The Autistic Journalist

Using words to explain the mind

The Onion returns to continue layering autism

with 6 comments

Courtesy of The Onion

Intrigued by why my site received a spike in search traffic, I discovered The Onion brought back a well-known fictional character in the autism community: Michael Falk. Actor John Cariani returns for more lampooning for the fictitious Onion News Network, which airs Tuesday nights on IFC.

In Falk’s latest “story,” he profiles a convicted felon who details the changes in lifestyle from a 40,000 square foot mansion to a tiny prison cell. However, the prisoner is dumbfounded when Falk is spellbound by a strict adherence to routine inmates must live by during their incarceration. The more details the criminal reveals, the more interest Falk has in a living condition with little to no room for ad-lib.

The prisoner attempts to quell such interest to no avail as Falk declares his desire to join his subject in prison, oblivious to the warnings of emotional turmoil experienced by inmates who regret the crimes they commit as he fantasizes about the crates his guest has to stack on a daily basis. Falk even shrugs off embezzlement and fraud as taking too long to land in prison.

(Un)fortunately, a myriad of ways exist to land in prison for a criminal charge. I shall not disclose those methods on the rare chance some crazed psychopath reads this blog post and draws inspiration to commit morally reprehensible behavior (and I have no intent on violating laws today, tomorrow, or yesterday). However, I can offer additional insights as The Onion was clearly not affected by the smattering of blog posts criticizing Cariani’s previous performances as mocking members of the autism spectrum.

I received a recent comment on my first post on the Falk character. While some autistic people take offense to The Onion‘s portrayal, others in the blog world find Michael Falk amusing. Some even suggest Falk’s stories are a tongue-in-cheek parody where others who fail to grasp the condition serve as comic foils. An argument could be made watching all three stories featuring Falk, as all of his interview subjects are either left confused or offended by his blunt approach to communication. Mainstream media previously made such frustrations a focal point in their content, with the premise of Rain Man being Charlie Babbitt’s (Tom Cruise) struggle to adapt and accept the distinctive qualities of his autistic brother, Raymond (Dustin Hoffman). Autism Speaks’ controversial Autism Every Day profiled the feelings of hopelessness from parents of autistic children, and even traces of such concerns can be found in the Syfy series Alphas.

Whatever the intent, The Onion is making its audience more aware of the disability by playing off common characteristics found in those diagnosed with autism. If the synopsis or video is not enough clarification, Onion News Network parodied the fixation on routines and repetitive tasks which autistic people often find enjoyable, sometimes at the cost of environmental surroundings (Falk doesn’t understand that going to prison is an event that should be avoided). Since the fake news organization has a mission statement of satirizing the follies of mainstream media and its subjects, interpreting Cariani’s latest performance beyond a comical look at an often-repeated symptom on traditional news outlets is difficult to theorize. For anyone concerned about an autistic person seeing this and taking the video too literally, recent news reports highlight programs and efforts to employ autistic people in favorable conditions, which include repetitive work details.

You don’t have to find this or any other video funny, but it appears Falk will continue to appear as a recurring Onion News Network character. While a precedent has been set for expected emotional reactions to the fake stories, there are learning opportunities in a comedic format enjoyed by many consumers as opposed to the dry, heavy-handed presentations found elsewhere.


Written by TheSportsBrain

November 21, 2011 at 4:49 pm

6 Responses

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  1. Hi, I’m one of the people responsible for your spike in traffic. I googled “Michael Falk” after watching the most recent episode of ONN, and ended up here.

    I agree the skits are not particularly funny. I think the Onion is attempting to satire television’s employment of the “token minority,” similar to “Asian Reporter Tricia Takanawa” on Family Guy. (A good description of the token minority idea is here: )

    Family Guy does a better job because once they cut to Tricia’s report, the humor does not depend on Tricia being Asian. In fact, the joke is usually over before the news report begins. The ONN reports, on the other hand, devolve into a series of allusions to autism symptoms, with no particular joke. That just isn’t very funny, and I’m surprised the Onion has come back to it for 3 sketches now.

    While the skits aren’t very funny, they did lead me (and apparently a lot of other people) to your site, which presents a side of autism I am unfamiliar with.


    November 22, 2011 at 1:10 am

    • I personally burst out laughing at the sketch, which led me to watch the others and get to this site. Each to their own, I suppose.


      December 2, 2011 at 1:43 am

  2. Understanding how autistic young children find out is essential in order to teaching them with the same depth because you train various other children. This might seem like an easy notion …autism

    Autism types

    February 1, 2012 at 9:19 pm

  3. Absolutely horrified at the parody of those afflicted with autism. There are children and adults who struggle every day to fit in to mainstream society, only to be shunned and pushed to the point of suicide in some cases.

    If only anyone had to spend a week in the shoes of an autistic person, they would understand that the use of the fictional Michael Falk is inexcusable.


    February 6, 2012 at 12:07 am

    • Is it possible the guy is taking the mickey out of Autistic stereotypes as perpetuated by Neurotypicals?

      FYI, Andjusticeforsome, I am _not_ ‘afflicted with Autism,’ I am afflicted with the way I am often treated because I am Autistic. Please try to use some of the empathy you claim to have, will you?


      March 7, 2012 at 6:02 pm

  4. Andjusticeforsome said: “Absolutely horrified at the parody of those afflicted with autism.”
    Actually, I’m not ‘afflicted with Autism’, I’m afflicted with the way I’m treated by people like yourself because I’m autistic. Have you ever tried using a little empathy and less contentious language? How would you like to be told that you’re ‘afflicted with Plethism’? Oh, wait, I already did:


    December 16, 2012 at 3:57 am

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