Amanda (aslanscountry) wrote in skinsfans,

my ~skins essay~ which is pretty embarrassing

I write a blog about disability issues with a focus on autism, and for the first few weeks I watched Skins my entire blog was just about how much I loved JJ. I'm trying to combine some of my various posts about his wonderfulness and also discuss what was, in my opinion, his downfall after 3x08.

It's basically a novel. It has chapters and stuff. Don't judge, I have a senior project I don't want to work on.
eta: I apparently don't know how to do an lj-cut anymore.


how I became locked on

Usually if I find out a TV show or movie features a character with autism, I will do anything to avoid watching it because I know I'll end up feeling embarrassed, invisible, and annoyed.

Embarrassed because the character is usually written and portrayed to make a point, so in order to show that they have autism, the writers and actors will pack in as much obnoxious, weird, and "tragic" behavior as possible. Invisible, obviously, because I am not an actor trying to win an award, so I don't act like these characters and neither does anyone I know. Finally, I feel annoyed that my Autistic friends and I have to live in a world where people have watched these TV shows and movies and think they're actually true.

I wanted to watch Skins for a while because I heard it had super cool lesbians, but I also heard there was a character with autism which made me not want to watch it, so I was having a disabled vs. gay fight in my brain. Gay was winning, so I decided to watch JJ's S3 episode to see how horrible it was.

It was fucking great! Then I watched Skins FOREVER for the rest of my life and put 400 gifs of Rich and Grace on my tumblr and dressed my roommate up as Sid and took pictures of him which I'm not allowed to show anyone (but he looks so good).

Some Autism/Disability Cliches and How JJ Awesomely Doesn't Follow Them

1. A disabled person's problems always come directly from their disability, never the stigma of disability, or other factors.

I loved 3x07 almost as soon as I started watching it because even though the episode focused on JJ's autism, the fact that he had autism wasn't the problem per se. His mom, doctor, and friends all contributed to his problems with the way they treated him, and the biggest problem of all was how JJ felt about himself. He saw his "not-normal-ness" as limiting him so much that he would never be able to have sex or have any control over his life. The episode isn't about JJ's autism getting cured, or even about JJ dealing with particular aspects of his autism; it's about JJ realizing that he can make new friends, express anger, tell people how he feels, and have sex (even though that's kind of a Broken Aesop because it's ~charity sex~).

2. Parents of Autistic kids are justified in being depressed.

I've read people saying that JJ's mom is "one of the only good parents in Skins," but I couldn't disagree more. She means well, but she has a totally warped idea of who JJ is. I get that autism has a lot of stigma, but as teenagers go JJ is pretty stable, so it's ridiculous for his mom to be constantly depressed and worried about his autism. She doesn't even try to hide from JJ how upset she is, which really makes him feel guilty and leads to his low opinion of his "not-normal-ness". I love the portrayal of JJ's mom not just because it breaks a cliche, but because I know a lot of disabled people who grew up in this kind of situation, so it's super realistic (and not something I'd ever seen on TV before).

3. Medical professionals know how to help disabled people better than they know how to help themselves.

I think anyone would agree that Skins needs to get over its hatred of psychiatrists. But while the John Foster storyline sucked, I did like JJ's terrible psychiatrist. Like a lot of developmentally disabled people, JJ has obviously been taught to do whatever his doctor tells him, and doesn't realize that his doctor is incredibly incompetent. (JJ's naive trust of doctors is evidenced by the fact that he actually thinks STUN pills "make you calm down and tell the truth," instead of realizing that Psycho Support prescribed them to two people with completely different problems.)

4. You can always tell someone has autism right away because of all the weird things they do.

This cliche is annoying because it results in really over-the-top performances and characters who are written as "autistic" first and foremost with no other personality traits. It also sucks because it makes people think they can identify whether some has autism just by looking at them, and not believe Autistic people are really Autistic unless we're constantly insulting people and mumbling about trains.

I love the fact that some viewers didn't realize JJ had autism until we saw his diagnostic papers in 3x07, or until he got upset at the party in 3x04. This is how it is in real life. Even when someone is really obviously different, they don't usually act like the Wikipedia page for autism. And JJ doesn't even come off as "really obviously different" all the time.

