Category Archives: representations
I love looking at pictures of cute animals on the internet. Cats, dogs, monkeys, dolphins, turtles, otters – whatever. And I find that skimming through a few LOLcat macros during the workday can do wonders to perk up my mood or give me a smile before diving back into work. Which is part of why I get so annoyed when the LOLcat sites do something offensive or wrong – this is supposed to be my fun time, not my get-my-rage-on time! I have a whole other folder of RSS feeds for rage time!
So I got mighty cranky when I saw this at I Has a Hotdog, the spinoff site from I Can Haz Cheeseburger that has LOLdog macros:
Ok, FOR CEREAL??? This is not only offensive, it doesn’t even make sense. A person with Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD), which is more commonly and more accurately termed Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), does not manifest in multiple identical bodies. The whole point is that there is one body/mind that manifests multiple, distinct identities or personalities, called alter egos. A person who could split themselves into multiple identical bodies, all with distinct identities, is not a person with MPD or DID, but instead is some kind of magical self-cloning person who should probably be off fighting crime in Gotham City.
This underlined for me how DID is a go-to joke, a punchline often used in contexts or situations that make absolutely no sense to anyone who actually understands what DID is. It’s a lazy way to make a joke about a “bizarre” or “outlandish” mental illness without even taking time to understand the diagnosis being thrown around so cavalierly. For me, it reads as a shorthand “hahaha saying the name of a mental illness is funny isn’t that funny??”
I can’t imagine how this use of DID as shorthand for “exotic and hilarious mental illness” must affect people who actually experience DID. Given that the second google link when I searched for “multiple personality disorder” is to a site discussing whether MPD or DID actually exist or whether they are made-up movie illnesses, I imagine there’s an extraordinary stigma experienced by people with DID and an overwhelming tendency to doubt and discount their experiences at best, and to mock and ridicule them at worst. These kind of “jokes” only add to those issues. And they should not be tolerated.
Here in the United States, there’s a depiction of disability that airs on network television every Thursday night, on the Shonda Rimes show Private Practice. Rimes is probably better known for Grey’s Anatomy, a show which has won a lot of accolades1, not least for the ethnic diversity of its cast, but Private Practice is worth the occasional peek, especially if you enjoy infuriating plot lines.
In season three, Private Practice introduced Dr. Gabriel Fife (Michael Patrick Thornton). Dr. Fife is a genetics specialist who works for the rival medical practice in the series, and he’s also a wheelchair user.
Several things are interesting about Dr. Fife. The first is that he’s played by an actor who is also a wheelchair user. And it shows. Thornton is comfortable with his chair and uses it like an extension of himself, illustrating that, yes, it does take practice and experience to learn to use a chair effectively. Since I’m always pleased to see disabled actors in disabled roles, I’m rather chuffed about this particular detail.
But there’s more to like about him. For one thing, he is specifically introduced as a love interest in the series. Perish the thought. Not just a wheelchair user, but a sexy wheelchair user! Yet, he’s not a character who is consumed by his disability or exoticized by it. Dr. Fife is arrogant, he’s pushy, he’s a fully realised and complex character. He just is.
Other characters sometimes struggle with how to relate to him, and he’s well aware of that, and I like that too. It’s not that Private Practice is erasing his disability or making it into a Big Production or patting themselves on the back for featuring him. On the contrary, they’re doing a really good job of showing that for his character, it’s just part of him, and for other characters, it’s something which makes them feel awkward and confused. Which I think is very true to life; a lot of people don’t know what to do around wheelchair users and it never occurs them to actually try interacting with the person in the chair.
This is an example of the kind of depiction of disability in pop culture I like. He’s a character who happens to be disabled. Sometimes he does things which really piss me off and I hurl popcorn at the screen, but these are things his character does; I’m not getting infuriated because of how he’s characterised, but because of who he is. Sometimes he makes great points, including points about disability and objectification, and I chortle with delight. His interactions with other characters within the context of the show speak to actual lived experiences. I don’t feel like he’s the embodiment of a trope; he’s just a person, like all the other people.
