(A year or two ago I saw the movie We Need to Talk About Kevin. In the light of the Sandy Hook shootings, and the media’s irresponsible citing of autism as an “explanation” for them, I would like to use the movie as a fictional counterpoint to these events to discuss the ways in which the media is making a false connection between autism and violent crime, and how (and why) this faulty perception is taking hold in the collective imagination.)
“Aspergers Prevention—stop the slayings! When we reach 50 likes, we will find an autistic kid and set it on fire.” —From a Facebook page immediately after the Sandy Hook shootings (since removed, screenshot here)
We Need to Talk About Kevin is well-done and superficially convincing, and taken as a psychological horror movie, it’s above average. Unfortunately the film (funded by the UK Film Council and based on a successful novel that won the prestigious Orange Prize in 2005) both aspires to and was received as a serious psychological study, primarily of the relationship between a mother and her teenage boy who murders several of his classmates for no ostensible reason. Two things bothered me about the film. Firstly, the whole narrative of “alienated-teenage-boy-kills-classmates-wholesale-without-motive” — which has been used as the basis for several recent movies (for example, last year’s Beautiful Boy, which also focused on the parents). This increasingly familiar storyline has been inspired by literally dozens of incidents worldwide, the most famous being the Columbine massacre (reinterpreted in a stupendously boring film by Gus van Sant, Elephant).
There’s plenty of room to doubt the official story around Columbine and the other incidents; but even if the events were being accurately reported, there’s still a hidden back story that isn’t. In which case, there’s every reason to suggest that some — if not most — of these seemingly random incidents are being orchestrated, or at the very least misreported, to generate a widespread belief that alienated teenagers are increasingly likely to turn into psychopathic killers. This, in my opinion, is the overriding impression created by the Kevin film; and now, as real life imitates art imitating life, we have the case of Adam Lanza, the alleged Sandy Hook “shooter,” who is being widely described by the media as Aspergerian, and therefore on the autistic spectrum.(1)
While so far as I know the Kevin film went mostly unremarked on by the autistic community, the Sandy Hook incident, and the attempts by some people to “explain” it by citing Lanza’s alleged autism, has caused an understandable outcry. Many in the community fear that such uninformed and reactive beliefs might lead to a “witch hunt” of autists. My view is that such a witch hunt is already underway, that it has been for many years, and that films like Kevin and incidents like Sandy Hook are being used (whether designed that way or not) to fuel the flames of a modern-day inquisition.
1. Curiously enough, the most recent Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, DSM 5, to be released in May 2013, officially incorporated Asperger’s syndrome into the larger diagnosis of autism just two weeks before the Sandy Hook incident.