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BRAINCHILD (Psychology in the media)


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Copied from my blog. This blog post takes us back in time and shows how psychological disorders may be presented in the media.


BRAINCHILD: The Incredible Hulk season 2

Part one

"I decided to do a lighter feature on the topic of autism, as it was approached in the media by Kenneth Johnson, more specifically in the 1970s television series The Incredible Hulk. The episode in particular we will look at was called “Brain Child”. Kenneth Johnson had always been involved in the action-adventure-fantasy aspect of television production and was connected to other hugely popular shows, such as The Six Million Dollar Man and Bionic Woman.
We might ask the question, why did the issue of autism arise, more than once, in The Incredible Hulk? Who can say? The actor and bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno, who played The Hulk, certainly experienced a traumatic childhood as a result of being diagnosed too belatedly for deafness. This led to learning disability and social isolation. All in all, we have as many as three storylines in The Hulk that address autism. This term “autism”, of course, has various aspects. In psychology it denotes either intellectual, cognitive delay, or uneven development of various processing functions. It can likewise be a symptom of depression or a by-product of disassociation of the psyche.
The first episode to draw attention to autism was titled “Ricky”. Ricky Detter has a mental age of a 10 year old and is the adult brother of a successful racing-car driver. This storyline focuses on one brother’s difficulties over caring for his special needs sibling. Another episode called “The Confession” features a very stereotyped Asperger character called Harold Milburn. Asperger Syndrome is never referred to in any way but what’s interesting is Harold very much represents a diagnosis that wasn’t due to be publicized for another 8 years. Harold works in I.T. by himself, has no girlfriend, is ignored by others and has a flat personality. To try and get himself noticed, Harold contacts The National Register and claims he is the man who changes into The Hulk. As evidence, he produces a ripped shirt. As the story progresses, the fact people finally ridicule his claim, drives him to threaten to jump off a high-rise building.
The third storyline “Brainchild” also focuses on autism but especially in the way it is perceived to relate to giftedness. Joline Collins is a highly gifted, teenage girl whose mother abandoned her at an early age. Joline was placed in the custody of The Kirkland Institute, where an experiment was initiated. She is subjected to intensive educational therapy in music, mathematics, biology, languages and other subjects. She becomes a “classified project”. We could be excused for thinking that Collins isn’t autistic at all but, as the episode unfolds, there are references to Joline’s limited social interaction and the rift with her mother. The episode “Brainchild” is fascinating as an example of the way popular opinion perceives autism, or giftedness. A great deal of fact is distorted – due to stereotyping – so we shall address some of these details in this feature. However, as a whole, this episode tells a moving story and is really worth watching. Especially from the perspective of nostalgia.
At the beginning of the episode, we can see it was produced by Kenneth Johnson and written by Nicholas Corea. Joline is shown in a class playing classical piano at virtuoso level, after which a psychologist in a white coat invites her to solve a complex, mathematical equation on the blackboard. The staff at the Kirkland Institute are delighted by the results of their project but Collins communicates her desire to find her mother.
Collins only has one actual friend – a computer referred to as Max. Unknown to the psychologists at Kirkland, she rewired Max in such a way as to give him a “personality”. She uses her connection with this computer to escape from the institution, with the aim of finding her mother.
After escaping from the institution, Collins meets Dr. David Banner, where the first slip of the script becomes evident. She offers to fix his car. Most high-functioning autistic people tend to be quite limited in the area of mechanical work or manual skills. The second point to draw attention to is that Robin Dearden (who plays Collins) acts the role with no deficits in mimicry or vocal intonation. Motor movements and overall interaction of the character are all quite normal. Despite that, Collins is represented in this episode as mostly “gifted” and we have to just accept it is simply the way the script developed. David Banner agrees to give the young girl a lift if she can repair his car. This she accomplishes, and the two of them drive off. Meantime The Kirkland Institute staff notify the police that their patient has been kidnapped. "