Nonetheless, his autism is an organic part of him; it doesn't just appear when it's a big part of the plot. I don't know if this is good casting or good acting, but Ollie Barbieri has a believably Autistic way of moving. JJ also often gets stuck on certain ideas or events, and a lot of his behavior with Freddie and Cook in 3x01-3x06 makes a lot more sense in light of his autism, as I will discuss in the next section.

My number one Skins Autism Moment is...well, let me explain. Lots of people who are writing an Autistic character read a book about autism and think, "Oh, the character must have a strong interest." Then the character comes onscreen and goes, "BIRDS! I love birds! They're so fucking great! I'm going to list all the different types of birds now."

JJ has a ton of model airplanes in his room.  He has a meltdown and breaks them all. He immediately goes to the store to buy new planes, and has all the names off by heart. Then the storeowner tells JJ that they have this new kind of plane, and JJ's face lights up.

JJ from Skins beaming in a model airplane sotre

And that is all we need to know; JJ loves model airplanes. He feels it so intensely that a new plane makes him smile, despite everything else that's going wrong.

The Cliche That is Dismantled So Awesomely That It Gets Its Own Section (also I got tired though so this is the worst section)

5. A non-disabled person is doing a developmentally disabled person a favor by being friends with them.

Oh my gosh. JJ's relationship with Freddie and Cook is so complex in many ways and, in particular, an extremely complex and realistic portrayal of what it can be like for someone with a mental disability to be friends with non-disabled people.

One of the things I've mentioned (and really like) about JJ is that he's internalized a lot of the cliches I listed. #5 is no exception. A lot of JJ's behavior only makes sense in the context of his belief that because he's a "retard, nutjob, headcase, spazzo, mong" he can't have the same kind of friends other people have. I love Cook, so I'd like to think that JJ genuinely loves Cook too (and I guess it would be nice if he loved Freddie, though I can't see why he would). But the way JJ is characterized in S3, it almost seems like it doesn't matter if he likes Cook and Freddie or not. "They're the only friends [he's] ever had," and he doesn't seem to have the idea that he could just go out and make new ones. He seems to assume he's just not normal enough to be accepted by anyone.

I think it was Rophy (or one of their commenters) who said that Freddie doesn't seem to really like JJ that much, and it's really Cook who is good friends with JJ. This makes sense to me; Freddie is more responsible than Cook so he's more often the one who provides support when JJ is overwhelmed, but Cook is much more affectionate to JJ, Cook/JJ go around as a duo more than JJ/Freddie do, and Cook has the type of personality where he'd genuinely think JJ's magic tricks and weird comments are awesome. Plus...I mean, JJ must like Freddie more than Cook. Look at Cook and look at Freddie. But JJ just has it in his head that Cook And Freddie Are His Friends, and if they stopped being friends it would be terrible. His life has to stay the way it is, probably both because it's more calming when things are the same, and because of how insecure he feels about his ability to make and keep friends.

I think JJ thinks that Freddie and Cook are slumming by being friends with him, and he can't stand up to them about things because he owes them for being friends with someone like him, and also because they sometimes have to do things for him like saving him from Pandora's party. Their friendship is definitely more than this, both in terms of who helps who (of course Freddie sends JJ to help Cook all the time), and in terms of how they all feel about each other. One of my favorite Skins scenes ever is the first Cook/JJ scene in 3x07. Cook calling JJ a "fruit bat" is really fucked up and shows how he doesn't understand JJ; but nonetheless, Cook is completely adorable and sincere and JJ seems moved by that. I love the fact that all three of them treat each other badly, are insensitive, and are unhealthy, but that doesn't mean that they're all just enemies or bullies to each other.

In light of JJ's whole ~owing his friends for being his friends/thinking he's not able to make new friends/not being able to stand up for himself~ complex, it's really important when he gives Cook all the STUN. Of course it's a shitty thing to do, but it also is kind of cool because it's what anyone else would do. JJ is really mad at Cook, so he does something bad to him. He doesn't worry that Cook will never forgive him and he'll have to make new friends and adjust to a new routine, etc.

