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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Genre Disorder: Autism and Narrative in American Popular Culture

  • Author(s): Loutensock, Kristen Joy
  • Advisor(s): Nesbet, Anne
  • et al.
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Autism and empathy, as terms, both arose out of the fertile ground of American mass culture. Although both figured prominently in scientific discourse from the early 1900s on, neither was a focus of either feature film or critical discourse until well into the second half of the century. Genre Disorder argues that reading scientific, popular culture, and filmic treatments of autism together within the larger framework of film genres of mobility (the maternal melodrama, the detective film, and the road movie) exposes the circulation of autism as a way to shore up normative, disembodied, spectatorship.

To support this claim, this project works through how feminist film theory and critical disability theory approach the way spectacle and narrative coalesce around and though the body. By looking at how disability and sentiment intersect in advertising, the project takes up the question of how the concept of the individual as commodity shifts between mass culture and neoliberalism. Following this, it looks closely at how autism and the individual are constructed within popular culture by tracing patterns of generic convention across primary scientific and filmic sources.

Within these analyses, this project argues that, despite the positioning of empathy as objective, narrative framework and point of view work together to maintain the normate against bodies (and minds) of difference: women, people of color, and people with disabilities.

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This item is under embargo until April 2, 2021.