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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Organic Android Complex

Or thoughts on Pinocchio,

I haven't done a good essay a while but I figure I should try to crack one out.

One of my favorite childhood stories is the Velveteen Rabbit. The story of a beloved stuff animal being come "real' through a child unconditional love and companionship as well as fairy magic. It was the perfect story for a little girl like myself that had stuff animals for friends. I had dozens of plush animals and I still have a few around me and I still sleep with at least one. However looking back on the tropes of fiction you see that the Velveteen Rabbit is something of a trope now. It the idea that the love of another person unconditional and unrelenting can fix their problems or a characteristic that other person doesn't really understand or like. A good example is a woman loving a gay man and turning him "straight" or a woman falling in love with a drug addict and getting him clean or an abled woman making disabled man, abled. 

For some it's the whole "broken doll" or the "Every  girl likes a bad-boy" appeal that makes this trope and it's cousins quite over-used. Now is the Velveteen Rabbit trope generally bad? No it's a trope. A writing tool and a common plot device. It's how you write it that makes it cringe worthy. With Autistic characters, you run into this a lot and characters mostly fall into two tropes. The Organic Android and the Three Legged Dog.  Now the Organic Android (OA) is the trope where the autistic character is interesting invoking and somehow relatable, but you can tell he is just a shallow image of a normal person and it almost casts you into the Uncanny Valley. The Three Legged Dog is where the autistic person doesn't see anything wrong with himself, he is happy out going but everyone feels so bad for him yet inspired by his feeling of optimism that is portrayed as sweetness and "aww what a precious and special person". One invokes fetishism the other pity. While Tikaani might fall into the TTLD trope a few times. I see a lot of writers lean on the OA for some reason. It guess it's the attempt to make him relatable but only to make him look like something on a National Geographic documentary. TTLD is common too for compassion but it echoes more pity and voyeurism than compassion. 

When writing disabled or anything  that is "Other" you must be mindful of the tropes and stereotypes you are using. Tropes are not bad but executing them wrong is. 


  1. Ideally, if the character is fully realized in the writer's mind, if the writer walks in the character's shoes, the tropes fall aside and the character lives and breathes for the writer. Ideally. :-)

  2. Even if the character is fully realized and is "alive", there are key signatures that make it a good character. Learning to use the right kinds are important.

    It's constant progression of trail and error.

  3. This is a really interesting and thoughtful point. Especially for me because in my own comic Ruby's World, Jiro, one of the main characters and the main love interest, is both autistic AND a literal organic android. I tried to make him distinct from typical autistic characters in fiction because he's completely aware of his condition and defines himself by his loyalty to the people he cares about, but it's still using a mechanical nature as a metaphor for autism. ( Though to be fair, he started out as a regular autistic boy, and it was volunteering for a medical " cure " procedure that made him robotic by accident-- and also caused an incredible amount of pain in the process ).

    I guess I'm at least being conscious of the potential pitfalls of representation, which is more than I can say about people like Jodi Picoult.