Friday, April 12, 2013

The Amazing Spider-Man | Is Peter Parker Autistic?

Though it's not exactly timely, a though occurred to me in the car yesterday that finally put the latest installment in Sony's Spider-Man franchise, starring Andrew Garfield.

I had read that Andrew closely modeled his posture and behavior on actual arachnids, to give Peter Parker a more alien, more alien vibe. He achieves this with great affect. Post-mutation, Peter Parker is a strange, cocky little fellow who moves like something a little more or a little less than human.

Before that bite, however, Peter is sort of … well, spectrum-y1.

Peter is emotionally closed off at school, very reactive, not all that talkative, despite for all purposes appearing geek-chique handsome, sporting stylish hoodies and military jackets, and possessing cool interests: skateboarding, photography with a $3,000 camera. It is out of his character to stand up for a bullied little person, or to speak up in class. He is dumbfounded at being engaged by a pretty girl. (Granted, it's a skinnier-than-usual, blonde version of Emma Stone, dressed like a naughty schoolgirl, but still.) The point is Peter Parker seems to be someone with abandonment issues who doesn't understand how other people work outside his close-knit family unit. He has no trouble lying to his aunt or placating authority figures, but he will do his own thing quietly and resent dealing with the "normal" outgoing jock-types, who also appear to be enormous, dickish bullies

No, this isn't much more atypical than your average high school loner, but it's a new spin on Peter Parker. Traditionally, Peter has been the Nerd, the skinny boy who was transformed overnight into a disproportionately strong, super-sensing super-man. He was a nerd, a geek, a loser. He had few friends, sure, but predominantly he was a boy-genius with little aptitude for girls, sports, or alpha-male behavior. He was the first 40 minutes of Revenge of the Nerds.

So why not play the same? I mean, yes, you're trying to reboot a franchise that only finished a few years previous, but is it a necessary change? The two easiest ways to bork up a reboot is to follow the source material too closely or not closely enough. Peter has always been a nerd. Tobey McGuire nailed that. Why change canon law?

Because nerds rule your computer right now, and your computer rules your life. The audience knows that. Half the audience of a Spider-Man movie is that nerd. However it has nothing to do with alienating your target demographic:

The only way for Peter Parker to be a social outcast in a world full of increasingly common nerdiness is to make him more socially stunted, and that means withdrawn to the point of emotional underdevelopment.

Gwen Stacy is a genius in her own right. She is strong-willed and empowered. Flash Thompson may be an alpha-douche, but he damn-well knows how to sext a girl, browse Facebook, and follow Dita von Tease via Twitter. All Peter's classmates, and probably a few faculty members are all over the Internet and integrated with their PCs. That interest in science that made Peter an outcast for much of the character's history is just part-and-parcel for the average teen now.

The only way to alienate Peter from his peers is to remove him from the social networks. He can't understand them. He can mirror them, utilize them, but he can't be allowed to understand the intricacies by which they function. He can school Flash on the basketball courts, but he has to be punished for it the way Flash never could be. Peter has to be physically incapable of joining up with the status quo of high school culture.

Peter has to be a little spectrum-y to be who he always has been but no longer can be.

1 We used to say "Aspergers-y, but now we have to use "Autism Spectrum Disorder-y" THANK YOU VERY MUCH DSM-V.
2 Actually, one bully. Flash Thompson. This school has about 6 people with speaking rolls.
3 I promise you he's really a nice guy once he realizes in college he was a douche, especially after joining the military and losing both his legs overseas.

1 comment :

  1. A fascinating discussion done by Moviebob on Youtube discusses this and has some great points.


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