Thursday, July 17, 2008

Society Standards of Normal: Listen to the Music Within

Can a person be arrested for being “ugly?” According to the movie Music Within, this could and did happen in 1971 when there were “ugly laws” in about 20 other cities which stated that a person could be asked to leave a public place if they were deemed “too ugly.”

I have not seen Music Within yet but a reader, P, recommended it as a great story of how the Americans with Disabilities Act was created and passed. According to P, “
In the movie, and in real life, a man with cerebral palsy wanting to order a pancake breakfast in honor of his birthday was asked with his friend, a man with hearing impairment, to leave and both were put in jail overnight. The movie has great music of the 70s and lots of humor. If you check it out be sure to listen to the real Richard Pimental speak in the special features section.” The movie is available on Netflix, and the Richard Pimental character is played by Ron Livingston (the office drone star in the cult classic Office Space).

The whole idea of being arrested for being “ugly” is fascinating yet disturbing. Who defines “ugly”? Who sets and maintains society standards for “fitting in”? And do these standards vary by class, rural vs. urban or economic factors (uh oh, sociology alert!)?

In our own experience, in general we have encountered more tolerance, acceptance and welcoming among so called "working class" and "rural" folks than among so called "urban professionals." I know I feel less tense about Sayer fitting in and not being ostracized at a small-town county fair than I would at a concert at a children’s museum.

Indeed, the worst offenders I have encountered are the Portland hip parents – you know the organic baby food and hemp onsie set. One such mom at Ben & Jerry's on Hawthorne Ave. ("hippy-ville" as Jacob calls it) got downright nasty when Sayer got a bit too close to her crying toddler. And I was "right on it" - telling him it was not his job to help the boy, that is the mom or dad’s job, and so on.

In situations like that I'm not sure what to do or say. I know that families can order business cards that explain that their child has autism and briefly describes its symptoms. They can hand out these cards in public in situations like the one at Ben & Jerry’s.

But I have resisted that idea, maybe because it defines “normal” as not having autism and thus having autism as “abnormal.” I think that such a clean-cut dichotomy over-simplifies things and enables people to simply say “Oh, that explains it” without contemplating their reactions to “behaviors” or considering the value of tolerance.

On the other hand, I did meet a suburban mom recently who was purposively seeking a day care/pre-school setting that included children with disabilities so that her “typical” kids could learn to play with such children. Maybe what is celebrating diversity to one parent is exposing your child to taboo weirdness to another.

What do others think about society standards of beauty, ugliness and fitting in? Let’s start a discussion.


Pam said...

Hi Carol, one of your very best blogs, I think.

What would our world be like if we could just introduce our children by name? Thanks for opening up this discussion.........Pam

Anonymous said...

I always find it interesting that 'other' parents who don't have to deal with special needs children are either A)so accepting and cool with Brian or B)so "ack' about Brian...there's never a middle ground. I always figure, it is THEIR loss that THEY are not getting to enjoy the joys of Brian (he does have so many things that are amazing and joyful about him). What's interesting, is that it occurs here locally (weird because we are a very progressive, "elitist" (per J)district. At one school, I have had parents make such negative comments about special needs kids (and especially 'those autistic kids" taking all of the money from the typical kids), whereas at another school, I have had parents seek me out and ask about him, wishing he was there. So strange. I hope that that will change and everyone will be accepting of him.

I look at negative parents as people who I wouldn't have wanted to have a conversation with anyway. Yes, even before I had children, I sought out preschools/schools with children with special needs....go figure I'd have one...

By the way...Brian loves to sit next to Sayer on the bus at school this week...he bounces around (in a good way, not an autism way) asking me if he is going to school.

Have a great week, Carol!


Carol said...

You are right, Katie, there isn't much middle ground.

Sayer is enjoying summer school, too. Ah, the wonders of some structure.