Friday, April 21, 2006

Jason McElwain and Pres. Bush
Which one is autistic?

Since the mid-to-late 1980's, America has been infatuated with the physically- and mentally-handicapped. It is a rare occurrence, like Halley's Comet, to watch the Academy Awards and not see a nominee for Best Picture that focuses on the life and trials and tribulations of a disabled person. In the last 18 years at the Academy Awards, only five had a completely physically-able list of nominees for Best Picture. See the following list for further verification.

  1. 1988 had: Rain Man, winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture.
  2. Synopsis: The story of an abrasive, selfish yuppie, Charlie Babbitt, who discovers that his father has left all of his estate to an autistic savant brother, Raymond, whom Charlie never knew he had.

  1. 1989 had: My Left Foot, runner up to Driving Miss Daisy for Best Picture.
  2. Synopsis: The story of Christy Brown, an Irishman born with cerebral palsy, who can only move his left foot.

  1. 1990 had: Awakenings, runner up to Dances With Wolves for Best Picture.
  2. Synopsis: The story of a doctor who in 1969 discovers beneficial effects of the then-new drug L-Dopa on patients who are catatonic after surviving the 1917-1928 epidemic of encephalitis lethargica.

  1. 1991 had: The Prince of Tides, runner up to The Silence of the Lambs for Best Picture.
  2. Synopsis: The story of the narrator's struggle to overcome the psychological damage inflicted by his dysfunctional childhood in South Carolina.

  1. 1992 had: Surprisingly, nothing about having to overcome some kind of disability.
  2. Synopsis: Unforgiven won the Academy Award for Best Picture, for what it's worth.

  1. 1993 had: The Piano, runner up to Schindler's List for Best Picture.
  2. Synopsis: The story of a mute woman pianist and her daughter, set during the mid-19th century in a rainy, muddy frontier New Zealand backwater.

  1. 1994 had: Forrest Gump, winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture.
  2. Synopsis: The story of a simple man's epic journey through life, meeting historical figures and experiencing first-hand historic events largely unaware of their significance, due to his low IQ of 75.

  1. 1995 had: Like 1992, no films in the running were about having to overcome some kind of disability.
  2. Synopsis: Braveheart won the Academy Award for Best Picture.

  1. 1996 had: Shine, runner up to The English Patient for Best Picture.
  2. Synopsis: The true story of pianist David Helfgott, who suffered a mental breakdown and spent years in institutions.

  1. 1997 had: As Good as It Gets, runner up to Titanic for Best Picture.
  2. Synopsis: The story of an obsessive-compulsive, cantankerous, racist, homophobic writer named Melvin Udall (Jack Nicholson) who, because of his affective disorder, lives in a world that has shrunk to about the size of his apartment and the books he authors.

  1. 1998 had: Like '92 and '95, no films in the running concerned the triumph over a disability.
  2. Synopsis: Shakespeare in Love won the Academy Award.

  1. 1999 had: The Sixth Sense, runner up to American Beauty for Best Picture.
  2. Synopsis: The fictional story of a troubled, isolated boy (played by Haley Joel Osment) and a child psychologist (played by Bruce Willis) who tries to help him.

  1. 2000 had: None, though one could make the case that the creators of Erin Brockovich were mentally handicapped, and the fact that it was in the running for Best Picture is a triumph in and of itself.
  2. Synopsis: Gladiator won the Academy Award for Best Picture.

  1. 2001 had: A Beautiful Mind, winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture.
  2. Synopsis: The story of the Nobel Prize (Economics) winning mathematician John Nash and his experiences of schizophrenia.

  1. 2002 had: None.
  2. Synopsis: Chicago won the Academy Award for Best Picture.

  1. 2003 had: Seabiscuit, runner up to The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King for Best Picture.
  2. Synopsis: The life and racing career of Seabiscuit, an undersized and overlooked thoroughbred race horse whose unexpected successes made him the a hugely popular sensation in the United States near the end of the Great Depression.

  1. 2004 had: Ray, runner up to Million Dollar Baby for Best Picture.
  2. Synopsis: Biographical film of the late Ray Charles, who was totally blind by the age of seven.

  1. 2005 had: None, especially because it was an incredibly poor year for movies.
  2. Synopsis: Crash won the Academy Award for Best Picture.
    All movie information from Wikipedia.org.

On February 16, 2006, an autistic manager of Greece Athena High School's basketball team would change his life forever, thanks to the freak show-loving society that is America. J-Mac, as he is known by his friends, was allowed to come in for the last four minutes of play in the last game of the season, and promptly missed his first two shots after an ear-shattering wave of applause from the crowd.

However, McElwain's financial future was secured after making his next six shots, all of which were three-pointers. The always optimistic member of the class of 2006 finished the game with 20 points in four minutes, which pans out to 240 points in 48 minutes in the NBA. The attention paid to McElwain was mostly local for the first few days after the game, but McElwain was quickly brought into the mainstream, where his feel-good story would eventually have Hollywood's stamp of approval.

He is autistic and achieved something that most top professionals of the sport dream of doing, that's great. Good for him. But now, he's not only met with President Bush, he's scheduled to appear on Oprah on Monday, April 24, 2006, and has struck a deal with Columbia Pictures to sell the rights to his life story.

It is a feat in and of itself to score 20 points in 4 minutes, let alone hitting six straight shots from beyond the arc. But it isn't just the accomplishment that has brought McElwain fame -- it's his autism. He's not Jason McElwain, he's "that autistic kid that got 20 points in 4 minutes." He doesn't have autism in the mainstream; the autism has him.

And it's not as if McElwain's autism hampered his ability to play basketball; autism manifests itself in markedly abnormal social interaction, communication ability, patterns of interests, and patterns of behavior. It does not make him shoot a basketball any worse than the next person.

Right behind McElwain is Earvin "Magic" Johnson, he of Lakers fame. "When I first saw the highlights on ESPN and then heard Jason's back story, I said, 'Man, I've got to be a part of this.' This story touched me, my kids, my wife," said Johnson. "When we go to the movies, this is the type of story we want to see."

The self-centeredness of the typical American is apparent in that one comment of Johnson's. "Man, I've got to be a part of this." "When we go to the movies, this is the type of story we want to see." Yes, it's all about satiating ourselves. Entertain me, autistic boy. Make me money, autistic boy.

If all it takes anymore to hit it big in America is some sort of disability, then you can find me slamming my head up against a wall until I don't know who I am anymore, then offer me a movie contract and an appearance on Oprah.

Estimates say that autism occurs in one in every 166 children in the United States, though some estimates have it more conservatively at 1,000. There are 298,568,334 people living in the United States as of this writing. By the conservative estimate, 298,568 of them are autistic, and plenty more have diseases that have been used in other movies that likely have at least "Academy Award nominee" in the footnotes, thanks to the freak show-loving American public, and more importantly, American mainstream media. Are those 298,568 autistic people deserving of a movie contract, too, or do they need to do something as great as hit six straight three-pointers? Probably not. Not even McElwain is deserving of his fame.

When this country can stop finding the differences between themselves and others and attempting to profit off of it, maybe she won't find herself in such a precarious position all of the time. Whether it's pointing out that Middle Eastern people were largely responsible for the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, and subsequently resorting to racial profiling for airport security, or viewing an autistic person as "underlings" because of their disability, Americans are always going to use discrimination to put themselves on a pedestal, usually to do one of two things: make himself look good, or to fill his wallet with greenbacks.

So what can be expected of McElwain's movie? We can expect it to be in the running for Best Picture, if history is any indication. We can also be sure that Magic Johnson and Columbia Pictures are glad this kid wasn't born "normal."