.  I have not explored this exact part of my son’s life, really, in my writing, but I do certainly explore the concept of “autism” as a category and how it is indeed sorted and classified for the sake of “institutional efficiency.”  I find that language, rather than actually physical removal from spaces, can be much more alienating in our society.  And does anyone else find it interesting that for a society, a Western society, a progressive society, a society that prides itself on independence, on individuality, on FREEDOM, balks at anything that isn’t the “status quo,” that isn’t too many standard deviations from the norm, that isn’t too ODD?  Anyways, there is no normal anyways…  Normal is just a setting on the dryer, right?

Normal is just a dryer setting.

Normal is just a dryer setting.

It isn’t just autistic people either. Celebrities are placed under microscopes and the moment we find out about their oddities, they endure even more scrutiny.  The other night I saw this report on Brad Pitt (yes, Brad Pitt—it was on Access Hollywood), about how he basically f**ked off for 10 years while he was married to Jennifer Anniston.  And I told myself, “so what?”  Why should we care what Brad did or did not do?  Why are we critical of him, a privileged rich man who makes a living, really LIVING in front of cameras?  Are these celebrities, including Brad Pitt, vilified by all this attention?  Yes and no. Almost immediately after this story it is revealed that Brad Pitt may have prosopagnosia, face blindness, a condition that many autistic people experience.  I find autism and its associated characteristics, markers, and labels no matter where I go.

What about the most famous autism related celebrity out there (who is not autistic that is),  Jenny McCarthy?  What about autistic children?  What about her son? What about parents who turn on their TV and see Jenny McCarthy ranting about how vaccines caused her son’s autism (yes, she refuts those claims now) or any other such nonsense she spews simply because the cameras are rolling?  Where is the voice of a parent who is NOT the same as hers?  No cameras, please, no cameras. Literally. I did get one of her autism parenting books out of the library and found I just couldn’t read it. You can look at the autism rhetoric surrounding her, especially images of her, her books, and her son and I wonder. You SHOULD wonder.

photograph of the book cover for the book

Jenny McCarthy’s “Mother Warriors”

Magazine cover with scantily clad image of Jenny McCarthy

Bimbo Science: “Doctor” Jenny McCarthy & The New McCarthyism

Look at the picture on the front of this book cover, at far right.  The way she is holding her son isn’t motherly at all. Look at the fist. She is saying with this image, do not f**k with me.  She is a mother warrior.  Compare it to this next image, near right.

This is from a blog post titled, “Bimbo Science: “Doctor” Jenny McCarthy & The New McCarthyism”; in this picture she doesn’t want you to f**k with her, she wants you to F**K her. Do I want this woman to be my spokesperson for the whole of autism?  Or for autism parents? I think not…. When I first found them a year ago, I didn’t even know whether or not these two images were not the same time period.  I did some impromptu research and these photos are indeed within a year of each other.

But this is perhaps why Jenny McCarthy’s more consumable books on autism are more readily available and availed upon rather than more positive narratives or, even better, narratives by autistics themselves (see Loud Hands for a good example).  Is this why ordinary autism parents are more likely to read mainstream autism parenting books rather than academic narratives that they can’t relate to?  Many seem mesmerized by the Cult of Jenny…  An essay for another time.

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