Black Box Schmlack Box

Normally I don’t speak out. I do about my own life; I’ll say about anything you want to know.

I am, literally, an open book. My memoir, I’m Not Crazy Just Bipolar spilled the beans on any detail you may have wanted to know about bipolar disorder. And some you don’t want to know. It’s not a pretty illness and as soon as it looks this way, it isn’t a true depiction.  It’s sensationalizing mania that brings in the ratings. It’s not depression. Who wants to answer the phone then?

I have to comment though, when my illness, bipolar disorder, an illness millions suffer from, is ill-portrayed. Hollywood, the TV execs, whomever and wherever they are, have missed the mark. If they’re lucky, they get the ratings. The wildly successful Homeland, which I love, hits the mark. I don’t cringe too often while watching. I bet people with bipolar disorder have “cringe meters” and when it’s too high, we turn the channel. Some shows, like Black Box, I won’t watch anymore. I am a “Law and Order” fan. Still, the older episodes make my meter go off so loud. The “perp” was mentally ill. Again. My partner and I exchange looks. Luckily, they needed plot diversion or that show wouldn’t have survived. It would’ve been far too easy to pin every other crime on someone from the mentally ill community.

Black box. Don’t get me started. We’re doing a radio tour for our book: Two Bipolar Chicks Guide to Survival: Tips for Living with Bipolar Disorder. The show always comes up. Obviously it is controversial at how it depicts bipolar disorder. If it stays on air, which I and many doubt, the main character could push back mental health advancement a good, few years.

There is subliminal damage. People equate our episodes with careless behavior. Why not? It looks like it. I’m thinking of the opening scene of Black Box. I gave it half a show. Sure, a manic episode may be entertaining to watch, but if it’s you they’re depicting, it can hurt. You, the viewer, are forming beliefs about myself from a fictional TV show. Doesn’t something seem wrong with this? What if we did a show about a bunch of TV execs with an illness. And I blindly wrote the script. Maybe I call a friend who was in the field for tips. Maybe not. I guarantee you that show would not be very accurate. And that it would piss off a lot of people.

 

Flying above Manhattan with a cheap background? Really? When the character was near her hotel ledge I had flashbacks of my own hotel in NYC. And it made me think of a very real, twice actually, suicide attempt. Her character was laughing, looking at the sky, while her chauffer who she was getting it on with poured champagne. If I, or anyone I knew, ever felt that good I don’t think we’d ever take our meds. Nice try. It sure looks theatrical and Gatsby. You should have someone with bipolar disorder consult your makeup team. You need: red eyes, wild hair and bruisees from not eating. Add a dazed look and you’re close.

Oh, and no one gets manic in a day and then snaps back to “normal” the next folowing one. Unless you’re a rapid cycler; but you may think I’m talking about a bike rider. We’re not buying it.

 

 

Does everything get explained? Does it? No. It’s the entertainment business and the powers that be are looking for ratings. They are not in the education business. No one is fact checking or caring about anyone’s feelings.

I wonder what they’d think if we made a show about TV execs. What about one that had a heart condition. Or one that went on and off their insulin and risked diabetic shock. What about the person who suffered from more than one? But all you saw on the show was a professional who did their job questionably, made jokes about their bad behavior, acted recklessly and went on and off their meds. Do you think the health associations associated with those illnesses would be thrilled?  Do you think the TV industry would be happy at how they were portrayed? Probably not because let’s say it was written by book writers who hadn’t stepped in to that world. We were just guessing. Wouldn’t that be a horrible show?  Yeah, I thought so.

What about mania? How often do you think we see it versus depression? Do you think people with bipolar disorder are always manic and not depressed? It isn’t accurate to focus on our manic behavior but it does get ratings.

Case in point, let’s take a ratings example. This is completely unrelated to bipolar disorder; I’m talking strictly ratings for a moment. Take Lindsay Lohan. I wish her no harm, but she fits this example perfectly. She makes for great TV, right? Oprah’s show starring Lindsay was probably one of the highest rated series Oprah had. Why? It doesn’t need an explanation but here it is: train wreck. Everyone loves to watch a train wreck and I feel like shows and movies that have bipolar lead characters have the same effect. It’s all ratings driven.

I tuned in to OWN for the series. Partly for the train wreck (I’m being honest) and partly for the insight into addiction and how it must be for famous actors to get sober. How do you go to a meeting? You have to be smuggled out of your own home. Switch cars. It’s insanity. I felt badly for her although everyone is responsible for their actions. I am, she is, we all are and so are the people at the helm of decision making in television and movie productions. They may not care; but they are responsible. Everything is ratings and money and our class, the disabled bipolar disorder class, gets run over in the process. If we were amputees, war heroes, people born with any type of illness, you better believe those executives might give exploiting their behavior, mental or physical, a few extra thoughts before making them the stars of a storyline.

