Silence is Golden: The Assassination of Sia’s “Music”

A revised poster for the movie ‘Music’ by me. Considered fair use and all that, fuck you, sue me. (Credit: Pixabay, Hanway Films and Pineapple Lasagne)

I’ve already set out my patsy, well it’s time to pull the fucking trigger. But first, like any evil villain in this scenario I am going to reveal my motivation.

Mine is not a selfless motivation. I do not advocate for the autistic community beyond advocating for myself and any other struggling autistic and non-neurotypical artists out there. Nobody assassinates someone else without standing to gain.

But you also can’t come out looking pristine. That’s too suspicious. So forgive me, but please read as I beat myself up a little bit.

I’ve danced around the subject enough times. I have admitted I studied biology, at a well-respected institution (at the time – I don’t know their ranking nowadays) but that I dropped out.

I’m a flunky. I’ll admit that, too. Like so many other working-class boys, girls and non-binaries with no safety nets, relying on access to whatever support-carrot is dangled in front of us for free. The truth is if you don’t meet quality control on ‘their’ conveyor belt there’s only so long you have to squish yourself into shape before they throw you out.

Without that safety net, you hit the ground hard – SPLAT – and recovery from there is all will, because there’s not a doctor on this planet who knows how to put the delicate ornament that is a mixture of mind, body and motivation back together.  

The reason I’m a flunky is not because I’m some ill-willed flake who couldn’t take his punches and the pressure got too much. It wasn’t because I was in too deep, couldn’t handle the work and wasn’t good enough. I am strong, smart and motivated.

To even get my place on my undergraduate degree I woke at 4:20am, to be showered and caffeinated in time to catch a 5am train to take me to do my foundational certificate, 4 days a week, whilst working part time another two days. I did so well on my foundation certificate I earned from a bottom-rung university that I managed to take the elevator up to the top floors, I moved to a much better school with a much better reputation.

Things started to go wrong, though. Not in my university life, but in my real life. I had relationship troubles, bereavements and a family member with cancer to struggle with. So I drank red wine, I did my work, I did my socialising, I did my caring, I drank red wine and I worked and worked until Easter break came along and then – something snapped. My brain was fried.

At one time I got probed and prodded by every doctor, nurse and mental health specialist you could imagine. I got cast out, ignored, dismissed, diagnosed, re-diagnosed more times than I can even count because half the time I was so strung out on tranquilisers I shouldn’t have been able to move but still my body kept rocking, my foot kept tapping, and I screamed piercing screams. Heart rending screams. If you’ve never heard a grown man scream, the low, guttural howl, interspersed with occasional high-notes of true unbodily horror, of someone in true, spiritual, existential distress, then you don’t know what a sight and sound, what a visceral terror I must have been to everyone around me.

People stop and stare when you do that. They don’t help. They avoid you. You’re a broken danger to them. They feel bad to be in your company not because they feel bad for you, but because you make them feel uncomfortable.

Do you know what? Fuck ‘em, because I can promise you I felt worse.

Summer came and I woke up damn near small-hours-o’-clock to drag my arse to my university (that I had to commute to) in the midst of the worst mental health episode I have ever experienced, doped up to my eyeballs on every medication they could give you, including healthy (and by that I mean enough to stun an elephant) doses of benzodiazepines and do you know how many exams I failed?

DUCK EGG – ZERO – ZILCH – FUCK ALL – NADA – NONE – Not a single fucking one.

Compared to most of the people I was studying with I was a fucking cognitive hoss. If brains were balls I’d have been carrying my nutsack in a fucking dump-truck. I achieved something that should have been, for any normal human, impossible. I did it strung-out on pills, having done so little study because most of my time was spent rocking in a chair making noises or pacing up and down and hitting myself in the head I didn’t have the time or inclination to read my notes, or check my textbooks. Did it do me any good? Nah, I was broken. I dropped out. I had to.

I have since been diagnosed on the spectrum, ASD, autistic spectrum disorder, and it was a diagnosis that made a lot of my life make sense.

Suddenly I had to re-evaluate every wall I’d turned my knuckles blood-red and dripping on, every door I’d punched or kicked a hole through, every time I punched or slapped myself in the face and every time I’d paced, screaming, ranting hurtfully at those around me who just wished the best for me, or even just paced up-and-down repeating the words, over and over and over.

With hindsight what I had experienced during my time at university was an ‘autistic burnout’.

‘Autistic burnout’ has only very recently entered into academic literature. Autistic people have been talking about it for years, as far as I can tell. That’s from my gathering of anecdotal evidence but, shit, if the anecdotes are there why aren’t the academics looking for them?

