This is largely in response to comments on a recent post.
These pictures are, just so nobody has any doubt about it, pictures of an overloaded autistic kid. (Sometimes right in between meltdowns.) Any facial expressions or gestures going on here are not expressions of emotion, they are expressions of overload, shutdown, or some combination of the two. (Although this is really my default facial expression, I am pretty monotonous that way.)
What I find interesting about this is the context in which these pictures were used.
Just as I was beginning to enter a time period that I call adolescence and many professionals in my life called extreme regression, I was in a film for a grief counseling service. The acting was, in general, really bad. Really bad.
It’s hard to be a good actor, at least playing an NT, if you have pretty much one main facial expression that you can’t easily change on cue, limited gestures, and look visibly separate from a group of kids you’re supposed to look like a part of, even when you’re told exactly where to put your body and what direction to point things in.
That last part now gives me a much better idea of why people were so convinced for awhile that I wasn’t paying any attention to anything social, my movements simply do not coordinate with or intermesh with the movements of the people around me, while all their movements are coordinated with each other.
And if your idea of “acting with feeling” is to combine echolalia with making your voice go up and down in a regular rhythm, and occasionally flapping your hands around while they’re at your sides. But even the non-autistic actors weren’t much good.
Anyway, the assorted demands of a film set had me pretty much constantly on the edge of overload, and sometimes over that edge.
They did edit out the part where I started taking things out of my desk and sticking them in my mouth.
But there were plenty of shots of me staring at nothing, sticking fingers in my mouth, biting my hand, and even at one point flapping. (All of the expressions and gestures shown here are part of my standard set of positions, which apparently hasn’t changed much over time, but the hand-biting and stuff is generally something I do when I’m extremely overloaded.)
So, anyway, I’ve established that these are pictures of overload. They’re not pictures of acting. They’re not reactions to the subject matter in the film. They’re reactions to an environment that I still remember as intensely loud, bright, and cluttered.
So, when I finally pulled my tape of this out again as an adult, something immediately struck me.
They thought that all that chewing on my hands and staring at nothing and stuff was acting, or at least reacting to the idea that we were talking about people’s families getting killed. (Many of the kids were clients of the grief counseling center. They, by the way, give me an idea of what really deserves mourning in the world.)
They were interspersing it with the things people said. These things were supposed to convey sadness and reaction to a discussion about death.
Acting, as far as I was concerned, was managing to be positioned in roughly the right spot and repeating roughly the right words, not much more than that. I’m now stunned that, despite the fact that they weren’t particularly good actors, the other kids were showing all these nuances of reaction and stuff all over their faces and in the noises they were making, constantly. They seemed to constantly have their bodies positioned in relation to each other.
So it makes sense that the filmmakers would have imagined that, rather than being overloaded, I was actually acting. (They also figured that my repeated meltdowns were a reaction to the seriousness of the subject matter, and kept trying to express their sympathy and explaining to me that lots of people feel that way. Which of course I perceived as just more sensory invasion.)
All this interests me in light of the recent discussion that was going on in the comments to one of my posts. People were talking about the sort of mistaken impressions people get from their facial expressions.
It got me thinking about how in this case, it wasn’t just a mistaken impression, but it got used to convey a whole lot of things that weren’t going on in my head. I suppose that’s what most acting really is, but I think most acting is a lot more intentional.
People were talking in the comments, about their eyes or faces being interpreted as blank, which can be interpreted ‘favorably’ as ‘thoughtful’.
I’ve frequently run across that interpretation, and I’m pretty sure that’s what they were assuming here. Along with ‘sad’ and ‘serious’, two other things my face gets me considered often.
This is the only thing where I have evidence of misperception on film. I can rewind the thing and remember what was really going through my head (sensory chaos, mostly) while they were pointing the cameras at me, and then I can look at their obvious interpretations of this. It’s very strange.
This makes the power of editing very apparent, too. And the power of projection (and I don’t mean film projectors).