Edited by Shining-one
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"The next scene shows Joline and David in Mejico. They have both taken on some work as field pickers to earn a little cash. Something the writers did get right was Collins sharing with David, and a campesino, that she had been astounded by her newfound experience of “work” as a duality of mind and body. For anyone with Asperger Syndrome, practical application of thought-processes would not be second nature. Motor impairement may be very subtle or quite severe. Moreover, Joline suffers some injury to her hands. The campesino suggests she should pay a visit to la bruja – a local healer in the Mexican, pueblo community. David is reluctant to go but his friend insists.
The visit to la bruja, in my view, is maybe the best part of the episode. An old lady conducts an open healing ceremony, where the locals throw pesos into her basket. A patient is called forwards and requested to lie on a blanket. La bruja examines his torso and proclaims:
“Algo esta creciendo en su estomago. Es fuerte. Yo soy mas fuerte.”
Meantime Joline excitedly informs David they are about to witness psychic surgery, citing some anthropological details. All the local campesinos gasp in awe when la bruja seems to extract a malignant growth from the patient’s chest but Joline recognises the whole act is a fraud. To the astonishment of all present, she steps forward to expose the charade. Kneeling on the rug, she offers a basic explanation of tumours and medical anatomy to the onlookers. La bruja calls her unwelcome guest “gringa” and slaps her face. I thought this scene was cleverly staged. Lack of social awareness and tact would be typical of someone who suffers Asperger Syndrome. Most people sense when they need to show discretion, or even humour ignorance. Joline merely follows her intellectual interpretation of events at the healing surgery and brings misfortune upon herself. Banner attempts to explain the teenage girl doesn’t understand the customs of different cultures but is dragged away by some campesinos. Joline herself is manhandled and taken inside la bruja’s small caravan. “Mi casa es su casa, nina”, hisses the old, gypsy woman.
As David is chained up, the old woman waves various rattles made of animal skulls at her captive, inside the caravan. Her screams, of course, cause David to struggle and shout, leading to his metamorphosis into The Hulk. Many of us will recall those familiar scenes of Bill Bixby’s shirt tearing apart and, in this case, the caravan is turned upside down. They both flee and the local people finally turn away from la bruja.
Still at the camp in Mejico, David notices how Joline speaks Spanish quite fluently and comes to the conclusion she also knows French, German and Italian. He likewise points out she has knowledge of anatomy and anthropology, is in the elite chess category and tends to hum Mozart, as opposed to popular music. Joline is put on the defensive by the probing questions but decides to finally share her story. “It’s about being different”, she explains. At four years of age, Collins was taken by her mother to The Kirkland Institute and left there. She was not like other children and, no matter how she tried, couldn’t be normal and make her mother happy. At the institute, Collins had thrived on the praise she received for her giftedness and had worked harder than all the others. Now she felt her mother would understand her better and no longer reject her. David agrees to help reunite mother and daughter.
David and Joline drive from Mejico to Los Angeles. A local resident informs them Collins’s mother had recently been evicted from a flat and was staying at The Ward Hotel. This turns out to be a run-down guest house in an urban part of L.A. When Mrs Collins is finally traced to her room, she turns out to be quite cold and unwelcoming. At the sight of her daughter Joline, Mrs Collins becomes defensive and upset, refusing to acknowledge her daughter. “Get her out of here!”, she yells. As Joline tries to explain why she needed to see her mother, she receives a slap across her face. Her mother storms out of the room and justifies her position on the grounds she has an abnormal daughter, who needs to return to the institution.
Despite the fact, Brainchild was scripted as just another episode of The Incredible Hulk television series, this scene very much hit a nerve. So often, people are unaware how cruel any form of High Functioning Autism can be. Personally, I have witnessed fragmented families and isolated siblings. I was involved in one fatal suicide case, given I was once the best friend of someone who opted one day to bleed to death alone. This came after years of psychiatric consultations and State invalidity support of the patient. Neither of us at that time knew anything about Asperger or autism but a friendship was built upon shared experiences of suffering. I now feel quite sure that, although we both suffered a similar experience, our diagnostic profiles were quite different. Whereas my own performance at school was totally in accord with the outline of struggle applied to the Asperger children, my friend had actually shown extreme giftedness at school, especially in maths. He was able to study successfully in class, whereas I had struggled with a total blockade to any personally communicated information. Only my reading was strong at that time – again typical of Asperger children. However, as an adult, my friend was even less socially adapted than myself. His motor movements were very awkward. Parts of his overall psychological development were very unequal. Childishness combined with very high intellect and little social adaptation. As in my own case, he had a normal, well adapted sibling.
