Tim Kring Is To Hollywood as Lamenting Partisanship Is to Washington

So, Tim Kring started out the panel for Touch, his new autistic-people-are-magic show starring Keifer Sutherland as a 9/11 widower by informing us that Sutherland’s character’s son, a white American child, is “the most disenfranchised person on the planet. He’s small, he’s unable to communicate, to make his point known.” Given that, it wasn’t exactly shocking that Kring ended up presenting himself essentially as the Evan Bayh of Hollywood. Rather than lamenting partisanship in Washington, Kring’s come up with something he calls “social benefit storytelling,” which turns out to be a plan to change the world with warm, fuzzy television that avoids actually discussing what it means to have an autistic child.

To be fair, Kring told me that “he show…is really just about putting this message out into the world and trying to create stories that uplift people through this theme of interconnectivity. In terms of actually calling attention to various things, it is a show that aspires to do that, and I would love to have some of the stories we tackle call attention to various issues around the world and use the power of storytelling to create some positive change out there.” And he did cite the idea “that people tens of thousands of mile away would fly planes into this building is a result of our globally connected world.” So I really do hope that if this is going to be a butterfly effect show, it will be one that actually suggests that there are consequences for American policy at home and abroad.

But I’m really turned off by the idea that positive energy is the basis for our failures to connect. There’s nothing wrong with wanted to set a civil tone or approach other people with a spirit of openness, and after 24, I do think it’s good that Keifer Sutherland wants to be involved in a project that preaches those values. But there are structural factors that influence why people are unable to connect with each other and to be civil to each other. You see this in movies like A Better Life—poverty means you can’t be generous, that you don’t have time to build the family life that you want. It’s the reason the broadband gap matters: if you can’t get online, you don’t have access to what Kring called “the emerging story of our time is that we’re more connected to each other than we ever thought or knew, and I think it’s being born out by the whole social networking world that we’re living in.” There’s something odd about wanting to tell stories about the things that keep us from talking each other but starting that show out by inventing a magical alternative to autism.