My posts over the past few weeks have been a response to very intense public events and issues. There was the blog I wrote when the first Ebola case arrived in New York where I said that I am not that afraid of the small Ebola risk in the U.S. because I am on the front lines of the mental health crisis and constantly see the unnecessary and tragic deaths from these conditions all around us. I also wrote about a day I spent in Seattle that was bookmarked by two horrific events, one the school shooting in Marysville and the other a devastating domestic dispute that ended up with a child, her mother and the perpetrator -- the grandfather -- all shot dead. This is "all in a days work " for me, but on this day of Halloween, I received one of the scariest emails from my colleague Pete Earley alerting me to a misguided, ignorant and prejudiced piece about people living with mental illness on the hit ABC show, Modern Family.
To quote Pete's blog, "In the episode, Claire Dunphy decides to create the most frightening house in her neighborhood by transforming her front yard into a "scary insane asylum" complete with "deranged mental patients," a "sadistic nurse" and "demented doctor." The episode features daughter Alex chained to a hospital bed and Luke wearing a straight jacket - images that are intended to make viewers chuckle. Words such as "nut job, Looney Bin, cuckoo" are sprinkled throughout the dialogue -- less viewers forget that nothing is more frightening than someone with a mental disorder."
While one might find this shocking given Modern Family's laudable success in portraying more diversity and open-mindedness in themes and characters, this offensive episode reveals just how much the cause of mental health remains the last frontier of civil rights in our country. I often say that as a movement we are not even on the back of the bus, we are under it.
There are many factors involved in violence in our society and specifically in our schools. After these types of incidents I often pose the question "Is hatred really a choice?" How can we raise our kids to be open and accepting of all differences when our popular media is filled with prejudice and ignorant entertainment that marginalizes people who are often disenfranchised already? Lets keep this simple here, since it's not rocket science. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Can we just be nice here? Using people with medical conditions like brain disorders as the focus of jokes and entertainment is unacceptable in modern life and it should be on Modern Family.
The show has millions of people laughing, but like Halloween candy, it tastes good but isn't healthy. Far from it. So, to Anne Sweeney who leads Disney/ABC Television Group, we look forward to your help in rewriting this human horror movie into a feel-good, made-for-TV message that brings this civil rights issue out of the dark ages. It's long past the time that our mainstream media gets beyond the punch lines. Last year, when a daytime TV host's insensitive portrayal of mental illness on his popular show made national headlines, he chose not to grant our wish below. But maybe, you will be the fairy godmother to our cause and perform a more impressive trick and help ABC-Disney show the world how to treat all people with the dignity and respect they deserve:
"I have one wish here, and one which I know from your long history of helping others that you have it within your power to grant. If you could use your high profile stage and voice to help us in our campaign to open minds and hearts and eliminate the discrimination then this discussion can take on serious dimension and will have the shiniest, most vibrant silver lining. Come join us in seeing the perfection in every human being and creating a world where everyone is embraced by society and feels flawless."
Are you with us on this?