Letters to the Editor

Published the week of June 28-July 4, 2000

In reviewing the new Jim Carrey film Me, Myself & Irene, it was kind of your critic to include a paragraph on the controversy generated by the film's highly irresponsible portrayal of "schizophrenia" ("Film," RFT, June 21). The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill has asked Fox Film Corp. if Mr. Carrey might consider donating his time to tape some public-service announcements on what mental illness is really about, and they are seeking to educate Hollywood execs so this type of degrading misinformation is no longer packaged in a mainstream film.

Attempting to undo the damage is commendable; however, the problem is much deeper than having a few laughs at the expense of people with psychiatric disorders. Stigmatization and discrimination, particularly at the intensity felt by those disabled by a mental illness, represent the last vestige of the bigotry. It has become unacceptable to ridicule many previously disadvantaged segments of society, yet political correctness has never been extended to the mentally ill.

Imagine the same film with Jim Carrey, only he performs in blackface and makes fun of African-Americans. Or perhaps a variation on Springtime for Hitler where he plays a Jew who manages to generate a little slapstick even in a death camp. I don't think so. Nor do I think the film would have played in Peoria if Mr. Carrey scooted around in a wheelchair lampooning multiple sclerosis.

At the bottom of the politically correct heap, persons with mental illness get only a wink and nod toward entertainment that hardens stereotypes, misinforms about mental illness and very likely contributes to what can be a deadly reluctance to seek treatment. Mental illness, you see, is everybody's else's problem until it strikes your family. Then the "crazy shrink" become a fine doctor, the "crutch" of medication is suddenly correcting a biochemical imbalance and the fine health insurance you had becomes, well, a bit more "managed." Inventing new medications and mothballing state hospitals has been much easier than changing hearts and minds about mental illness. Why not ignore entertainment-industry misrepresentations and seek out a fact or two?
William C. Hughes

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