Section 8

Who is this lovely young thing?

Corporal (later Sergeant) Maxwell Q. Klinger from M*A*S*H, played by Jamie Farr.  I mentioned M*A*S*H in an earlier post.  It is a very important show for my family.  Klinger was a fun character, he often served as comic relief, at least for the beginning of the series.  The method with which he served as comic relief was through his particular way of trying to get out of the war.  During the majority of the series this character dressed in women’s clothing and uniforms in an effort to get discharged on a Section 8, when someone in the US military is judged mentally unfit for service.  It’s no longer in use but “He’s a Section 8” was, apparently, something said often at the time, whether a person received a Section 8 or not.  Those accused of “sexual perversion” often received a Section 8.

Originally Klinger was going to be an effeminate gay man, according to Wikipedia citing the book Watching M*A*S*H, Watching America.  It was decided that having Klinger be heterosexual and wear dresses in an attempt to get a Section 8 would be more interesting.  

Using mental illness as a tool or an excuse to get out of a bad or, at the very least, an undesirable situation.  There is an interesting mix of themes here.  I doubt it was a coincidence that the M*A*S*H producers decided that a man attempting to get a Section 8 would wear dresses.  Cross-dressing and homosexual behavior (which are neither linked nor mutually exclusive incidentally), these actions would have qualified an individual as “mentally unfit.”  

So this show (which I LOVE) took advantage of mental illness by using it as a tool for comic relief with a character who is PRETENDING to have a mental illness.  But it ALSO decided to play into the institutionalized homophobia of the time (and yes, I’m aware that it was a different time).  

Again, I love M*A*S*H but I definitely believed, growing up, that Klinger would wear dresses so people would think he was crazy so he could get out of the war.  It is worth noting that eventually Klinger stopped wearing dresses and was the only main character in the end to decide to stay in Korea.

Don’t Annoy the Crazy Person

“Don’t annoy the crazy person” makes me think of “Don’t feed the animals” or “Don’t make me angry, you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”  It’s funny and quippy and probably would make a good t-shirt.  I don’t know that I need to explain how stigmatizing it is, of course it’s stigmatizing.  But stigma does a great job at contributing to or fueling humor.  So would it be wrong to wear that as a t-shirt?  What if I thought of myself as crazy?  Or what if I was diagnosed with some DSM diagnosis (trying carefully here to avoid terms like illness, condition, etc.).  Wait, let’s elaborate on my parenthetical comment, what are some alternatives to that previous sentence:

Or what if I was diagnosed with some DSM diagnosis.
Or what if I had a mental illness.
Or what if I was diagnosed with a mental illness.
Or what if I was [insert diagnosis as an adjective i.e. schizophrenic] (we love messing with the grammatical status of mental health conditions into). 
Or what if I was a [insert diagnoses as a noun i.e. schizophrenic].
Or what if I had mental health issues. 

I’m sure there are more alternatives.  Language is fascinating isn’t it.  

It is worth noting that I found this image here, on a blog post that is addressing many of the same issues I am in this blog.  So no disrespect to Keith Adams AKA “Just your average gay bipolar writer in the Hollywood Hills.”

The Craziest Characters on TV

The Craziest Characters on TV at DishTV

No better way to encourage acceptance and understanding then making a “who’s who” list of characters embodying social stigma.  I’ll admit that I enjoy categorizing and making lists: my favorite Greek gods and goddesses, top 10 movie villains, etc.  So why not a list of TV’s craziest?  DishTV did it in a “critical” way by addressing the way TV handles these characters (handles?  maybe deals with?  nope, sounds bad too…………………….Addresses!  Addresses these characters!):

Like many other areas of concern, Hollywood really does a poor job at portraying mental illness. There are some exceptions, of course, but for the most part TV shows turn problems like Asperger’s Syndrome or Multiple Personality Disorder into a sensationalized and often “zany” condition. Yet, having characters being pumped down through your dish TV signal who are mentally ill does serve at least one positive purpose, and that is raising awareness of those conditions.

