Thinking Fans Comment Update: Karen likes Spinelli just as he is, thank you very much … antmunoz thinks “different” characters reflect the real viewing audience more than the “ultra-gorgeous” do … while S. Woods feels Spinelli “is one of the few redeeming characters on bloody bullet-riddled General Hospital” … and more. See Comments below.
By Damon L. Jacobs
When the Journalistic One approached the Soap Shrink to offer supposition about the Jackal, he wondered if his recitation may present too capricious or deprecatory. After all, the Soap Shrink is trained in the intricate branch of diagnosis, and our dear Spinelli appears to disavow and impugn such declarations.
But then I thought, why the heck not?
Because behind Damien Spinelli’s strange speech and puppy dog eyes there is a young man coping with classic symptoms of Asperger’s Disorder. Individuals who carry this diagnosis typically present with impaired ability to socially interact with
In a soap universe filled with perfect looking people, it is refreshing to see someone stand on the outside and reflect the goings-on around him. This used to be a staple on soaps …
others, and with restricted and repetitive behaviors (ideal for a computer hacker). They frequently have a hard time connecting with peers, can’t make small talk, have limited ability to follow social conventions, make minimal eye contact, and may be seen by others as “eccentric” or “strange.” Because of these labels, they are more often inclined to bond or connect with others who also do not fall into typical societal roles, i.e., cognitively limited mobsters such as Jason Morgan.
Dr. Matt Hunter recognized these features in Spinelli (played by Bradford Anderson) last summer, and all but spelled out, “Asperger’s” as a diagnosis. He approached Spinelli about doing more personality testing by asking, “Aren’t you interested in changing aspects of your personality, things you’re not happy with?” The implication in this statement was that Spinelli “should” change parts of who he is in order to fit in and become more “normal.” Spinelli, in kind, maintained he is quite “happy” with who he is, and declined any further testing or analysis on behalf of Dr. Hunter or anyone else.
The tug-of-war between Matt and Spinelli in this scene highlighted a growing controversy within the psychiatric field, particularly of importance for those diagnosed with Asperger’s. At what point are diagnoses helpful, and at what point are they limiting and stigmatizing? Are therapists trying to help people lead happier lives, or are we trying to force people to conform into cookie cutter figures of normality?
In Spinelli’s case, we can see he is hardly suffering because of his symptoms. He has been able to utilize his repetitive and obsessive focus to gain access into forbidden rooms in cyber-space. And in the upside-down world of Port Charles, Spinelli has found himself a best friend in Jason, a girlfriend in Maxie (Kirsten Storms), and supportive peers such as Lulu, Johnny, and Claudia.
In a soap universe filled with perfect looking people, it is refreshing to see someone stand on the outside and reflect the goings-on around him. This used to be a staple on soaps, which has since gone the way of Wallingford on Another World, Calliope on Days of Our Lives, Opal on All My Children, even Timmy on Passions. If all these characters had been “fixed,” what would that have done to the landscape of the shows we loved?
So at what point, dear Thinking Fans, do you think a label is helpful? Certainly all of us watching soaps and reading these columns have fallen outside of social norms for one reason or another. Is there some benefit to fitting in to the world around you? Or is it better to be like Spinelli and not to compromise your individuality? The Soap Shrink wants to know.
Damon L. Jacobs is a family and relationship therapist practicing in New York City, and the author of Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve. He blogs regularly at www.shouldless.com.