Shrinks slam DC Comics for the crazy way they depict the insane

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Jan 17, 2020, 1:51 PM EST (Updated)

It's a crazy world we're living in, and psychiatrists are getting so busy treating people that they're asking DC Comics creators to help them in their quest to promote better understanding of mental illness. How? By making supervillains more accurately sick in the head.

In an opinion piece published Wednesday by the New York Times, forensic psychiatrists H. Eric Bender, Praveen R. Kambam and Vasilis K. Pozios ask DC to use their ongoing New 52 reboot as a chance to introduce more true-to-life depictions of mental illness:

"Although the reintroduction is in full swing, it's not too late for DC to use its unique and influential position in American pop culture to combat harmful stereotypes."

The trio is aware that comic books (and movies and TV) have a long history of using mental illness as a motivator for villains, but they're hoping DC will use their companywide reset button to make things a little more realistic for a new era. They use Batman's particularly mad rogues' gallery as an example of why things need to be cleaned up:

"Comic books have long relied on mental disorders to drive their most memorable villains. Consider the Batman line, in which the Joker, Harley Quinn and other 'criminally insane' rogues are residents of Gotham City's forensic psychiatric hospital, Arkham Asylum.

Introduced in 1974, Arkham grossly confuses the concepts of psychiatric hospital and prison. Patients are called 'inmates,' decked out in shackles and orange jumpsuits, while a mental health professional doubles as the 'warden.' Even the antiquated word 'asylum' implies that the patients are locked away with no treatment and little hope of rejoining society.

Contrast that with real-world forensic psychiatric hospitals, where patients are typically incompetent to stand trial or judged not guilty by reason of insanity. These individuals are not inmates, since they have not been convicted of crimes and are not incarcerated."

They also note that the word "lunatics," often used in comics, is a derogatory term for mentally ill people, and even go so far as to let DC creators know that they've often misdiagnosed their villains:

"What's more, when contemporary psychiatric terms or disorders have been used in stories, they have been misapplied to explain villainy. As Grant Morrison, a well-known comic author, wrote recently, 'The rest of Batman's rogues' gallery personified various psychiatric disorders to great effect: Two-Face was schizophrenia.' But Two-Face's central quality, a split personality, isn't characteristic of schizophrenia. Similarly, the Joker is often called 'psychotic,' despite a lack of hallucinations or other symptoms of a psychotic disorder."

So, what do they want DC to do?

"To start, writers should stop overemphasizing a link between violence and mental disorders to explain criminal behavior.

"Moreover, accurate portrayals of symptoms should be paired with correct terminology to describe them. For example, writers might refer to the Joker, frequently depicted as lacking empathy and being a pathological liar, as 'psychopathic,' rather than 'psychotic.' In comics, these and other psychiatric terms are casually interchanged; in psychiatry, they are drastically different.

"And disorders should not always define the character. For DC's Starman, schizophrenia was just one aspect of this superhero's life. More balanced depictions should show characters with mental illness coping with concerns common to us all, hero or villain."

It's doubtful that DC has been deliberately promoting psychiatric stereotypes to sell more comics, but it's also doubtful they're going to shut down Arkham Asylum and put the Joker on Xanax. Still, maybe this could lead to the launch of a new series where Two-Face and the Riddler take to visiting Lorraine Bracco's character from The Sopranos once a week for therapy.

What do you think? Is this just political correctness intruding on clearly exaggerated fiction, or does DC really need to use their reboot to right some wrongs?

(via Comic Book Movie)