Did you notice the plug for DishTV in that paragraph?

The first person they mention is my recent favorite, Tara of United States of Tara.  

Tara. Tara Gregson is the title character for a relatively new program on Showtime. This character suffers from multiple personality disorder, and during the course of the program she’ll move from her identity as a mother to “Buck,” a beer-loving redneck man, or to one of her other identities. Multiple personality disorder (also formerly called “Dissociative Identity Disorder”) makes for great TV plots, but it’s also easy to become almost cartoonish.

Cartoonish.  Okay I’ll take it…for now.

The third character they mention is Dr. Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory.

Doctor Sheldon Cooper from Big Bang Theory. Jim Parsons’ portrayal of the brilliant – yet annoyingly quirky – physicist has won several awards. Although no diagnosis has been discussed on the show, it’s readily apparent that Sheldon suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome. The show’s portrayal is occasionally cartoonish, but Sheldon remains a somewhat enjoyable character as well.

This description is very interesting.  First off the show has not actually discussed an official diagnosis…but the mental health specialists at DishTV took care of that.  CLEARLY the character of Dr. Cooper SUFFERS from Asperger’s Syndrome.  Am I saying their diagnosis is wrong? No, I’m not expert enough to call such a thing…not like they are.  Also apparently one who has Asperger’s is suffering.  Now I shouldn’t be harsh on this, I am in fact in social work school and we are taught not to use such language.  The clinicians at DishTV, though qualified to diagnose, may not have gained that same awareness.  If Sheldon is an enjoyable character, and from what I’ve seen of the show he is a successful and confidant individual with a pseudo-girlfriend who bears a striking resemblance to early nineties TV icon, Blossom, then how is he suffering?  By the way…cartoonish again.

Lastly they decided to step into sacred territory!  Hawkeye Pierce from M*A*S*H, a family favorite in my house.

Doctor Hawkeye Pierce from M*A*S*H*. Few who saw the final episodes of this show will forget how Hawkeye struggled with depression, even to the point of psychosis, at the end of the Korean war. While this portrayal is dated in terms of the actual psychological ideas being tossed around, it still remains a powerful look at what depression does to a person.

Again the DishTV researchers have assessed the change through time of “the actual psychological ideas being tossed around.”  And yes, depression can have a very powerful effect on an individual.  So can being in the middle of a war-zone.  So can witnessing a woman smother her child to keep it quiet.  Perhaps there is more to someone’s change in behavior then depression.  No mention of trauma’s role in Hawkeye’s reactions.  DishTV specialists…I’m disappointed, things are not that simple.  By the way…no asterisk after the ‘H’ my friends.

Try not to pick on the mental illness

Click here to read the New York Times article: The Four (at least) Faces of Tara

This article was written about my new favorite show, United States of Tara.  In the article one of the creators is interviewed:

“I was nervous at the outset,” Ms. Cody said. “The pilot couldn’t be ‘sitcomy’ but, at the same time, it had to be funny. It was a big challenge to find the humor in everyday life and not poke fun at the disorder. And I wanted to be as sensitive as possible.”

It’s an interesting challenge Ms. Cody was facing.  She wanted to make an engaging and interesting TV show that would include a woman diagnosed with DID while not making fun of the disorder or those who are diagnosed with it.

The article compares the show with other media excursions into the realm of DID.  These include the Farrelly brothers’ Me, Myself & Irene, a movie I could not stand before I knew anything about mental health issues; Sybil, starring Sally Field and perhaps the most recognized film dealing with DID; and The Three Faces of Eve, which perhaps overshadows Sybil as the most recognizable film dealing with this topic.

The article goes on to say the creators and executives believe they found a good balance describing it as “a combustible mix of humor, morbid fascination, and empathy.”  Though I’m uncomfortable with ‘morbid fascination’ I can’t deny that it is a strong draw for many to shows like United States of Tara.

