A Different Kind of Imitation Game


I watched ‘The Imitation Game’ this afternoon, the 2014 movie about the English mathematician-cryptographer Alan Turing.
The movie came out too late for the Alan Turing Year in 2012, that marked the celebration of the life and scientific influence of Alan Turing during the Centenary of his birth on 23 June 1912.
But it neatly followed in the year after Turing was granted a posthumous royal pardon for his 1952 conviction under the Gross Indecency (read: homosexuality) law.

The English actor, Benedict Cumberbatch, well-known for his impersonation of Sherlock Holmes in the BBC short series called ‘Sherlock’, plays the main character in a – to my humble opinion – splendid performance.

In essence, the movie portrays Turing as an extremely intelligent, autistic and homosexual person during his Enigma-code breaking days at Bletchly Park in WWII.

After having watched the movie, I naturally googled ‘Turing and Autism’, as is normal in this internet age.
Apparently some autistic people took offence to the portrayal of Turing in the movie, as well as to some remarks about autism Cumberbatch made during interviews, preceding and following the movie.

The fuss about the interviews I blamed on a misunderstanding / misinterpretation of what actually had been said and not been said, in combination with hypersensitivity.
But after reading those posts, I also came away with a new word being added to my vocabulary:
Ableism: discrimination against disabled people.

The blog post about the portrayal (‘The misguided bid to turn Alan Turing into an Asperger’s martyr’ – The Spectator) however did strike a chord.
The author argues that the movie producers fell for the Turing Fallacy.
That so-called Turing fallacy turns out to be  a composite concept: 

  1.   Making a connection between Turing’s war record and the injustice of persecuting him for being homosexual is incorrect. The injustice would have been just as wrong if he’d been a defiant pacifist who didn’t want to have anything to do with the war effort. A person’s right to have sex with whomever he or she may choose, provided they’ve reached the age of consent, is of no relevance to their having done something heroic or not.
  2. By a similar reasoning, it’s also not a valid argument to say that criminalising homosexuality is wrong because some homosexuals contributed an enormous amount to (inter)national security.

  3. Portraying Turing as literal-minded to a fault that he is incapable of understanding jokes stands in stark contrast to the real Alan Turing, who – according to those who knew him – was warm, charming and funny. The filmmakers invented a largely fictional character — a mathematical genius with Asperger’s syndrome – an exemplary martyr for people with an autism spectrum disorder.
    As such, ‘The Imitation Game’ commits the same error as ‘Rain Man’, which frames the Dustin Hoffman’s character in such a way that he should be valued, appreciated and even cherished not because he is a human being with the same needs as the rest of us but simply because he’s a genius who is exceptionally good with numbers.  Actually, the same fallacy as in ‘Rain Man’ applies to most of the documentaries on Kim Peek, the real person behind Hoffman’s character.

In a perverse way, the movies and documentaries seem to try to make those not afflicted by autism to feel sorry for not having the disorder.
And that could lead to quite another kind of imitation game than the one Turing intended with his test.


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