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Sunday, March 4, 2012

The "Autism Cure" In Avengers Academy, and The Fascism of Utopia

(This is largely reposted from the Comic Book Resources forums, in response to an issue of Avengers Academy where the corporate sociopath genius kid Jeremy Briggs starts recruiting super-teens away from the school. Veil, formerly a student at Avengers Academy, touts Briggs' merits by mentioning how the work they're doing reforming society and attacking social problems is far more important than fighting villains and getting bloody hands. However, the example she gives of her work is a cure for autism. Since I normally like Avengers Academy, and since Marvel is one of my main hyper-focused Aspergian interests, this read like a punch to the gut).

Wether it was Gage's intent or not, Veil's line about working on a cure for autism immediately made me want the proper Avengers to take down Briggs and anyone working with him.

The kind of " utopia " Briggs is working towards, like most science fiction utopias, is the ideal of a few imposed upon everyone else. It's getting rid of things that people consider problems with easy solutions, by making a magic pill to cure any perceived imperfections, or using force to quietly subdue any dissidents. It's creating a pretty-looking, clean community by retroactively removing any evidence that it might have been dirty, working towards an ideal while forgetting the minority experiences that give humanity diversity, meaning, and narrative.

The autism line hits home for me, true, but it's a good example in microcosm of why Briggs is as insidious as any super-villain. Maybe Veil believes that autism is just a disease that abducts children from their parents and creates wall-eyed freaks who will never grow up to prosper, but that's hardly the case for all autistics, most of whom are capable of communication, thought, and contribution (even if on different terms, such as requiring facilitated communication). Worse yet, it excludes people with the condition from the discussion. If Briggs and Veil created a cure for the X-Gene, would it be treated as an altruistic afterthought? How about the gay gene? Does society really get to decide how the individual's neurology should be, and change it by force?

The job of the superhero is to save peoples' lives, not decide how their lives should or shouldn't be. That's the other side of the coin that we've seen since the genre's inception, which is fascism.

And another good quote about the dangers of imposing one's views on others, from Big Boss in the game Metal Gear Solid 4;

" It's not about changing the world. It's about doing our best to leave the world the way it is. It's about respecting the will of others, and believing in your own. "


  1. I wondered what your take on this would be; I took it as an interesting way of demonstrating how Veil could believe Briggs was doing good work, while alerting more thoughtful readers to the underlying troubling side of "curing" autism. Since we readers already know Briggs isn't to be trusted, I think it was a pretty clever idea.

  2. Haven't several X-Men stories (including one of the live-action movies!) already explored the ramifications of having a "cure" for the X-Gene? To me, it seemed a lot like a metaphor for an autism cure already, as well as for a hypothetical cure for homosexuality.

    Anyway, I don't necessarily see the development of an autism "cure" as a bad thing; if people with autism want to take a pill or undergo a treatment that would make them neurotypical, that's their choice. What's problematic is the possibility that autistic people (especially children) might end up being forced to accept this "cure" by parents, psychologists, or even simple peer pressure. I dislike the term "cure" here too, as it has some unfortunate implications, but I don't object to the existence of such a drug or treatment.

    If anything, I suppose it'd be comparable to the medication available for people with bipolar disorder, which is effective at mood stabilization but can greatly hinder the user's thought processes. Some people with the disorder prefer to be medicated and some don't, it all depends on the individual and whether or not he thinks it's worth it. I still think it's a good thing that the medication is available to those who choose to take it, though.

  3. I just found this post after reading Avengers Academy #26 and the cure for autism line. I asked the writer, Christos Gage, on twitter about it and he claimed that he originally wrote "Asthma" but an editor changed it to "autism" and he doesn't know why. He also doesn't seem to care or feel bad about me being offended by it. [}(