Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Overgeneralized Subculture of My Learning Disablity and My Distinctive Italian-Americanism

I was diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder, a "high-functioning" form of autism, twenty years ago. I was only a few years old at the time, but officials who worked for the Connecticut Department of Education gave me a very bleak outlook not too long after the fact. They said I would never have the audacity to succeed in a mainstream educational environment or, for the lack of a better word, never be able to read and write as effectively and proficiently as a "normal" student.

Well, you could now say that I proved them wrong. Throughout my years in both secondary and post-secondary institutions, my individual mobility has primarily enabled me to look beyond my autistic limitations. As a result, I have received countless accolades for my outstanding academic achievements and community service efforts in return.

But is being an overachieving student and volunteer considered to be an adverse social stereotype? To answer this rather provocative question, I would have to say that today's multimedia-saturated society has reinforced my perceptions of people with disabilities. Popular culture has continually emphasized the mentally disabled as what we would call "superheroes" who defy the odds to achieve a somewhat considerate status of intellectual genius. One perfect example of this is the 1988 Oscar-winning drama "Rain Man." As you may already know, the Dusitn Hoffman character in the film has a much more severe form of autism than I have, and he does fundamentally "change" once he reunites with his self-centered yuppie brother (Tom Cruise). But, the film also pays particularly strong attention to his unprecedented ability to crunch complexly arranged numbers in just a matter of seconds. Wouldn't it be nice if the filmmakers made a different flick that showed more of a disabled protagonist's flaws as opposed to one's "genius" in an overwhelming positive light? Well, I would have to say yes because I am just as much of a complex creature as everyone else who either has or doesn't have the same medical condition I have.

Another primitive example of so-called "common sense knowledge" that has profoundly affected my collective self-consciousness is the culturally potent yet socially derogatory portrayals of Italian-American families in gangster films.

Whenever I watch "The Sopranos," "The Godfather" films, or Martin Scorsese's classic "Goodfellas," I believe that our popular culture is only trying to reaffirm the Italian-American "culturalist theory" that has been dominating our social consciousness for over several decades. In other words, I can't help but think that our society continuously glorifies or exploits gangsters as "macho" criminals with "tough-guy" style or rhetoric to burn. What they do is manipulate average males in my ethnic group into thinking that being more down-to-earth is considered morally "wrong," which it isn't. I just happen to be an Average Joe who prefers to be "normal" as opposed to a completely narcissistic piegonhole.

No comments: