A case of cultural criticism and not a diagnosis – 05/14/2023 – Luiz Felipe Pondé

In Germany, cultural criticism is widely recognized —Kulturkritic. Among us, it is also, but to a lesser extent. One of the objects most present in the practice of this discipline is the analysis of historical transformations —which in itself implies social, political and psychosocial impacts— of behaviors, institutions, worldviews and cultural products.

The pressure for the commodification of the world —which means that everything becomes a commodity— is one of the hallmarks of this discipline, at least since Theodor W. Adorno (1903-1969).

A foundation of cultural criticism as a method lies in looking at the cultural industry as a determinant of behavior throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. Today, the cultural industry is not just in the hands of the professional media, it is in your hand: on cell phones, on networks and the internet.

Much of my work over the years on this Sheet has been doing cultural criticism. I have already returned to issues I have discussed elsewhere over the years in order to clarify them.

Today, I return to one of these issues: the criticism I made of a TV series in the August 28, 2022 column. Many readers communicated with me at the time, readers who follow me and recognize the counterpoint I make to the chorus of happy people in the current public debate. I dedicate this column to those readers.

That column was inspired by a Netflix series that was very successful at the time —”An Extraordinary Lawyer”. My discussion there, as usual, was a cultural critique — a series is a product of the cultural industry — and not a debate about psychiatric diagnoses of autism, as I am not in the field, although I have some good friends in it.

The focus of criticism was the transformation of a picture of great suffering of families and people into a character who seemed to easily live a successful script, thus distancing himself from the reality suffered on a daily basis. This type of cultural procedure produces even more suffering because it is characterized by an alienating representation of the concrete lives of people who experience reality.

As an analogy to the process of cultural transformation of the representation of autism in our time, I made reference to the “fashion” that the melancholic identity has undergone over the centuries, in the history of medicine, literature and cinema.

Within the cultural criticism procedure mentioned above, the series that inspired the column pointed out the fact that traits of autistic identity were easily represented by capitalism as “cognitive assets” —focus, concentration and the like. At no time did I make reference to capacitism or discrimination of any behavior. This was not the focus of the discussion, but the cultural critique of the representation of autism in the contemporary environment.

Even the reference to the theory of the English psychoanalyst DW Winnicott (1896-1971) —a theory widely recognized and practiced by professionals in the field of mental health around the world, including China, known for its pragmatic choices— exemplified the reaction to the said theory by an irate audience at the idea that an environmental failure — the failure of the mother, the father, the family in general — could be taken as a cause in question. So the focus was on audience behavior, once again, not a discussion of diagnostic procedures.

Anyway, the object of the column was a cultural critique of the contemporary representation of autism in the course of installation, not a diagnostic controversy — I leave that to health professionals. But a cardinal sin I committed. Despite having warned in the text in question, I used irony, and, in a polarized culture like ours, there is no place for irony. Everything is deadly literal.

Readers who identified themselves as autistic, via emails and on the networks, thanked me for finally pointing out a big mistake in the representation of their real lives. Unlike the series that inspired the article, there is nothing hype about autism and, yes, someone trying to survive in a world that is not easy for anyone.

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