Homeless But Not Houseless

boy-498197_1920On the cold November night that I trekked out to Tastee Diner in Laurel, I remember feeling an intense pang of anxiety. It was a day of undesired outcomes, academic and personal in nature. The worst had passed, my friend Lucas had agreed to meet up with me in an act of support.

Before the journey, I had spent much of the time dealing with draining obligations after I received news of an “F” on a project. One week to remake it. One week more it stirs in my head. The revenant project hovers, corrupting whatever I anticipate. I do not get to wash my hands of this. “Once more, with feeling,” I told myself.

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I’m Not Okay

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For quite some time I’ve been thinking about writing something, but never sure exactly of what. There were ideas, but admittedly I’ve been floating to and fro with summer classes, a fellowship, and my relationship with Rebby (who is as wonderful as always).

But I decided to write about my depression. This was influenced by an episode that began yesterday. I think it’s also motivated by the fact that whenever I go through this cycle, nothing seems to change.

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The Problem With Resasuke

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So, here’s where I get to play the killjoy cultural critic. This was certainly not what I was hoping to come back to in terms of writing, but perhaps it’s the one that I can easily produce.

I want to discuss representations of autism in the media. In the past, I’ve attempted to approach the subject from the perspective of being a writer and honing my critical eye. I try to handle these discussions with more nuance than what I often see around me.

I will still defend Atypical, despite its flaws, for casting a critical eye on the autism martyr parent archetype and for portraying its protagonist as someone who wants love just like anyone else. This is still a largely underrepresented aspect.

However, there comes a time where even my standards eventually breach and there’s a representation that particularly grinds my gears, despite my best intentions. Because it’s attached to a currently popular show, that makes handling it all the more tricky. Let’s talk about Resasuke from the Netflix show Aggretsuko.

Framing, Coding, and Fates

Now, I enjoyed Aggretsuko. I found it a great exploration of the stressors of office jobs and the associated baggage that goes with it. It’s relatable in a way that most executives who produce adult animation don’t want to touch.

But, near the end of the series, the protagonist Retsuko meets Resasuke, a male red panda who is nearly identical in appearance to Retsuko.

Resasuke is coded autistic. What does that mean, exactly? Resasuke possesses traits that are associated with autism or autism spectrum disorder. He is characterized as having trouble with tasks such as how he leaves his expense reports in the wash and pays for things out of pocket because accounting can’t process them.

Fans speculate (what is referred to in common fandom parlanace as headcanon) that Resasuke is autistic. Anime in particular uses autistic traits to make a character seem “odd” or “weird”. L and Near from Death Note are both examples of this. Due to the fact that this is coded and not explicit, there’s a level of plausible deniability when creators are approached to answer if these characters are autistic.

Resasuke also has trouble socializing, ending up as a filler friend that tags along. He daydreams constantly, making him late for work on multiple occasions. He doesn’t respond to hints and is insensitive to Retsuko’s sore feet when on a date. Basically, all of his characterization is meant to borrow autistic traits without explicitly labeling him as such. Put a pin in that, we’ll come back to the reason why.

The Resasuke arc largely deals with a relationship that is framed as Retusko trying to use marriage to paper over personal problems. This is honestly the more noble part of this arc. Retsuko has to come to terms with the idea that a man can’t solve all her problems.

However, this arc has the impact of completely relegating Resasuke to a solitary fate. All of it has to do with how he is framed, coded, and the end result of this arc.

The Neurotypical Gaze

When we discuss “gaze” in media studies, it’s largely about the male gaze. How does a stereotypical straight man (usually straight white man) see the world and other groups of people?

Aggretsuko’s Resasuke arc is an excellent example of a Neurotypical gaze. When the audience is introduced to Resasuke, he’s framed by several things. His nearly identical appearance to Retsuko signaling his role as a love interest, his nickname of “Space Cadet” or “Out of Pocket Prince” referring to his quirks, and how the other people in the office view him.

