Recently while reading the Classic Children’s Comics collection (reviewed elsewhere on this site) I read the Gerald McBoing Boing comic adaptation for the first time. I’ve heard the name before. I have no recollection of watching the cartoon (1950), but at some point I must have. This cartoon was ranked number 9 on the 50 Greatest Cartoons list which was a special on Cartoon Network and a coffee table book. The book is in the room with me, and I’m sure I watched that special. However both were released in 1994 and my life has changed dramatically since then. Changed so much that I would have never realized certain nuances for this cartoon.
Gerald is a young boy of two who should start talking any day now. He opens his mouth, his parents eagerly await, and a “boing” comes out. As the months go on this only gets worse. Boing, beeps, and booms. His parents call a doctor, who says Gerald is a hopeless case. Gerald grows to be school age, and is sent home the first day. While he may not be able to speak the words, that doesn’t mean he can’t understand words. Gerald is well aware of what people, including his parents, are saying about him. He sneaks out of the house and is about to jump onto the first passing train to get far away. Just in the last moment he is called back. A strange man has been looking for him, looking for him for weeks! This man runs the local radio station and is in need of someone with Gerald’s unique talents. Gerald becomes the star of the radio shows, a one boy sound effects department. Everyone loves him. His parents are happy. He has fame, he has money, and the story ends with Gerald receiving love and attention.
There’s not a doubt in my mind Gerald is on the autism spectrum.
When he reaches the age most children begin to talk he instead speaks in his own unique way. He can get his point across, and he can understand others. He just cant do what’s “normal”. His parents, instead of trying to understand his language, seek a doctor to give him some pills. When that fails, they ship him off to school. Here, you deal with him! The school falls short and everyone throws in the towel. Never once talking to Gerald. Never trying to see things his way. No therapy. No one even gave him a pencil. Maybe he can write in English, even though he can’t speak it. Gerald runs away rather than hear his parents complain about what a burden he is for one more night. He is pulled back, rescued, at the last moment. Only then is he given a job, and his parents love, when the adults realize they can exploit his talents. That which was a problem a short time ago is now beloved once it becomes profitable.
Sure, there’s a less cynical viewpoint to be had here, and probably even more so in 1950. Yet I see someone like a Temple Gradin, and other examples, who were pushed down and told to be quiet yet lauded later when someone actually took the time to listen. Kids and adults who were “different” in the past, we now look back and see signs of them on the spectrum. Sheldon from Big Bang Theory, Forrest Gump, Boo Radley, and the list goes on and on the more it is thought about and discussed. At best quirky, at worst bullied and mocked. Yet they all have gifts to share with the world if we would only listen.