It is only recently that autistic members of the community have had a say at all, never mind in how their condition is perceived. Autistic ‘meltdowns’ have been known for quite some time and the thinking was that this ‘burnout’ was just another meltdown but…holy fucking shit isn’t. There are similarities, sure, just as lighting a stick of dynamite has similarities to detonating a nuke – and I’d argue those are the differences of scale we’re talking here.

This is one of the biggest problems with ‘Music’. Even the academics studying autism have been deaf to the voices of autistic people for years. Suddenly Sia is going to come along, make a movie with next to no knowledge whatsoever, and we’re all supposed to go “Aww, how heartwarming!” and move on.

Nuh-uh. You fucked up, and perpetuated an abuse by ignorance that even those significantly smarter than you are guilty of. The autistic community is sick of this shit and now demands to be heard. That’s not a crime, that’s not a witch-hunt, that’s years of feeling second-class spewing out from a large group of very, righteously, angry people.

Let me use another analogy, since one of the characteristics of autism is being overwhelmed by sensory information. Imagine looking at the sun. Now a meltdown is what would usually happen. You look at the sun for a moment and your body goes “That was fucking daft!” you look away, generally with your eyes closed and even though you’re okay in the moment that lingering scar of the sun on your eyes stays there, blinding you, as an after-image.

An autistic burnout is akin to being forced to keep looking at the sun. Maybe not constantly, maybe you keep melting down, turning away but eventually you are made to turn your head, open your eyes and look and look and look and eventually you burn your eyes, you end up with permanent damage. It never goes away.

It never went away. I was always a different person after my burnout and, to be honest, I never liked that person much. He shied away more than he used to, backed down quicker than he used to, put himself in fewer positions of danger, he took fewer risks, cared more about himself and others around him and it pissed me off because it led to him achieving so little.

Music, the character, has a type of autism where she feels that all the time. Those headphones she wears are to drown out the deafening screams of everybody’s whispers, the eye-movements are there so that she doesn’t permanently damage them looking at the metaphorical sun. She is the character in this movie who experiences the highest joys and the hardest pains and yet they’re hardly acknowledged. As if her head is empty. Like she’s some kind of invertebrate immune to pain and free to be restrained or uncomfortable, dragged around and worn like an accessory. It is fucking disgusting to people like me who feel like our voices do not matter, our pain is never considered and like other people have ‘real’ problems and ours are just so many dragons and unicorns – all invisible – not really there.

Back to my story, after the point of ‘autistic burnout’ you’re damaged goods to everyone else. I was an honest man, worried about the ever present danger of needing a day to unwind, to relax, I always used to disclose health issues on application forms for jobs and, funny, no one ever responded.

I was told I was ‘brave’ at an interview to be a shelf-stacker in Sainsbury’s one time, though.

This person who, intoxicated to the eyeballs on, admittedly necessary, tranquilisers managed to pass exams most people couldn’t even understand was ‘brave’ for putting himself out to do a job he could put a team together and help design, build and code a robot to do.

Welcome to my world, Curious Idiots™. Sia, welcome to the real life of an autistic. I’m right here, right now, reaching out a hand to you. If you want to work together on something, let’s do it. Let’s do autism justice.

I applied to work as a counter clerk at the Post Office and was turned down for a failure to answer some of the questions. I had merely highlighted that I felt the question was a redundancy, given that, by its wording, the subject matter had already been covered – exactly the kind of efficiency pedantry you’d expect of an autistic person. It is a demonstration of our usefulness to businesses since we can then help reduce redundant and costly processes.

But I didn’t get the job.

Also I didn’t give off a ‘friendly’ vibe, which could have something to do with my resting bitch face, a face I have learned to keep since moving my face the way that feels natural often leaves people confused and uncomfortable. Music’s various facial contortions do not exist in a lot of the autistic population because they’ve had them beaten, mocked and bullied out of them by her age. My facial expression could have also had something to do with the fact that I was being asked dumb questions to justify being a till-monkey for minimum wage.

As a result I have been without gainful employment, that is to say nobody has been willing to pay for me to work my arse off the way that I do on a fairly regular basis, for coming up ten years now.

This is where ‘Music’ hurts me most.

It says nothing to me. In fact it is, as best as I can tell, not aimed at a non-neurotypical audience at all. Unless that’s what those entire dodgy playhouse moments with the foam rubber and stupid costumes were about but, personally, my audio-visual stim is some heavy beats and to shut my eyes, so you’re barking up the wrong tree.

