Many characters on television are explicitly mentally ill, and they come in a wide range of presentations. Television as a medium provides a unique opportunity for long, complex character arcs, which can be good when a show wants to take mental health seriously and really explore characters and their development. It can also be very, very bad, when a show doesn't do the research, and instead presents extended, truly awful depictions of mental illness.
I just finished watching the new NBC comedy Up All Night, and though repeat viewings might reveal plot holes and problematic jokes (it is a network sitcom, after all), I absolutely loved it. Will Arnett and Christina Applegate are terrific as Reagan and Chris, a completely charming married couple who support one another but aren't too sappy or perfect, and Maya Rudolph is hysterical as Reagan's boss Ava, the Oprah-esque talk show host with a flair for the dramatic. I may be speaking a bit too soon since I've only seen one episode, but color me psyched about this show. (Yep, I said color me psyched. That's how psyched I am.)
Television stations in the US are required by FCC regulations to have a minimum of three hours a week of "educational programming" aimed at children. This actually began in the 90s, and initially television stations met the requirements by having little life lessons tacked on to their various cartoons. Some of you may recall very peppy "Sailor Moon Says!" segments, or "Knowing is half the battle!" from G.I. Joe. Other "edutainment" shows baked the lesson right into the text, such as Captain Planet and the Planeteers (pollution is bad, environment is good, go Captain Planet!) and Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego? (geography and fighting crime!). More recently, FCC regulations have tightened up a bit, and shows need to do a bit more than say "Drugs are bad, m'kay?" to quality for an E/I rating, but we still have a good decade of important "educational" cartoon shows to look at and consider the life lessons we're to learn!
So, what can watching cartoons teach us about people who are crazy? Oh, lots of fun things!
"We're all mad here" might be the best description of almost all of the characters in Batman: The Animated Series, including the caped crusader himself. Most of the villains in Batman are super criminals with personal obsessions that drive their crime sprees well beyond the point of parody. Of course someone named E. Nygma is going to be puzzle-obsessed and, when double-crossed in business, take up the mantle of The Riddler to gain revenge. Of course someone named Victor Fries is going to invent a freeze ray and take up the mantle of Mr. Freeze in order to get revenge on the man who almost killed his terminally ill wife. Of course Bruce Wayne dresses up in a mask and a cape and clears Gotham's streets of super villains. And of course the villains mostly end up in Arkham Asylum instead of Gotham Penitentiary. They're all crazy! Mad as hatters! (And yes, there is a Mad Hatter, obsessed with Alice. He vows revenge when Alice spurns his advances.)
What's different about the Crazy Ladies of Batman is how their motivations and actions are a bit... different... than that of the various male characters. To steal from Nostalgia Chick'slist of the top 11 Villainesses, these ladies aren't motivated by the death of loved ones, personal betrayal in business, or even romantic obsession. No no, these ladies are liberals gone mad.
Welcome back to Pop Pedestal, the series where we pay tribute to the pop culture figures we admire most. Up today: Gloria Akalitus of Nurse Jackie, All Saints' hospital administrator, head bitch in charge, and master of the steely staredown.
Big attitude coming from someone wearing panda earrings.
I'm not saying that violence should never be shown or described. We need our movies and TV shows and games and books to address issues of the violence in our culture, and violence against women is included in that. But some of these examples just play into the same old misogyny—without asking anything more of the audience—which is a shame and a missed opportunity.