Why do we ignore some wonderful people?

Mark with a CIt occurs to me that many of the people I used to work with–computer programmers for the most part–were very literal thinkers. They didn’t endeavor to be assholes, but they often managed the role without much effort. (Some of them were almost normal, outside the office, after a few drinks or a bit of heavy medication.)

I mention the experience because it suggests a range of potential characters who should, in my opinion, become more common in popular fiction: players driven by literal responses to everyday life. As the general population grows, so does the “special” one. This group includes folks with intellectual and developmental issues, but it also includes those on the cusp of “normalcy,” whatever that might be.

From my perspective, the film and television industries have done a better job of incorporating such characters into significant roles than have the producers of written fiction.

A great example is the popular TV series “Big Bang Theory,” which features a handful of lovable social misfits and a gorgeous gal who serves as their foil. The series has often been derided as nothing more than “nerd humor” which simply proves that we’re not all blessed with the same degree of taste. I love the show, and everyone knows [cough] I’m brilliant!

ABC’s new series, “Stumptown,” features a young man with Down’s Syndrome in an important supporting role. He offers wonderful balance to his hard-boiled sister who is the show’s lead character. The stories are based on graphic novels of the same name. (Graphic novels, to me, are comic books on steroids–not quite the same thing as traditional novels.)

“9-1-1” is another entertaining TV show which features a special needs character. This time it’s a boy with cerebral palsy whose father is one of the hunky firemen in the series. The relationship they have is endearing and makes the show even more enjoyable.

In the film “I Am Sam,” Sean Penn portrayed a mentally challenged man struggling to retain custody of his young daughter. Audiences loved his character, and he earned an Academy Award nomination for it. Dustin Hoffman’s “Rain Man” character is a classic, and the picture is included in the American Film Institute’s 100 Most Inspiring Movies of All Time.

There are many more examples including Juliette Lewis in “The Other Sister” and Tom Hanks in “Forrest Gump.” But when it comes to listing similar offerings from the written world, only two jump immediately to mind (and both were made into extremely popular films): John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. The characters of Lenny and Boo Radley have been the subjects of countless term papers, book reports, and even a masters thesis or two.

I’d like to know when we’ll begin to see more such characters in popular fiction. If you’re a writer, and you’re reading this right now, why not give some thought to putting someone “special” into your current or upcoming project. It might be a challenge, but it just might pay off in ways you never considered. Perhaps it would give you an opportunity to spend some time with representatives from that population. And there are more opportunities for interaction than one might think. We need to look no farther than the local Publix or Kroger store to find some warm, wonderful, and yes, even quirky people.

Give it some thought. And, please, let me know what you think of the idea.

–Josh

About joshlangston

Grateful and well-loved husband, happy grandparent, novelist, editor, and teacher. My life plate is full, and I couldn't be happier. Anything else I might add would be anticlimactic. Cheers!
This entry was posted in Historical writing, novel writing, short fiction, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Why do we ignore some wonderful people?

  1. Gerald W. Flinchum says:

    Very Very good point. Let’s not forget the less fortunate people that cross our paths in life, the homeless, the addicts, downtrodden people that often need a helping hand, a word of encouragement, or personal attention. Our world is full of them

  2. don says:

    Great thoughts. Remember quirky people are available everywhere including your own neighborhood. We are apparently evolved to live in our own comfort zones rarely leaving them. So to Mr. Langston point, from a writing prospective or otherwise, take a vacation from your comfort zone and find what exists in our world, both pleasant and unpleasant.

  3. sonyabravermanaolcom says:

    A powerful message. The media, including writers, have the power to present these folks as the gentle, warm, and loving people they are. Sometimes we turn our backs on the people we don’t understand.
    A

    • joshlangston says:

      I couldn’t agree more. I love to spend a few minutes chatting with some of the special needs folk who work at the local Publix store. They tend to be friendly and caring, and I think they appreciate being included without being treated differently.

      • Vikki Yoder says:

        I think this is an excellent idea. I’ve never considered writing about our special people. I have a 30 year old nephew who is very “special” in my life and comes many weekends to help me out around the house. His logic and organizational skills never fail to make me smile. Most Sundays, I hear him “suggest” to me: “Aunt Vikki, why don’t you finish one task before you start another?” He has totally picked up on my ADD. He makes me smile and sometimes, he frustrates me; but I wouldn’t give his visits up for anything.

  4. You have hit on a new genre. Good for you for suggesting this. Wish I were a writer, so I could follow your advice. Sounds like a challenge for Doris! Cheers to those who are “special.” May we know them and be a part of their lives.

    • joshlangston says:

      Don’t be too quick to label yourself a non-writer. It’s a humongous tent; there’s room for people at all skill levels and aspirations. I know quite a few writers who started with “I can’t” and turned into fine storytellers.

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