ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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On Popular Culture and Neurodiversity

South Korean series Extraordinary Attorney Woo addresses the many issues that neurotypical people are often curious about but are hesitant to broach.

Extraordinary Attorney Woo (2022) is a South Korean series directed by Yoo In-shik that is currently streaming on Netflix. This slice-of-life and legal drama is from the perspective of a neurodivergent female protagonist, attorney Woo Young-woo. It addresses the many issues that neurotypical people are often curious about but are hesitant to address assuming it is inappropriate to ask (or broach the topic). A culture of silence leads to missing out on opportunities to address, lessen stigma, and break down various social barriers. Young-woo is the first autistic lawyer to graduate from and top a prestigious South Korean national university. When meeting anyone new, she introduces herself as an autistic person, which is often met with scepticism. Her capabilities are doubted since any divergence from neuronormative preferences is viewed as a deficit rather than a difference, reinforcing the medical model of disability.

To address the stigmatising and disempowering nature of terms like impairment, deficits, and disorders, Judy Singer, a renowned sociologist, coined the term neurodiversity to describe autism, ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), and specific learning difficulties, like dyslexia, among others. Over time, the term neurodiversity is embracing people of all neurotypes who are otherwise singled out and marginalised. The neurodiversity movement, as a social justice movement, seeks inclusion, equa­lity, and promotes self-advocacy. The dual challenge of lack of awareness and understanding are compounded by the fact that it is largely invisible. People hide neurodivergence because of stigma, and actively try to mask their struggles by overcompensating or pleasing others. In the process, they begin to devalue themselves and discredit their own struggles. Burnout is caused by the mental, emotional, and physical toll that masking takes to appear neurotypical. While neurodivergence is a difference, it is socialised and often incorrectly viewed as personal shortcomings. For instance, a person may be labelled as “difficult,” “lazy,” “forgetful,” or simply “naïve.” To top it off, disclosing neurodivergence comes at a high cost—indignities experienced, disrespect, and mocking—leaving neurodivergent folks exasperated and further isolated. For this reason, self-advocacy is central to neurodiversity. In the series, Young-woo’s internal dialogue aptly captures some of these struggles by legitimising concerns that are often summarily dismissed by neurotypicals.

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Updated On : 13th Feb, 2023
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