Thursday, January 21, 2016

I'd Rather Be Mentally Ill On Screen

Have you ever noticed how appealing mental illness looks on television and in movies? Why are issues like depression, anxiety, PTSD, OCD, and others so entertaining? No one I know in real life wants to talk about or acknowledge my depression, but I know at least five people who positively swoon over Gregory House. It makes more sense (to me) when we're obviously meant to laugh at the illness. That's more in keeping with society's tendency to ridicule differences. (Sheldon Cooper comes to mind here.) This likewise holds true if the mentally ill character is the focus of scorn or fear or pity (insert any Hollywood serial killer or drug addict here), as has been done for years. But has anyone else noticed the relatively recent tendency to romanticize mental illness in the media?

Think about it. The figurative tsunami of antihero characters and plot lines in the last decade hinges on this concept. House was an exceedingly popular show, as is Sherlock. (Disclaimer: I'm not above the argument that people simply like Hugh Laurie, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman no matter what roles they play.) And that strikes me as odd, because as these things go, I thought the writers of  House did a remarkably good job of portraying depression and chronic pain. It was certainly fuller and more complex than many portrayals of mental illness are in entertainment. (Disclaimer #2: I'm not commenting here on the addiction storyline. That felt fairly stereotypical; he's an addict so he's out of control and violent and selfish, etc.) Same goes for a number of other fictional characters. Homeland has been lauded for depicting bipolar disorder in a realistic manner. Silver Linings Playbook, despite its romcom leanings, gave us an incredibly frank dialogue about the side effects of medication. I won't even go into the long list of shows and movies that fail to depict the illness realistically and romanticize the hell out of such "flawed" characters.

So why do we care for these fake people more than we care for real ones? Sure, there's distance. It's not real. As viewers we don't actually have to deal with their issues in life. Nevertheless, there's an affection there. Even desire, in some cases.

Call me crazy (ha ha), but no one has ever come up to me and said, "Damn, your depression and random anxiety attacks are so HOT."

Might be nice if they did.


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