This article also mentions Showtime’s other programs featuring “deeply flawed” characters such as Dexter, a show about a serial killer and Californication about a sex addict.  It seems to be a fad to feature characters with some form of mental health issue.  Dexter, a serial killer is the protagonist as he justifies his killings in a way that the audience is usually able to sympathize with and Californication features a character who is off-putting and charming at the same time so one can look past his promiscuity.  Neither have any focus on treatment, to my knowledge, the way United States of Tara does.

I really have no conclusion.  I just find it interesting.  Mental illness equals “deeply flawed” characters and they seem to be quite prominent at the moment.

I’m Really Into D.I.D.

Has anyone seen that show United States of Tara?  I recently got into it and by into it I mean I watched all three seasons on Netflix over the course of one week.  I like Toni Collette and seem to be drawn to shows that deal with identity issues.  But I had no idea the main character was diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder (DID).  I was really interested to see how this would play out.  I know a little bit about DID but not a lot.  For the most part I really enjoyed the portrayal of a character with this diagnosis.  She had multiple “alters” or different personalities.  For the most part it followed what I had learned about.  I also liked that the main character, Tara, would call people out when they’d refer to her as a “multiple” or someone how has MPD (multiple personality disorder) as that is no longer the appropriate clinical phrase.  

The program showed a lot of different attitudes and approaches to someone with DID.  There were those with the opinion that it is not a real disorder, those who felt it was best managed with personality altering medications and those who felt the therapy was a better approach.  It addressed what I believe may be real issues when confronting this diagnosis though it made me wonder how someone who has experienced or is experiencing DID would feel about this show.  Was it as accurate as it seemed to my untrained eye?  Surely because it was a TV show there must have been some creative license that belittle or sideswiped actual experiences and evidence.  Ultimately I don’t know.  I know I enjoyed the show but I also know that shows focusing on characters (or real life people) who are experiencing mental illness have become more prevalent.  Is this normalizing or exceptionalizing?  

Mental Illness in Media

Media’s Damaging Depictions of Mental Illness was written for Psych Central and seems pretty self explanatory.  Mental illness does not come off well in the media.  An example described in the article I never heard about was Wonderland.  The tag-line on this advertisement alone is a little frustrating as someone going into the mental health field.  It’s invasive language and harkens back to the negative impressions of mental health professionals.  The show apparently perpetuated the view that those with mental illness are prone to criminal behavior, dangerous to society, and violent.  One thing the article points out is how groups like the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) criticized the series’s “theme of hopelessness.”  Something that would reinforce the view that those with mental illness should be separated from society since there is “no hope” that they will be able to “fit in” to society.  “Quotation marks” help me to point out possible absurdities…and quote directly from the article…you can figure out which is which.

We live in a world where media dominates.  Most people own a TV, computer, phone, mobile device (iPad, iPod, iDon’tKnowWhatElse), DVD player, TiVo/DVR, or some combination of all of the above.  Music, movies, TV shows, and books (though possibly to a dwindling extent) are where we get a LOT if not MOST of our information on any given topic.  If these sources portray mental illness as a dangerous and hopeless thing, then that is the assumption most people will operate off of.  Get those crazies off the street like they do in Wonderland, Law & Order, and CSI.  Also if you commit a crime, especially a “bad” one like a sexual crime or a crime against a child you must be crazy, a category we are willing to lump a LOT of people in from Jeffrey Dahmer to a depressed housewife (or househusband for that matter).

I wish I could say more but this article is pretty thorough.  Please check it out.  I may revisit it in a later post…we’ll see.

Too Easy

Too Easy…

In books, movies, TV or simply in life what do we say when someone does something we cannot explain or understand?  For instance the woman who drowns her children or children who murder their father – the man muttering to himself on the train – the adult who molests children – the college student who tosses a dog out of a car window.  They must be CRAZY!  And crazy is bad, right?  Nothing good can come from crazy…or at least that is the way it seems.  Crazy is bad or at the very least quirky and uncomfortable.   But, as with everything, there is quite a bit more to it than that.

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