The Great Debate

I was catching up on some news this evening, reading about stem cells here in Missouri, with iTunes on shuffle, as usual. About half way through the article, Dream Theater‘s song The Great Debate (from Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence) came on. I had to stop and listen.

If you know the song, you know that it is a discussion about then-President Bush’s decision concerning stem cells back in 2001. Here’s what wikipedia has to say about the song:

The Great Debate” is an innovative song by the progressive metal band Dream Theater dealing with the topic of stem cell research. It opens with various sound bytes of individuals’ beliefs and opinions concerning this contentious topic. Both sides of this debate are represented lyrically, and the band challenges the listener repeatedly with the chorus phrase- “Are you justified in taking life to save life?” and “Do we look to our Unearthly Guide?…or to white coat heroes, searching for a cure?”

What really struck me is how little seems to have changed in the last 7 1/2 years.  Consider these verses from the song:

What if someone said
Promise lies ahead
Hopes are high in certain scientific circles
Life won’t have to end
You could walk again

What if someone said
Problems lie ahead
They’ve uncovered something highly controversial
The right to life is strong
Can’t you see it’s wrong

Or, as they say toward the end of the song, miracle potential vs. the sanctity of life. Much the same as what is being said this week.

The stem cell debate reminds me quite a bit of another great debate:  vaccines and autism.  Though the substance of the two debates is different, they are qualitatively very similar: no matter what evidence or arguments are presented, it is very unlikely that you will ever change the opinion of someone who actually has an opinion.

Just the way it is (but don’t you believe them)

Frequent readers of this blog know that in my attempt to understand autism better, I have a tendency to see connections in things that aren’t always directly related to autism.  A lot of times this will come in the form of a song, a TV show, or a main- or sub-theme in a movie (like the X-Men trilogy).

My post yesterday brought to mind Bruce Hornsby‘s (excellent) song, The Way It Is (from the album of the same name).

They say, “Hey little boy you can’t go
Where the others go
‘Cause you don’t look like they do”
Said, “Hey old man
How can you stand to think that way
Did you really think about it
Before you made the rules”
He said, son

That’s just the way it is
Some things will never change
That’s just the way it is
Ah, but don’t you believe them

“Don’t you believe them.”  Don’t listen when someone tells you that you can’t change things, that this is how it was meant to be.  Nothing is “meant to be”, that is the wonder of being human, that we determine what is for ourselves.

Well they passed a law in ’64
To give those who ain’t got a little more
But it only goes so far
Because the law don’t change in another’s mind
When all it sees AT the hiring time
Is the line on the color bar

That’s just the way it is
Some things will never change
That’s just the way it is
That’s just the way it is, it is, it is, it is

Note that in the chorus after the last verse, Hornsby never says “don’t you believe them”.  I don’t know if this was intentional or not, but it is definitely true.  You can make a law, you can tell people what they have to do, but you can’t tell them how to think about others.  That takes education, persistence, and persuasion.

And that, I believe, is the challenge we all face in gaining more understanding and acceptance for autistics, indeed for all people who are different.

Pop culture has power; does it also have a responsibility?

In a previous post in which I discussed the power of pop culture, I wrote the following:

As much as we may wish it were not so, we can’t ignore the power of pop-culture and the influence it has had, and will continue to have, on the public perception of autism.

(You may have also seen a version of this post earlier this year, when I reposted it in the wake of the ABC Eli Stone story. And, no, I’m going to repost the whole thing again ;-)

In the article Film comedy courts controversy; mental disabilities heart of issue, Jenny Goode, chief executive officer of the Betty Hardwick Center, has the following to say about pop culture::

“What we need to consider as responsible adults is that things that occur in pop culture, movies, television and books are things that people do use in some sort of layman’s way to educate themselves or to learn from or emulate in their own lives,” she said. “These things are repeated by young people and adults alike.”

These two quotes together brought to mind those immortal words of wisdom from Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben (yes, another somewhat gratuitous pop culture reference): “With great power comes great responsibility.”

Do the creators of pop culture – or any kind of “culture” – have a responsibility to wield their power responsibly?

Or is it our responsibility as consumers of pop culture to understand what it is that we are consuming and put it into the proper perspective for our own lives?