Manumaru brings him along and pushes him into a relationship with Restuko which is not narratively punished. Manumaru never faces any consequences for this behavior. The other women immediately write Resasuke off as a dud…and they’re vindicated. Resasuke is consistently framed as being bland, and that’s the reason that Retsuko gives for breaking up with him.

Resasuke’s final scene which completes his character arc is when he returns home to his plants and says “I’m home”. This communicates the idea that this is where he belongs. No one else in the narrative knows that he has this trait.

Resasuke is, as framed by the narrative is the following: Spacy, insensitive and oblivious to other people’s needs, completely disinterested in love and friendships, exactly what other people think he is, and destined for a life alone with his plants.

This framing typifies much of how neurotypical people view autistic people. Most of Resasuke’s traits are negative as framed by the other characters. While the audience can project themselves into a character like him, the narrative sides with the women, with Manumaru, with Retusko. All of these characters share a negative interpretation of Resasuke, even if it’s cloaked in humor and light-hearted teasing. There’s no character who sees Resasuke as a worthwhile individual, only Retsuko’s illusion.

Any positive traits are the ones that the audience brings with them when they project themselves onto him, not bestowed by the narrative text itself until we learn about the plants, which no one else sees or remarks upon. Whatever positive moments Resasuke has are kept out of sight from every other character, rendering them invisible.

Resasuke’s construction reveals neurotypical assumptions about what autistic people are like. The desexualization, the lack of desire for love or friendship, the pathologization of autistic traits, these are all parts of how neurotypicals view autistic people and their prospects.

This could feasibly change if Aggretsuko got a second season, but seeing as how that’s the completion of his character arc and Retsuko has learned her lesson from this escapade, I’m not holding my breath. I hope to be proven wrong in this case.

The Reason to Code

There’s obvious cultural differences that go into this, ones that go well beyond the scope of this article. But, let’s start a hypothetical script change. Resasuke is explicitly diagnosed, this changes how scenes are perceived. Manumaru’s prodding becomes sinister because Resasuke is being manipulated by someone taking advantage of his social deficits. Retsuko no longer appears in the right, because Resasuke has said that he thinks differently and may need some accommodation.

And imagine for a moment if Retsuko said “I can’t be with you because you’re autistic.”

The reason that media codes autistic behavior as weird and unusual instead of directly addressing it is because merely making it explicit can change how the audience views these scenes. If you don’t label it as autism, you don’t have to deal with the consequences of characters mistreating “the weirdo”.

We can see this with how autistic kids are bullied and picked on. No one ever says “I picked on you because you’re autistic”, it’s because they’re “weird”.

Autistic audiences, starved of representation, often have to make do with this. While I try to see the silver lining of imperfect representations, there does a come a point where “sure, it’s not perfect, but I do see some positives” becomes “we could clearly do better than this”

We can do better than how Aggretsuko handles Resasuke.

Where Have I Been? (Plus a Super Cool Announcement!)

I recognize that this blog has been somewhat dormant as of late. While I plan to finally get to a nice meaty post, I wanted to mention just what exactly I’ve been up to.

After school ended, I’ve had quite a lot of free time on my hands. While I have an internship going on, I also have other side projects brewing.

At this point, I’m working on a couple of new podcasts that I intend to showcase here. Stay tuned for more info!

To My Casual Readers

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There’s a habitual interaction that I’ve had with others when I talk to them about my blog, usually along the lines of “Oh, I’ve read your blog, I really like it!” But this is actually something of a surprise to me, and let me see if I can break down exactly where this disconnect stems from. I also want to offer a call to action to some of my meatspace friends who read what I write.

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(April Fools)Fantasy Flight Games Confirms Developing Tabletop RPG Based on “Fallout” IP

So, I was looking around online because I wanted to see what other people were doing in terms of producing a Fallout tabletop RPG, and it appears that the worst of my fears were confirmed.

Fantasy Flight Games is developing the Fallout tabletop RPG. Announced earlier this year, the tabletop RPG will be showcased at GenCon 2018.

