It 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.