The scenes where Music is being physically restrained are highly disturbing. As far as I know it’s a practice, prone restraint, that is not even of debated validity anymore. It is outright dangerous. Ebo saying “I’m crushing her with my love…” came across as not only something an abuser would say but extremely rapey at the same time.

And let’s talk about restraint, shall we. Let’s be frank, too. It kills. It has killed. It will kill. Forcibly holding down people is, funnily enough, a dangerous thing to do. There’s no love involved, only fear. Fear of the harm that person may cause you, may causes your belongings, your home, or themselves. But what about the harm restraint causes the restrained? There are charities out there dedicated to the understanding, and ending, of this practice as wrong and harmful and who do so in honour of those whose deaths restraint has caused.

When one man of colour, Eric Garner, was restrained to death during his arrest, his final words “I can’t breathe” that event, and those words, became a slogan for a mass-movement for equality, accountability and change. A recognition of humanity and how it should be respected. How no human being should have to suffer a death through restraint.

Yet numerous disabled people have found themselves in the same position and society didn’t get up on mass to support them. It’s like a disabled person in distress is not a human being. Ebo, early on, says something along the lines of “In my village they see it as a curse.” Well do you know what, mate, we’re not so much more enlightened in the big Western cities either. The bulk of the population is ignorant of autism. My own family are ignorant of autism even after I got my diagnosis and asked them to look it up. They still don’t know how to handle me when I’m distressed.

At one point I started having a meltdown in a busy supermarket, my father, noticing me stimming by repeatedly knocking my hand on the till side, grabbed me by the wrist to stop my stim. I nearly punched him. I forcibly pulled my wrist from his hands and stormed out of the supermarket barging into several people on the way. I then slumped in a quiet corner and rocked for twenty minutes. My father left, he never looked for me, he never tried to calm me down, he was angry with me. I walked home.

That’s from someone restraining my wrist. If I were in a facility, if I were having a meltdown in public and the police were called, I am a big, strong man. The level of restraint required would be significant. I would do harm to someone else, I wouldn’t mean to but if you make it your business to get in my way when I’m melting down prepare for the fucking consequences. The fact is I am the kind of person who could be killed by restraint. I would need heavy restraint, dangerous restraint. It bothers me.

An autistic meltdown is, to define it simply, a brain being so overwhelmed by the information, in terms of quantity and intensity, it has taken in, that it fries the circuits. When you fry the circuits in a mechanical object it just stops working, but bodies have systems to keep them going, to keep them alive, so the person doesn’t shut off. Instead it is full-danger mode. It feels like you have just been dunked in a pool of lava, head to toe, drowning and burning at the same time, suffocating on molten rock. You flail, you scream, you say things, repeat yourself over and over, you rock, you slap yourself, punch yourself. I, not too long ago, had a meltdown where afterwards I asked someone who was there “Did I punch myself? Because my jaw hurts.” I didn’t even remember doing it.

Autism is serious fucking business, not a philanthropic marketing opportunity.

It shocks me how a movie can be so seemingly ‘inclusive’, to have gone through the SJW tickboxes and done an excellent job ticking off so many and yet the main thread of the film, this ‘disability’ – it’s used as an accessory, promotes stigmatic associations with the condition, and is ultimately just a MacGuffin to teach our heart the meaning of ‘twue wove’.

Apparently Sia has defended the use of a neurotypical actress to play the role of music, stating in an interview on Australian News show 10 News First that the film is ‘not a documentary’ and that she tried to work with a non-verbal girl but found it ‘unpleasant and stressful’. I’m not sure if the autistic girl found it unpleasant and stressful, or Sia did. Probably both.

Probably the poor autistic kid had just read the script, that’d make me feel stressed and unpleasant. It’s like reading a smoothie of shit, piss and cliché.

To make matters worse Sia then went on several ranty exchanges with people on the spectrum about how she was being judged before they had seen the movie, about people with ‘special needs’ and essentially made it abundantly clear she had no clue about the realities of autism. She has no clue what an autistic person is, how an autistic person lives or the validity of an autistic person. Maybe she has some ‘autistic’ friend but me having an Indian friend does not qualify me to write about the Bengal famine without speaking to him and dozens of others affected first – and then I definitely couldn’t cast a non-Indian actor in the damn movie, as the lead Indian role!

To be fair what I’d probably do is co-write it with an Indian with significant knowledge of the events and then leave it to an Indian director to make it with some Indian producers, insisting a significant amount of Indians get cast in Indian roles. That way at least when the movie came out, good or bad, you know you did your best to let the voices of those most affected speak out and be heard.

