Extraordinary Attorney Woo starts off with an argument. Jung Myung-seok, a senior attorney at Hanbada law business, objectes to the appointment of an autistic lawyer to his team. Seon-young is quick to respond and admonish him. She says she graduated from Korea's most prestigious university.
The summary provides an immediate introduction to Extraordinary Attorney Woo at its best and worst: text that emphasizes Myung-seoks, Koreans, and ableism, while the subtext reinforces the notion that disabled peoples' worth comes from what they can contribute.
Park Eun-bin, an autistic savant who arrives at Hanbada after six months of struggling for employment due to her autism, follows her as she searches for answers to questions her allistic colleagues cannot.
Is Extraordinary Attorney Woo a good fit for the role? The answer is complex. After having seen the program, spoken to autistic viewers, autism organizations, and an actual autistic attorney, the consensus appears to be yes and no?
Autism in Korea, in context
Ableism is widespread in the West, but there is still a great deal of stigma surrounding autism and disability in Korea, where the importance of societal normalcy is traditional. For persons with disabilities and their families, there is a great deal of shame, according to Son Da-eun of Autism Partnership Korea. Despite the prevalence of autism in Korea, you rarely see people with autism on a daily basis.
There isn't to say there isn't any progress in Korea. Public awareness is slowly shifting, leading to greater accessibility and more service providers. When you read through remarks to Extraordinary Attorney Woo, it becomes apparent that autism and disability remain prevalent in Korea.
Scratching the surface
It's appropriate that the series begins with Young-woos' difficulties in finding work. According to the Employment Development Institute of Korea, only 22% of autistic people in the country are employed, the lowest rate of any demographic.
Extraordinary Attorney Woo excels at highlighting the realities of discrimination through Hanbada's microcosmic lens. Though it falls short of ever confronting the system that drives those realities, it often highlights the problems within. For instance, while Young-woos ableist colleague Kwon Min-woo is often reprimanded for his efforts to undermine Young-woo, the show never attempts to challenge where that ableism comes from or how Hanbada is hiddenly promoting it.
Extraordinary Attorney Woo demonstrates what living in a (often hostile) world with autism can be like. Haley Moss, an autistic attorney and neurodiversity advocate, replies that she felt very represented. However, many times, they offer unwanted and unneeded help that ends up making me (and everyone else) uncomfortable.
Stephanie Bethany, an autistic content creator, felt a special affinity with Young-woos mannerisms and narrative.
Attorney Woo performs finger and hand stims like I do, writes in an email, wears headphones as needed and not 24/7 like I do, engages in occasional echolalia and punches her head/ears when things become escalated, dangerous, and loud like I do.
Kwon Min-woo's desire for Young-woos accommodations has prompted others to criticize the program for being overly dramatic. In an email, Dannie Lynn Fountain, an autistic HR specialist, explains how he went from simply undermining her to actively trying to eject her.
I want to live in the fantasy that everyone is always accepting and supportive, as Haley leans out!
Extraordinary Attorney Woo has found a following in the disabled community when we were so used to being chronically underrepresented. I initially felt positive seeing her develop as a process rather than a instant change, the real portrayal of discrimination, and the support Young-woo receives from her colleagues. I also wonder if she isn't guilty of relating to what we want to see.
The best of intentions
Representation isnt easy, nor is it the sole strategy for underrepresented groups in media. It's unthinkable to expect one character or even one series to fully represent the whole scope of a disability. Even shows that are attempting to make a living is often a disaster.
The show's creators talk about bringing more attention to autism in Korea. But there is an ableist undertone that feeds into the program, starting with the title before it was altered for Western audiences. The Korean title,, is most accurately translated to Weird Lawyer Woo Young-woo.
A translation note: There is some speculation on the correct translation of. However, each translation appears to be synonymous, whether it's weird, strange, or weird. Speaking to autistic Korean speakers about the title, they confirm it is Weird Lawyer Woo Young-woo, a derivation of weird that has been used as a pejorative against them.