I think there's something similar going on in 3x08 when JJ is incredibly nasty to Cook in the forest (everyone is mad, but JJ's probably the meanest and given how sweet their friendship is, he's the worst person who could possibly have said that). JJ has all this anger at Cook that he feels like he's not allowed to express because Cook is maybe the only person who really likes him. But then, he knows stuff is okay with Freddie, he's got Emily and maybe Effy as friends, and they've all been having a good time, so he feels more secure. And everyone is mad at Cook, so it's like JJ's been given permission to speak.

So JJ's relationship with Freddie and Cook is just way more fucked up--but in a way more sincere--than the way disabled/non-disabled friendships are usually written. This kind of fits into the dismantling of cliche #1, too. JJ definitely has an unhealthy relationship to Freddie and Cook, but it's not as simple as "autistic guy doesn't know how to make friends." And the way they treat him is not all that great either.

I don't like 3x09 though!

To be brief, it bothers me that JJ is so dumb in it. Despite the fact that in 3x07 he was fine with Emily being gay and understood that they were having sex as a one-time thing, in 3x09 Freddie says that JJ was "glowing" about having sex with Emily, and JJ ends up thinking he and Emily are going to have sex again. In addition to throwing Emily and JJ's friendship under the bus (or the baseball bat, wow I'm officially a loser) it just doesn't make sense with how JJ was characterized before. It's true that JJ sucks at keeping secrets and is awkward, and I don't mind that being used as a plot device within reason, but you cross the line into offensive when you portray a mentally disabled character as being unaware of things that are really obvious and that they already knew before.

Why 4x06 is a really dumb episode that undid some of the series 3 greatness

Basically, there were 5 characters who weren't doing anything.

Emily and Naomi had started hating each other at the beginning of the season and were just sitting around.  Thomas and Panda had broken up at the beginning of the season and were just sitting around.  JJ had never had a girlfriend, had never had sex with someone who was actually into him, and hadn't done a single thing all season. Also after becoming friends with Emily in 3x07, he never hung out with her again.

I tend to think that a lot of these problems could have been addressed in one episode. For example, JJ has been shown to be friends with Emily, Panda, and Thomas. The main characters of the episode could have been JJ and Emily, JJ and Panda, or JJ and Thomas, with development for both characters and their relationships. Instead they decided to make a really insular episode where to the extent that other main characters appear they're either character-assassinated (Cook, Emily) or don't develop at all (Thomas). It basically has the structure of a bad romantic comedy and nothing feels very important because JJ is getting together with a girl we've never seen before.

But anyway. All that aside, how does this episode suck not just as an episode, but in terms of disability?

1. The episode makes JJ's disability a plot point when this isn't necessary in the first place. It was already the point of his s3 episode, and judging by how badly handled it is in 4x06, the writers had nothing interesting left to say about it.

2. The idea that Autistic people are ~aliens trying to understand humans~ is cliched and a little offensive. JJ's chart was way cooler.

3. 3x07 seemed to end with JJ's mom seeing him for the first time, realizing that her son is actually pretty cool and she doesn't need to worry about him so much. In 4x06 it's like that development never happened and JJ's mom treats him like a 4-year-old.

4. In 3x07 JJ becomes more comfortable with himself and realizes that even though he is disabled, in some ways he's "the normal one." But in 4x06, again, this is totally reversed. JJ tries to put up a front when on his date with Lara, and then tries to keep her from finding out he's disabled.

5. Even accepting "JJ wants this girl to like him, but oh noes, her ex-boyfriend is going to tell her JJ's a 'psycho,'" as a legitimate plot for the episode, it isn't even resolved well. The climax of the plot is when JJ beats up Liam while yelling, "I'm a psycho!" indicating that he's sick of hiding. So I would think...maybe then he talks to Lara about being disabled? Or he decides that she's not a girl he wants to be with because he felt he had to hide from her? Or...I don't know, anything but getting her back by playing the ukelele in front of her building, with absolutely none of the problems in their relationship being addressed?

OFFICIALLY. DUMB. But I still watch 3x07 over and over because it's magic. And now I have to go work on my senior project unfortunately.


Tags: - news and articles, character: jj jones, ep: 3x04, ep: 3x07, ep: 4x06, pairing: cook/jj, season 3: episode reviews, season 3: general discussions, season 4: episode reviews

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