What Sia has done with her ignorance is spark also ignorant conversation from ignorant people and turned the autistic community against her movie into villains. I can tell you right now that Sia has more fans in the world than there are neurotypical advocates for autistic people.

People are talking on forums about how “wouldn’t autistic people find it hard to act?” well, I don’t know – Go ask…err… Autistic actor and Academy Award winner Anthony fucking Hopkins. I agree you shouldn’t judge the movie until you’ve seen it. I’ve seen it. It’s wank. It’s ignorant, dull, boring, hipster wank. It’s Oscar Gold – The parody from American Dad of so many acclaim-seeking spacksploitation films that likely began with Rain Man back in 1988.

I wanted to feel angry about this movie and I can’t because instead I just feel jaded. This is just another fucking artiste spunking their own overabundance of wealth on a movie they think has a message but is so void of anything meaningful it just becomes marketing.

This is marketing. For Sia and for Ziegler and, bravo, brava, I wish you the best. But I’m autistic, when I walk down the street with my headphones on people don’t give me watermelon or pictures of cats, they give me death-stares and, if they’re really fucking stupid, barge into me. Autistic people are more at risk of violent harm than they are of committing violence.

I have to live, penniless and without merit (according to the society around me), with my disability. I don’t have a reformed former-junkie sister to care for me. My sister has her own life and when my mother, with whom I live, passes away I’ll probably end up at the mercy of the state. A state that is doing its best to murder people like me, perceived as having little to no economic benefit. Whether it be do not resuscitate orders if we catch covid, or the general state of disability welfare infringing rights, and encouraging suicide, a UN report has said that here in the UK being disabled can get you killed by state negligence. I can’t find a link to it, but you can google it up.

This is the fucking reality. Never mind in the United States where, as far as I can tell, the welfare state is even harsher, the social-stigma even greater and the pressures on the disabled hamstrung by ridiculous healthcare policies.

Music is the equivalent of trying to make the chicken soup of movies, only you use sugar instead of salt and what you end up with is something saccharine, sickly and not right.

I wanted so hard to rant and rave about how soulless and empty this movie is and I can’t because it is so soulless and empty I just feel sorry for it.

If there is one thing I can be outraged by it’s that Sia and Ziegler, and whatever investors got involved, apparently spent a budget of $16m on this movie and that is a very, very expensive wank. Pornhub is free, guys.

Written by…directed by…music by…Sia is the Tommy Wiseau of her own little vanity project but if there’s one credit I can give to ‘The Room’ that you can’t give to ‘Music’ it is that it is worse than mediocre, and that makes it a spectacle.

You see you can be great, you can be a trainwreck, but you can never be dull. This movie is dull.

So I apologise, to any and all of your out there who thought my wrath would assassinate this film. I can’t do that.

HOLD YOUR HORSES! I said I can’t assassinate it. I’m going to kill it.

This is a fucking mercy killing. Sia, don’t quit ya day job.

If you ever want someone to write you something to string a few of your songs together to save you some wonga on the video expenses or whatever – give me a shout. I’m a very talented writer, I’m actually fucking autistic, so you can put that stamp of approval on it, and I will write you something that’s not, you know, a cliché.

Autistic actors, writers, directors, producers, musicians, we’re all out there. Most of us unemployed or underemployed. Did you know in the United Kingdom approximately 70% of all diagnosed autistic adults are unemployed? They could use a cut of that ‘Music’ budget money, they could use having their voices heard, they deserve respect, and a job.

Instead they get lambasted by Sia’s fans for not liking how they are portrayed in this movie. What if Ebo had been done by a white actor in blackface? What if this was the Shakespearean times and all the female characters were played by men dressed as ladies? There would be, quite rightly, an outcry.

But this is not sex and gender, and this is not race. This is disability, besides being fat one of the few areas of inequality people are still allowed to exploit, ride roughshod over and do as they please with.

While Sia gets free publicity via controversy, and money for a shit movie and the music she’ll release from it, disabled people get pittance in disability benefits or welfare, discrimination and used as tools and accessories in the games played by others.

Fuck off or give me a job.

Meanwhile listen to actually autistic British rapper Karolvs Rex talk about how hard it is to be autistic and make a living.

Missed my actual movie review of ‘Music’ – You can read it here. The tl;dr is it’s shit.

Published by Karl Anthony Mercer

An overly curious lovechild of Grumpy of the Seven Dwarfs and the kitsch pen section of Paperchase. Karl is on a mission to expose the seedy underbelly of academia, and thus making it appealing to wrong 'uns.

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