Apparently, it’s going to be handled a lot like Star Wars. They’re going to split it into three “stand-alone RPGs”. They’re basing this on locations this time, so if you want to play in the Capital Wasteland of Fallout 3, you’ll need to get “In the Name of Liberty”. If you want to play New Vegas, you’ll need to get “Chips are Down”. If you want to play Fallout 4’s Boston area, you’ll need “Shadows of the Commonwealth”. All of them have unique character classes, racial options, and weapons.

They’ve already started talking dice, saying they’re going to making V.A.T.S dice and “Rad dice”.  Genesys and Star Wars dice are incompatible. You can’t use d20s or anything like that.

Guess you gotta start saving your caps, folks! Details are here.

When You Walk Away From Pikesville

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We parked outside of the Toys R Us in Owings Mills. We just got done dealing with a woman who thought it would be a smart idea to barrel down the parking lot and honk at us as we were trying to navigate. Her road rage, to her, was justified, she had her son in the backseat. I had not thought at the time to ask why it was safe to drive that fast with her son in the back, but my goal was that I just wanted to see if there was liquidation going on. No dice and the entire time our mood was soured.

But between both Rebby and I, we lamented how there simply wasn’t much to do out here. We were cash-strapped and had few friends in the area. The worst of the snowstorm was over and we had cabin fever from the past two days. But every suggestion seemed to fall short. Didn’t have the money, didn’t have time, didn’t have the gas. But I kept thinking about where we were, why we were there in the first place. What was it like, really?

The Ghosts of Baltimore County

My placement in the Pikesville/Owings Mills area was not one that I had any choice regarding. It was a move made for the sake of locating us closer to my stepmother’s extended family. In that regard, it accomplished what it was set out to do. But for much of my life, I was left as a stranger in a strange land. I never belonged, and to this day I don’t believe I ever could.

My favorite game of 2017 was Night in the Woods, and I produced my favorite article on Splice Today saying “We All Live In Possum Springs”. I use that phrase as a shorthand for describing the alienation and monotony of the dying small-town/suburban life of modern America, a product of late capitalism. While Scott Benson drew more from his hometown of Pittsburgh, that game could very easily describe where I currently live and the struggles that people like me face.

Both Rebby and I exist as walking examples of Katherine Newman’s “The Accordion Family”. Neither of us has a full-time job, and while I work freelance and study full-time, I still rely on cheap rent from my parents. Rebby still can’t drive on her own, hamstringing any potential leads until that task is complete.

The job market here is dry, and what jobs are available are the kind of high-stress jobs that wreak havoc on autistic minds. There’s a place that hires people on the spectrum, but she still can’t drive. It’s been a slow process for both of us. I still have almost two years left until my bachelor’s degree, and Rebby’s pathway is still unclear.

There’s no future here, for either of us. We both see it. Our lives will continue, but they must do so elsewhere, for there’s nothing left for us here. We don’t know what will happen, but we have the understanding that it won’t be stuck where we are now.

When The Last Store Closes

And I think that there really isn’t a future for Pikesville or Owings Mills. Pikesville is dying. Owings Mills is dying. We can see the writing on the wall. It’s slow but shows no signs of reversing.

The last remnants of Rosewood Hospital have finally been demolished. The shell of the Wendy’s is still unoccupied. Go up a little closer to the Bill Bateman’s and you’ll find several closed gas stations. The Owings Mills mall will be turned into strip malls pretty soon, left to the suburban wasteland that it has become.

There’s a sensation that I’ve come to recognize in my time exploring dying spaces both virtual and physical. Whether I’ve walked through MMO Age of Conan‘s dead game world or the aisles of Toys R Us, I’ve begun to feel the dissociation that comes with visiting a place that’s clearly fading away.

The Owings Mills mall has long since closed. There really isn’t much to do in Pikesville. No one really talks about it with any sort of reverence, and frankly, I don’t blame them. Who wants to be around when the last store closes?

I don’t think suburbia has a future.

Beyond the Cul-De-Sac

Maybe suburban communities will adapt to the future, but more than likely people will migrate away from them as we are planning to. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been to a ghost town that the prospect of this place becoming a ghost town doesn’t sound so far out of reach.

I don’t know where the future lies, but it isn’t in a world of sprawl.