While one may understand what the show is trying to accomplish, it seems like the show is starting from an ableist, allistic place rather than expressing meaningful support for autistic people. The fact that theyve since introduced a Woo Young-woo NFT collection hasnt helped make the series appear to be built on altruistic motives.
A great way to counteract the ingrained ableism that spawns titles like Weird Lawyer Woo Young-woo is to involve disabled people in the production (which would also help combat the staggeringly low employment rates of autistic and disabled people in Korea) and to recruit disabled actors to lend their experiences to their own roles.
Moon Ji-won, a Korean writer, reportedly spent a year consulting with an early childhood special education professor to ensure accuracy. Research is fine, but how you apply it is even more important. And Moon's portrayal of Young-woo as a genius savant, in line with so many stereotypical autism descriptions that refuse to dissipate, is particularly powerful.
Rain Man is older than me, and I still have to talk about it! Moss responds with a smile. Savant syndrome is a rare and hyper-specific point on the autism spectrum. Experts estimate that savant-like traits are present in 2-10% of the autistic population. The way Young-woo is characterized, as a genius savant (known as the prodigious savant), represents less than 75 individuals in the world.
#weirdlawyerwooyoungwoo #extraordinaryattorneywoo #autism
Sarah Audley's 2020 research on autistic representation in television is concerned for two reasons: the absence of genuine autistic representation and the perpetuation of autism stereotypes in the entertainment industry.
Its depressing, because the diverse realities of disability are intrinsically human stories that need more than stereotypical representation, rather than molding us into something palatable and misleading for non-disabled viewers. This is what defines Young-woo at Hanbada, and she does it because she can.
Though Da-eun admits that Extraordinary Attorney Woo removes some of the stigma and shame from autism via its humanization of Young-woo, the program does reinforce a few common misconceptions about autism's nature and treatment.
The fact that the vast majority of autism characters are depicted in movies as having a superpower or that autism is a blessing in disguise muddys the waters and can confuse the general public about what autism is.
The effect of this increase is already being felt in Korea. Allistic content creators are imitating Young-woos voice patterns and mannerisms for views on TikTok and YouTube, driven by the decision to exaggerate many of Young-woos mannerisms that might be considered cute or quirky.
Lydia Netzer explains it as cute autism, depictions that remove behaviors that may be off-putting or unobtrusive in order to construct an image that is as close as possible to neurotypicality in order to deceive us into thinking tolerance is simple.
Korean schoolchildren are reportedly insulting each other by requesting, Are you Woo Young-woo? Autistic content creators make comments, expressing their disappointment that they are not like Young-woo, while receiving retaliation for their views about the series.
Extraordinary Attorney Woo might be flawed representation, but that doesnt mean there isnt a need for better choices. Tom Purser, the National Autistic Society's head of guidance, volunteering, and campaigns, tells me about the power media can have in the treatment of autism.
According to him, the stories we see on screen must depict the whole spectrum of autism. Many individuals learn about life for autistic individuals through films and television programs. It's important that these depictions of autism are accurate so that people can fully appreciate the difficulties that autistic individuals face as well as the enormous contributions they make to our society.
Extraordinary Attorney Woos' alleged aim to increase awareness of autism in a country that severely stigmatizes it is admirable, and that with an average nationwide viewership of around 13%, it is putting it in front of a lot of Korean people. That the lesson the show is teaching its allistic, non-disabled audience is pure ableism.
Vielleicht bin a hooligan, but I believe some people will appreciate Extraordinary Attorney Woo and begin to think differently about autism and disability.
The facade is brittle; it's simple to peel away. Once you understand how much ableism that pervades Korea and, lets get real, the world has pervaded the show, it fails to comprehend why individuals are so often discriminated against, and it also deprives what might have been one of the most important disabled characters in the media of her voice and agency.
Im grateful for those who follow the program on an individual basis. That's important, but it's equally important to remember that this is only one of many very narrow and identical channels into autism in the media, which weren't created as monolithic programs like Weird Lawyer Woo Young-woo.