Bipolar Thoughts


So apparently the ABC-TV show “Modern Family” is planning to re-air last year’s Halloween episode that depicted a haunted house situation where the house was an asylum.

This doesn’t really seem like much, especially considering “American Horror Story” made an entire season out of being in an asylum. But anyway, the National Alliance for Mental Illness and the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (both organizations I am a dues paying member of) are hitting up ABC-TV hard and trying to get the episode pulled. They are claiming that it depicts mentally ill people in a way that would further stereotypes and stigma (none of that is a quote, but it sounds good right? Maybe it should be).

There are a few things I need to say about this situation.

First, this show was aired last year, and the show caught a lot of backlash because of it. Normally in a situation like that a big corporation tries to back track and apologize and save face. But not only did ABC-TV not do that, they decided to re-air the episode. And once they made national news for the second time about televising the episode, they came straight out and told everyone they were airing it anyway. Ballsy. And regardless of your position on this, probably uncouth as well. If you air a show that gets a negative reaction, maybe you shouldn’t have to retract everything about it, but maybe you shouldn’t air it again either, right?

Second, if this show was showcasing almost any other disease in a negative light, and was asked to stop or back track or never air it again, they almost certainly would, right? Forget an entire episode about a subject, if they made one uninformed joke about AIDS or cancer or diabetes it would never happen again. Hell, even certain mental illness they couldn’t touch, like PTSD on a soldier, or post-partum. But really, imagine if they made an episode where everyone was freaked out by a guy with AIDS. Aren’t you looking at potentially cancelling the show, even if it is as big as this show?

Third, those are all the arguments that NAMI and DBSA want you to buy into. Neither of those groups are calling for the show to be cancelled or penalized or even apologize. They just don’t want a disrespectful episode that already aired once to not air again. It seems reasonable.

But the odd thing to me is that when I go on the Facebook accounts or read the Twitter feeds of these organizations, by and large people with mental illness are asking them to stop the protest. It seems like most of the people, myself included, don’t want to censor this out of the Zeitgeist, and that we think it is okay to be made fun of.

I feel like the advocates for a cause are often much more sensitive about that cause than the people actually living that life. Had this episode accurately depicted bipolar life, and that character was a monster or showed justifiable reason to be scared of him/her, then I would be a little more geared up for it, maybe. Not this cartoony caricature that isn’t particular to any actual mental illness.

People with disabilities love to be made fun of. This has been my experience in mental health. Almost all tension in a group therapy session is cut through by some joke about mental illness. Nurses on a psych ward are constantly asking patients to stop referring to it as the ‘nut house’. And people absolutely explode with laughter if someone really tags them really well with a joke.

That mentality is reflected in the message boards I have seen while reading about this “Modern Family” fiasco. Practically no one was upset about it. Almost everyone asked to stop seeking national attention on this issue. But, the advocates, it appears they continue to push.

The episode, in fact, aired last night.

I don’t personally care that it did. I am not offended by the depiction of mental health and psych wards. The initial airing of the show doesn’t bother me at all.

But it does bother me slightly that mental illness has got to be one of the very few things you can get away with doing this. I can see why it was written and aired, and none of that bothers me at all. But after it airs it is met with harsh criticism and then you turn around and air it the following year in the middle of more national attention about it? From a broadcasting company owned by Disney? It seems so inexplicable.

I have to wonder why I’m sitting here writing from an unfamiliar platform. I would be much more comfortable writing a piece about how NAMI went too far and how dumb all of that was. I wish I could be writing a piece about how NAMI needs to back down. But instead I’m sitting here looking at an almost impossible situation where a large middle finger was put into the community’s face for seemingly no reason, twice.

I think the thing that bothers me most was that it was just a re-air. Don’t they have other Halloween episodes in the vault? If they wanted one so bad couldn’t they have written a new one?

Does anyone understand this?