I have a personal theory about autism, which I discovered when reading Nichola Tesla, the Serbian electrical inventor. My theory holds that almost the same linear curve of giftedness applies to the idiot and the obviously gifted child. A child of very high intelligence can suffer autism due to psychological isolation from immediate family, school and society. This is what we encounter in the case of Joline Collins. No contact, or resonance with the surrounding environment, disrupts normal human development. This creates isolation. On the other hand, the idiot, as opposed to the gifted, is initially too slow or impeded in the processing of information. This likewise creates a rift in the area of family bonding and social integration. Isolation becomes established. Autistic symptoms, therefore, consolidate. And yet……
According to Tesla, the condition of isolation from other human beings, in the psychological sphere, provides a catalyst for giftedness, genius and compensation. Given the case that the idiot and the gifted child begin life on a very unequal footing, both inevitably tread a path of isolation and tribulation. The phases of their respective developmental curves may at times be 360 degrees in opposition but, somewhere along the course of time, the curves may reach the same peak and resonance. For example, the idiot would register a strong, negative curve of intellectual development up to some unknown point in time when, possibly, an alternative mechanism for processing information develops inwardly. At such a point, the curve will alter course to a less negative, average value till it finally “catches up” the standard of normality. In many cases, and in the abstract sphere, this curve may finally reach higher positive values than normal. On the downside, delays in many other areas, especially emotional, continue to create problems.
As to the gifted individual, the initial developmental curve would be abnormally in the positive ascent from early childhood so far as the cognitive area is concerned. This creates an imbalance between that particular curve and the other, pertaining to social development. Intellectual processing becomes dominant and substitutes instinctive learning. As the gap widens, psychological stresses and deficits increase, causing a negative dip in overall development. I have noted many case-files where fairly severe cases of autism are associated with intellectual parents.
The conclusion of the episode.
On being rejected by her mother, Joline climbs onto the balcony of the hotel with the intention of jumping to her death. The police arrive, together with doctors from the Kirkland Institute. Mrs Collins meantime is seated on a bus, unaware her daughter is about to jump. David runs after the bus and is chased by armed police, as the suspected kidnapper. The stress of the ongoing crisis brings about a metamorphosis and, once again, David turns into The Hulk. This time he chases the bus yet again, causes it to stop, rips off the door and carries Mrs Collins to the roof top, where Joline is threatening to jump. Mother and daughter realise they really do need each other and the crisis abates. This is a beautiful ending to the story, however, experience suggests such happy endings seldom materialise. Here, it would be possible to start a whole new blog theme on how autism issues divide families. In many cases, even an individual with a high- functioning, autistic condition may represent either a burden, or object of disappointment within a family unit. Such children appear selfish, uncaring, rebellious and stupid to all concerned. Some develop antisocial traits and confusion over morality. Cases of abuse in many cases have always been common.
I should stress something.else too, that is crucial:
Possibly very few high-functioning autistic children learn to develop alternative mechanisms to process information, in such a way as a process of development takes place. 98 per cent of human beings evolved to depend upon group-based information processing, via instincts, bonding, relationships and personal interaction. I have often pointed out that the essence of Asperger’s neurosis entails the total breakdown of this mechanism. The individual affected by Asperger’s must evolve alternative neurological pathways yet, as Asperger himself stated, most never do.The majority may be doomed to eek out a living on low-paid, temporary employment and suffer very low self-esteem.
Does Joline Collins have Asperger Disorder?
As Joline is represented in the episode, she shows fairly normal social interaction with regard to facial expression, eye-contact and vocal intonation. Someone with Asperger Disorder would be far more awkward and robotic. Likewise, Collins shows no motor impairement or clumsiness. Of course, all of this can be attributed to acting. Few actors, or actresses, are taught how to depict someone who has this kind of neurological deviation. With regard to poor social awareness and lack of instinctive processing, the producers got this right, since Joline assumed she could express her thoughts, without any tact.
We are told Collins, from about age four, started to perform abnormally well in education. This was never the case with Asperger’s patients. The Asperger children could not be taught in a conventional classroom environment. However, as has been explained, many gifted children suffer severe developmental impairment due to excessive intelligence and Asperger carefully explained how this was a specific type of autism, distinct in his view from Kanner Autism. My view here is that, for the most part, the core aspect of Asperger Disorder consists of learning disability from an early age, while at the same time, there is a potential for giftedness, if teaching systems are radically adapted. By the same token, Joline clearly suffers a very similar type of high-functioning autism and classification has always been complex. Neither can we ever hope to box diagnosis of this condition into a simple list of ticks and crosses. "


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