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Holy smoke, Batman! (Doug Edwards)

August 4, 2008
by Doug Edwards
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Ann Borders' evolving blog on stigma prompted me to chime in about the new Batman movie. At one point, a key character is going to kill one of the Joker's henchmen, but Batman stops him, noting that the bad guy has paranoid schizophrenia (gotta love those superhero diagnostic powers). I was very displeased that the Joker's cronies were depicted as having schizophrenia. I do not know the history of the Batman comics and whether this is consistent with the story (please let me know if it is), but a little editing would have gone a long way. Some may say it's just a movie, but with The Dark Knight shattering box office records week after week, this incorrect and stereotypical view of people with schizophrenia as crazed and violent lunatics is going to be seen by a lot of people. P.S. Schizophrenia.com has had some buzz on this topic.

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It is one of those background comments that support stigma in an unconcious way. Most people are not involved with the mental health field but comments like that are remembered on a subconcious level.

The only way around it is to have mental health professionals involved with every Hollywood script so that they can point out these stigma stereotypes.

I think the producers would have been wise to just leave out the whole schizophrenia backstory. The character certainly didn't inspire sympathy for those with mental illnesses. Another movie, "Tropic Thunder," is also being challenged on stigma-related concerns, this time involving an insensitive word referring to those with mental retardation.

I found the question intriguing, and asked our staff to comment on Doug's blog. Their responses fell into two general categories. The first group described the manner in which stigma is interwoven into the fabric of our national culture. The news media and the entertainment industry, along with high profile "stigma mongers" such as Tom Cruise aid and abet the perpetuation of misinformation and misunderstanding. The Batman movie is simply more of the same. A second group offered these perspectives: "I did see the movie and when Batman stopped this man from being killed, it came across to me that the man with the schizophrenia label in the movie was victimized by the joker. If I remember correctly, Batman gave a brief history of the man and seemed to imply that he needed help and due to his diagnosis he was an easier target for the joker. That's just the way it came across to me..." And, "I saw the movie and it struck me that Batman was pointing out that due to mental health issues, the henchman was a victim, an easier target to be manipulated, and needed treatment... not punishment for his behaviors." And finally, a commentary from one of our school-based therapists: "The thought came to me that in our schools we teach math, reading, writing, science, and social studies but not the things that can really assist a person to be successful: self-esteem, acceptance of diversity, and general awareness about the different types of people that exist within the world we live in. As a very philosophical question we must ask ourselves is what is it as a nation that we care about? When our country gets in a crunch the first things cut from both Federal and State budgets are Medicaid and public education K-12. This is all a long way of stating that in my opinion in order to deconstruct the stigmas related to mental health those of us who do care must take our awareness, education, and concern and speak out any chance we can and as loudly as possible."

I personally haven't seen this movie yet, but wow this is a major Stigma bust. It's too bad this wasn't caught by the producers prior to the releasing of the movie in theaters. This is an awful way to generalize people with mental illness - as the "bad" guy.

Doug Edwards

Vice President and Managing Director

Doug Edwards

http://www.behavioral.net

Doug Edwards is Vice President and Managing Director of Vendome Healthcare Media’s Mental Health...