Dennis Leary is publishing a new book with the very clever title: Why We Suck: A Feel Good Guide to Staying Fat, Loud, Lazy and Stupid. Of course, this from a guy whose stand up shows have names like "No Cure for Cancer", so its par for the course, really. Yet there is a chapter in the book that has created quite the uproar, a chapter in which Mr. Leary weighs in on the uptick in the rate of autism diagnosis in the country. His take is this:
"There is a huge boom in autism right now because inattentive mothers and competitive dads want an explanation for why their dumb-ass kids can't compete academically, so they throw money into the happy laps of shrinks…to get back diagnoses that help explain away the deficiencies of their junior morons.
I don't give a [bleep] what these crackerjack whack jobs tell you—yer kid is NOT autistic. He's just stupid. Or lazy. Or both."
Well. I can see why thousands of parents of spectrum kids are outraged at the suggestion that their child's struggles, not to mention those of their whole family unit, is a result of self-absorbed and uncaring parents. The public outcry was followed by statements from Mr.Leary and his publicist that were presented as an apology:
"The bulk of the chapter deals with grown men who are either self-diagnosing themselves with low-level offshoots of the disease or wishing they could as a way to explain their failed careers and troublesome progeny.
Of course, this entire misunderstanding can be easily avoided simply by doing one thing—reading the book. Taking one or two sentences out of context— especially when it involves an entire chapter devoted to the subject—is unfair and ill-advised.
Too often in this country, everything gets reduced to simple sound bites and very very often those sound bites are not truly representative of an author or artist's point of view."
I can easily agree we can be easily provoked by the soundbites we are fed. What disturbs me is the suggestion that his ill-concieved "humor" about families dealing with autism will be made clear to me if I would just read the book. If I buy the book, and it still is not clear, do I get my money back? How is it only the inflamatory lines have appeared in mainstream media? I would have more readily embraced the idea that this was a true apology if the whole chapter had been offered up for a frame of reference, or at least a few more lines from it. Not the whole book; I know he wants to sell the book and defend his right to do so. I suppose he is also within his rights to say nasty things and not apologize at all. I wish he would try harder to redeem himself, because I almost feel like he insulted me twice: once for my inept parenting, and then again for taking his unpleasant words "out of context" and telling me that to do so is "unfair and ill-advised" . I just cannot fathom any context where those words would not insult me. Yes, the words from his book shocked and hurt me. They made me want to call him on the phone and say, listen, that's really not how it is for most of us. For most of us, it hurts and is hard and is scary, and our child's wiring was not our doing, but a biochemical anomaly. For most of us it has meant years, day after day, of a high intensity reality that often defies description. To have our daily lives made light of, dismissed, mocked, belittled...? Ok, that stings.
What also bothers me is this. Mr.Leary is an abrasive, insenstive comic, and that is his approach to the medium... but he's also smart enough to know this chapter would be focused on by insulted and angry families, as well as folks who doubt the veracity of the autism diagnosis. He could easily bank on the media and the public to shine a light on his book either way, and here it is, in the spotlight. The statements made in the book seem calculated to go beyond "rub-you-the-wrong-way" comedy and into a highly manipulative zone. Provocative comedy is nothing new, but this smacks of a devious way of securing free publicity, not a sincere desire to get people thinking about Autism more critically. What disappoints me, too, is that I had a lot of appreciation for Mr.Leary before, for his community involvement and his comedy, but I lost that when he chose to present Autism to his readership in such an ugly manner. I am sad about that.
I do not know the exact cause of my son's autism, but I do know it is not due to my parenting skills. I also know it is the strength of my parenting skills that will help him successfully live as an autist in a neurotypical world. Believe me, I never dreamed I would be facing such a task as a mom. I thought I had signed up for the perils of plain ol' Mommyhood. As an added adventure, I got a special kid did not come with special training classes for mom! Every day brings challenges, but we face them, do our best.
I take my job seriously, but still have a sense of humor. I enjoyed a lot of Mr.Leary's material. This, sadly, never evolved past meanspirited into funny. And I am thinking no apology can ever get it there.