Saturday, January 13, 2018

Monk and the paradox of mental illness

My husband likes to watch the reruns of the TV show Monk.  In fact, they are on quite frequently at our house. The Randy Newman theme song is deeply imprinted on my soul.  It was clever and they are a good way to waste an hour after a debilitating day at work.

However, I have a lot of problems with Mr. Monk (or the writers) and you people are going to hear about them.  (to quote Mr. Costanza on Festivus day).

The main issue is the portrayal of his mental illness, which seems to be extreme OCD and anxiety.  First, he is called the "defective detective," which is about as insulting to people with mental illness as you can get. Second, the illness is played for laughs and scorn, not for compassion.  His friends have compassion, most of the time (OCD people can be frustrating) but the audience is given permission to laugh.  Third, his OCD is selective and only shows up when it helps the plot. Fourth, he doesn't take medication, because it changes his personality.  This is not always true and misrepresents medications and how they can help. 

Fifth, and what is most telling, is that he is a jerk with no compassion for anyone else.  Absolutely no empathy or concern, even for the people who care for him the most.  No social filters, just like Jack Nicholson's character in As Good as It Gets.

This pattern in Hollywood of portraying people with mental illness as jerks, and as jerks as people with mental illness, is particularly disturbing for me.  Just like Hollywood writers and producers and directors have proven they are incapable of understanding the psychological pain of sexually abused through their longstanding practice of it, and just like this same group is incapable of understanding many Americans reject their extreme leftist ideologies, Hollywood does not understand mental illness and rarely gets it right. It is a plot device; it is Oscar bait; these "characters" are irredeemable, they are stock; they are tropes, not people.   

On the subject of autism, I suggest this article: https://aeon.co/essays/the-intriguing-history-of-the-autism-diagnosis. 

I have done a good bit of research on autism (my brother and great nephew are on the spectrum, and the child of a colleague) and unless one deals with it in a close family member, one really doesn't "get it."  Yes, they, or should I say, their behaviors, can be incredibly frustrating, and there are many gradations and iterations of the "disorder" if it is such.  But their minds are not defective in the sense of being unable to function or learn.  They are advocating for themselves now, and we are seeing more and more in college (something academia is trying to ignore, trust me.)  I end with this quote from the article linked above:

Is there really an autism paradox? Or is this actually a paradox of human difference, and of what it means to delineate human types while also offering people the best opportunity to thrive. If we are to think creatively about how to identify difference without stigmatising it, it pays to think historically about how autism research got us to this point. Such history offers a rather humbling lesson: that it might very well be impossible to measure, classify and quantify an aspect of human psychology, without also muting attempts to tell the story differently.

No comments:

45 Years

I came home from a work trip last night and needed to relax and found this film on Netflix.  I was aware of it when it came out.  While I ca...