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Temple Grandin Illuminates the Public Sphere

Claire Danes and Temple Grandin seem worlds apart, but find themselves sharing the spotlight lately Claire Danes and Temple Grandin seem worlds apart, but find themselves sharing the spotlight lately

She’s been on the pop culture radar for many years, but thanks to the 2010 Emmy Awards and a super successful biopic, Temple Grandin is the latest person of the hour in homes from coast to coast. The autism advocate and author is also well known for her work to improve the quality of life for food animals, particularly cattle. The HBO made-for-TV movie of her life stars Claire Danes and cleaned up at this year’s Emmys.

Temple Grandin, the film, was nominated for 15 Emmys in 2010, and took home seven of those. Among the winning categories were Outstanding Made for Television Movie and Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie.

The movie, which also stars Second City alum Catherine O’Hara, tells Grandin’s story starting in childhood, when she was diagnosed with autism. The story focuses on Grandin’s empathy for animals, as well as her invention of “the hug machine,” a device designed to have a calming effect on individuals with sensory integration dysfunction.

Critics have nearly universally embraced the film for its character development and sincerity in dealing with a complicated subject and protagonist. Most notably, the character of Temple Grandin is praised for being fully developed and not merely a collection of medical symptoms, as is common in movies featuring characters with abnormal mental function.

Claire Danes does a phenomenal job in what may be the finest work of her career. She brings Grandin to the screen with heart and humor, and has surely raised her stock in Hollywood with the award winning turn.

Another positive aspect of the film is the way it encourages understanding of the psychological and emotional needs of animals. That quest for enlightenment has been as much a focus of Grandin’s life as her autism advocacy on behalf of humans.

Grandin says she always felt as though she could relate to animals, that they thought like her. In particular, she felt empathy for animals headed to slaughter, who often have trouble with the stimuli they receive en route to their demise.

However, Grandin is not your typical animal rights extremist. She considers the use of animals for food a morally viable practice, but also considers it humankind’s duty to give those animals “a decent life and… a painless death.” Her design of curved corrals for cattle being led to slaughter has been widely adopted, and as such, has provided animals with a less torturous death than was previously common.

Temple Grandin is an unlikely pop culture star. Today’s climate of TV viewing too often amounts to little more than voyeuristic fetishizing of “reality” television celebrities looking for a simulacrum of validation for their paltry lives, usually at the expense of their dignity. And all before a nation of uncritical channel surfers prepared to swallow whatever pablum the lowest common denominator will tolerate. The 2010 Emmys offered a breath of fresh air with the ceremony’s recognition of a fine film and an even finer human being.

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Last modified on Tuesday, 26 October 2010 20:18

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