Friday, January 30, 2009

Charities: Good. Ads Depicting Said Charities' Main Clients as Monsters or Nonpersons? Bad, Very Bad.

By now, probably a lot of you have seen this:

It's an ad (created by this company) for a U.K.-based children's charity, Action for Children. It shows a tiny human figure (meant to represent the boy narrating, whose name is Dan) trapped inside a rampaging monster wreaking havoc across a vaguely dystopian urban landscape. Near the end of the spot (which is 53 seconds long), a red string wraps itself around the monster and dissolves it, freeing the child inside.* As the monster disappears, the backdrop shifts to a brightly-colored rural landscape, with hills and little birds and everything. The monster tries to get up and swallow Dan again, but Dan crushes it beneath his feet.

The monster is supposed to represent Dan's autism**.

Think about that for a moment. Imagine what it would be like, if you were a child of Dan's age --- preteen to young teen --- and you were told that something about you, some quirk of your personality --- maybe you like Transformers, say, and are always going on about Transformers to your family, friends and classmates --- was absolutely intolerable to other people. That you were so annoying it only made sense that people would snap at you, bully you, or threaten you with violence, and when you acted to defend yourself you were, of course, the violent one. As you are now, you'd probably recognize this as an abusive, victim-blaming crock of shite, right? But think about how you were at a much younger, more vulnerable age, when you might not have known how people are supposed to act, or might not yet have gotten that you, too --- with all your strangeness and awkwardness --- were entitled to fair treatment and freedom from harrassment; you might have found it easy to agree with them. "Gee," you might have said to yourself, "maybe they're right. I don't see people treating anybody else this badly, so maybe there is something about me that's making them do it."

While it's understandable for a confused, frightened autistic youth (or, heck, anybody --- all sorts of people fall for this stuff) to fall into this trap himself, it's an entirely different matter for powerful adults to coach him into accepting this explanation. Adults (and other authority figures --- police, governments, etc.) have a responsibility to protect children (all people, with the strength of the imperative increasing with the decreasing social power of the person in question) from abusers, bullies and manipulators. This is why I'm angry at Action for Children --- because they didn't step in for Dan. They let Dan carry the whole weight of what happened on his own shoulders, believing that his autism puts him in the wrong. That's inexcusable.

You can send angry emails to:

Gary Day, Action For Children -
The Action For Children Fundraising and Public Relations Department -
The Action For Children Media Team -

Laurence Sassoon, Managing Partner at Baby Creative -

(The autism blog has a template up for such letters to Mr. Day, the British Fundraising Standards Board, and Member of Parliament Hilary Armstrong).

I'd also recommend checking out blog posts on this topic by Mike Stanton, Sharon, Bev, Socrates, ABFH, Shiva, Andrea, Ettina and AnneC.

EDIT: According to Shiva, Action for Children has another horrible ad, this one about an adult with multiple sclerosis whose child had been her main caregiver. Shiva goes into great detail about what makes this horrible, so I won't say all that much, other than that it reduces the mother to a dead weight who is only a burden on her daughter.

*Autism is not a personal characteristic in this formulation, but a thing, an alien and malign force, that "has" your child and must be induced to give him up. The parents and/or caregivers are like dragon-slaying knights, while the child is merely the object of the heroic quest.
**Ah, I recognize this. This is the changeling myth! The autistic child is no longer your child, but has become (overnight!) a monstrous stranger. Again, the child is depersonalized and the parents must fight his autism, which means fighting him.


Socrates said...

Thanks for mentioning the advertising execs. They should not be missed..

Action for Children's responses have been inadequate to the point of arrogance.

I imagine they're expecting to tuff it out and let the ad continue to run for another two weeks.

We'll fight them all the way. Every day.

jypsy said...

My letters have been written. I am an Aspergers woman with MS. I have an autistic son and an Aspergers son.

Anonymous said...

Oh wow. Splitting. Dividing off parts of yourself or others that don't fit the image you want/need, and treating them as an alien force distinct from the person themselves. That thing that victims of trauma and people with personality disorders do. Fantastic. Let's all do that to our children. There's no way this can end badly.

Gonzo said...

That's so cool, that so many bloggers, have written about this ad!
I feel like a bit of a traitor, for not having done that, but I've been offline for weeks and slowly catching up on the stuff I missed.
This monster ad is really offensive and I've been really annoyed by Action for Children's wilful ignorance and arrogance.