Agents of SHIELD: An Autism Allegory?

This post is coming to you courtesy of my mad ADD brain which recently after three months (nearly four actually) of living in a Covid-19 affected world has begun to settle into its reality and give me 101 additional things that repeatedly flutter through my brain in terms of activities. I have tried telling said brain that I can only maybe deal with a maximum of twenty things in the day and some of those are eating and sleeping, but my brain doesn’t listen (or doesn’t care) and since it’s a bit of a coping method I think, I am trying to let it go and just go with things.

Due to this situation with my mentality and incapability to sit still (or on task, unless I hyperfocus on the task and lose three hours … the joys of ADD…) I was prompted to write this post, a post which actually began in a plan to email into a podcast I was listening to. I have recently picked back up the tv show Agents of SHIELD (I think it’s made by ABC but since the US tv networks are so different from UK ones I get a bit confused) I picked it up again because I had heard a lot of people saying it was getting better and because I know that the last series is currently on TV (my plan being that I will be able to catch up on the available 6 seasons via Amazon prime and by the time I get through that I might be lucky enough to be able to watch season 7 in its entirety). I also unexpectedly was reminded that I really find some of the characters compelling – I see so much of me and Holly in Fitz and Simmons, for those that know the show, although I think we are both a bit of a blending of the two.

The podcast I was listening to was covering the second half of the third season, I am up to the fifth in my watching so my memories of which episodes were what are a little confused now. The hosts were talking about the way in which the Inhuman race is treated in the TV Show and was talking about it as an allegory for race however the more they spoke the more I remembered the relations I had seen – to me the Inhumans storyline is a very interesting representation of Autism.

First of all, I want to do a very brief explanation of what an Inhuman is and what the show is talking about, unlike some of my other pop culture related things I think fewer people will be up to scratch with this story. So Agents of SHIELD is a tv spin-off from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) – which are all the marvel films made by the marvel company. The TV show follows a bunch of officials (SHIELD) who are originally a section of the US government and work with the weird and unexplainable. If any of you are familiar with Doctor who, then I would say SHIELD is a bit of a mix between Torchwood and UNIT. Now, the Inhumans – these are a group of people who’s ancestors were genetically modified by aliens (I know, just stay with me) and who carry a specific genetic make up meaning when they come in contact with a specific substance, their genetics will be activated and the people will be altered from a base genetic level. The Inhumans always have a ‘gift’ which is a form of superhuman ability that results from this genetic change, this could be related to speed or strength, it can mean visions of the future or a desire to kill. It has its pros and cons and the reaction of the general people in this series are very familiar to what I have experienced in relation to autism.

There are so, so many connections I was seeing and so I will try and keep things relatively brief but I’m making no promises.

One of the first things that clicked for me was when there was a push towards finding a cure for Inhumans. There was the argument that for some Inhumans their gift or their treatment for being inhuman led them to commit suicide, it also could be devastatingly dangerous to every other person – such as a mother and daughter who got energy from absorbing the pain of others, cheery. A cure was something that some, a minority is maybe a stretch but I would say in general it was the minority, were desperate for, they wanted to return to normal life. The Inhuman amongst the main characters, Daisy, has good control of her power and embraces it as a part of her, as many other Inhumans also do. She expressed concern that if there was a cure created for the Inhuman people then it would eventually lead to becoming mandatory, that inhuman people would be cured regardless of whether they wanted to be or whether their gift could be used for good.

This straight away made me think of autism – particularly that there are those out there, many who are parents – who would cure their non-verbal children with extensive needs without a backwards glance. I know that it must be hard for the families of people with autism who may seem more closed off to the world and need a lot of care. I have never lived in their situation and I respect that, but I see their views of an autism cure the same way that Daisy sees a cure for Inhumans, once this was created it would eventually lead to all autistic people being forced into it.

In the same series a new leader of the team is appointed, he is an inhuman as it is decided that an inhuman leader is the best way to respect the inhuman people and make sure they are not subject to oppression. I was surprised by this as to me this seemed like a direct stab in the ribs at Autism Speaks, famous for its lack of autistic team members. However, this gets better when it comes out that this new leader is actually taking medication to appear Inhuman when they are not. This second part, the tricking people into believing you have a specific condition is a bit of a raw nerve I have encountered. For me, this is the opposite to what we see as autistic people where those who are famous, those who have accomplished amazing things will often have neurotypical people doubt their autism. It’s the idea that they shouldn’t do that if they are autistic, they shouldn’t be able to climb higher than neurotypical people and also need specific accommodations – it’s as though it just doesn’t compute that someone can have a disability but still have abilities beyond the average person. Disabled athletes get comments about them ‘cheating’ by using specific aids to do their sport regardless of the fact those aids often are the only way they can do that sport.

In the Show, this false Inhuman is a way to create mock inclusion and acceptance in a company – like how some companies will pride themselves in an incredibly wheelchair accessible building but will also refuse to change their lightbulbs to help neurodiverse colleagues concentrate.

The gifts given to the Inhumans, the lack of understanding and mistrust that surrounds them and the way in which their struggles are downplayed, even the awful groups who are ‘human-first’ and don’t believe that Inhuman’s should be given different things, additional things, that aren’t given to everyone – all of these are things that can relate to autism, to the world of an autistic person and what we experience day in, day out.

I don’t think that the show necessarily meant to make these connections, in fact, they might not even really know that there is a correlation to the lives of autistic people, and in a way that’s not a problem. In a way, I think that these accidental representations or representations which are deliberately vague can be just as powerful and important as those that are explicit because they can make people think. People will watch things like this and, apply what they have seen in their own lives, whether that is with ability, race, sexual identity or something else.

So these are just some of my thoughts on this, some of the things that came to my brain and I needed to put it all down in a post before my brain moved on to something else (which, in just over an hour, it has already begun to do). I would love to know if there are others who watch the show that saw these parallels, or if you watch it and have not seen them. It’s the cycle of art imitating life which then imitates art and so on.

Thanks for reading everyone, I hope you enjoyed this one and I wanted to give a heads up that I have made my people of colour resources page live and will link it here:

Resources: People of Colour

As always I look forward to hearing from you in any shape or fashion and I hope you are all doing well and getting through the crazy world we have been living in for the first half of the year, I will go and let my overactive brain move on to something else and speak to you soon 🙂

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