There are a lot of problems with Private Practice, and I am thinking particularly about how the show deals with mental health and the plotlines surrounding children and motherhood here, but this is one thing which I think the show has going for it.
I recently heard an interview with Thornton where he was talking about disabled actors, and he said some things that, well, we’ve been saying here, but it’s nice to hear them airing on National Public Radio [transcript at link]:
“Do they consider us equally for parts?” Thornton says, “Obviously no, because disabled actors are so underrepresented on stage and screen.”
…His ideal acting job would be one in which “nobody ever mentions the chair.” It would be just a feature, in other words, like having red hair or being pregnant — part of who the character is, but not the sum total.
In the season finale, which just aired in the US, there was some interesting stuff going on with disability which I don’t want to talk about in detail in case there are readers who haven’t seen it yet (feel free to discuss the finale in comments, though), and it was…interesting to see how that played out. Two rolls forward, one roll backwards, it seems.
- Our Lauredhel recently wrote about some problematic stuff that occurred on last week’s episode, pointing out that all is not sunny in Grey’s land. ↩
People seemed to like the first edition of this series! So here are some more music videos set in psychiatric hospitals! In the last post, all of the videos used the mental hospital setting as a visual demonstration of the depth and intensity of love, depicting institutionalization as a result of loving someone a whole lot. These videos do not do that.
One video that especially doesn’t do that is Green Day’s ‘Basket Case’
Visually, the video seems similar to the previous ones. The band plays in the common room of a mental hospital in which they are patients. There is no padded room, but several people are being wheeled around passively as if they are catatonic or sedated. Later in the video, both staff and patients appear wearing masks from Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. So what is different? The song itself (lyrics here), which is about lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong’s struggles with anxiety and panic attacks. So while in the same setting, instead of declaring his love for someone, he is saying:
Sometimes I give myself the creeps
Sometimes my mind plays tricks on me
It all keeps adding up
I think I’m cracking up
Am I just paranoid?
Am I just stoned?
On the opposite end of the spectrum, there’s Eminem with the video for “The Real Slim Shady.”
There’s a lot going on in this video and I really don’t want to describe or discuss very much of it at all, because it is offensive up and down and across and diagonally in 17 different ways. (Wikipedia has a very detailed description of the video and an explanation of all the references and insults in the lyrics and the video.) Let’s focus just on the portions set in the mental hospital, where Eminem and other patients, in scrubs or hospital gowns, fidget and wander in a waiting room while Kathy Griffin and another nurse try to control them and hand out their medications. It is just as cliched as the other videos’ portrayals of hospitals, but seems to be played for laughs. And the message of the song and the video are that Eminem is so much better than other celebrities and musicians, so much more clever and original and “real,” that he’s been institutionalized to control him for speaking truth to power. This message could be read as a good reminder of the use of institutions to control and punish people both with and without disabilities for being political and advocating for their rights! Like happened just recently! However, the whole rest of the song and the video is so puerile and hateful that the comparison itself is offensive.
Ugh. I dislike Eminem very much.
I have a really hard time doing any kind of critical analysis of this video due to the aforementioned ridiculousness factor. The song (lyrics here), which was originally written and performed by The Who, can be read as expressing the lived experience of mental illness? Maybe? But the video – which starts with Limp Bizkit lead singer Fred Durst as a patient in a phsyciatric hospital and Halle Berry as a doctor, and then they kiss, and then they have magically switched bodies? souls? something? So now Berry is the patient and Durst is the doctor! Gothika the movie featured Berry as a doctor in a psychiatric institution who became possessed by a ghost and murdered her husband and then was a patient in the institution but only because of ghostly possession, not because she had a mental illness or anything. But even putting all of that ridiculousness aside – and that is a boatload of incomprehensible creative choices – Fred Durst’s efforts to engage in “acting” when he becomes the doctor and leaves Berry in her padded cell make me laugh so hard it’s impossible for me to focus on anything else in the video.
I have a few more videos for a part 3, but if you know of any I’ve missed, please let me know in comments!