What about the millions of us who are living well, in compliance, going about our lives with minimal depression and mania. No one is immune, but many of us are coping, thriving and yes, even living out our dreams. I am one. Where are the movies about me? Where are the TV shows about me?

Who wants to tune in to some good old-fashioned depression? Who wants the story line of a professional or creative person doing well? Sounds boring, right? How do we get ratings out of that? They have to be zany and (here comes) act crazy. If they can’t, hmm, I don’t think we can use them.

People don’t go to the movies or tune in to feel depressed. Life is stressful and we all have our own daily grinds. Would we? Heck no, unless it’s an amazing story and people are raving about the acting, et cetera. We pay money to be entertained. Bipolar characters are only entertaining when they are in manic episodes and acting:  c-r-a-Z-y. That word I loathe. It’s a word that many people think I am. It’s impossible to put into words when you know most of the world misunderstands you.

Let’s say there was someone who had bipolar disorder on your block. Wouldn’t it be more “fun” to watch them behind your blinds if they were arguing with the police? Or would you rather listen to a friend on the phone who is depressed. Exactly. The ratings are where it’s at and at every sentence; that is obvious.

Now, I must stick up for Homeland. While Carrie does go off her meds, many people do. That’s a fact and I have no problem with the writers and producers choosing to depict that. Why not? It’s reality. Many people with bipolar disorder struggle with compliancy for many different, personal reasons. Do I really have it? Do I really need these? But I feel better, so why do I still need to take them? And the justifications and protests go on and on. I thought ECT was handled, of course: dramatically. It’s a walk in the park these days. My partner had it a year ago and it has vastly changed in the decade since I had it. They still like the serious, hospital version though. These days, people are going to clinics, outpatient and in and out in forty-five minutes. My partner didn’t even have to change out of her clothes!

Let’s leave Homeland alone. I can watch it. I’m a fan and when the character has the illness and is misrepresented, like in Black Box, I cannot watch. It’s like watching a movie where the blood and guts come and I have to turn away. I hate the sight of blood.

Well, one more thing about Homeland. I was disturbed at the whole the-CIA-is-keeping-you-in-the-hospital act. I’m surprised if that is possible. Wait, who am I kidding?  It’s the CIA and only God knows what flies there. At my last company though, even an almighty Fortune 500 doesn’t any such power. I do know if they chose to. They could offer me an EAP (Employee Assistance Program). It’s interesting to me now that they saw me fall apart. They knew I had bipolar disorder and when my boss died suddenly and I was clearly going up and down in a mixed episode, they told me to take some time off. Temporary disability kicked in and as it turns out I never went back. I was downsized, not that it matters now.

I find it extremely disturbing whenever there is a show with a central character, or any for that matter, who has bipolar disorder. Why? What’s the point? Are there any characters that are singled out for having, say, a heart condition? Why bring it up? Ah, it’s more interesting to watch. As they say in England: “buggar off.”  Go away, Hollywood. I think you’re doing more harm than good.

“Silver Linings Playbook” is up. I have a love for this movie and of course I have some criticisms. I would love to talk to the director’s son, who has bipolar disorder. I wonder how much was taken from his life or if it had nothing to do with it. I don’t doubt the director’s intentions as wanting to portray a more realistic view. There are some good guys. I do wonder who screams at the top of their lungs at 2:00 am looking for a particular photo album or tape. I thought that was very odd. I don’t know anyone who has done that. And I have a LOT of friends with this illness; too many, as I lost two while writing my first book. One in five of us take our own lives. But I digress….

Silver Linings Playbook got thumbs up from me. The way bipolars were portrayed was okay overall. It did bring us into conversations but we don’t need it. We need people who are famous to come out. We need more books. We need talk shows. I think TV is one area all the people I know would agree doesn’t need bipolar characters. Why?

Yes, it goes back to ratings. And, I suppose, some TV exec thinks it’s a brilliant idea because it has built in plot lines and ratings that will ensure job security. I can see them standing, not sitting, in their boardrooms. They’re in the latest suit, polished shoes, nice but safe tie and they throw their hands in their air as if in a moment of brilliance they solved their ratings problem for that time slot. That’s it! We’ll have a long show like Homeland. That’s a huge hit. But we can’t make it obvious we’re copying them. So, change her (it has to be a female because it’s easier to make a woman sexy than a man.) Change her profession. Sam, what’s something CIA-like, you know smart, they’re smart aren’t they? But we don’t want anything government. Can’t be government.

“What about a doctor?” Sam throws out.

Mr. TV Executive thinks for a second. Only a second. The dichotomy of doing what’s right as a doctor versus this bipolar whatever. Oh yeah, this is gonna be good.

“Sam, this is PERFECT! If this show is a hit, you’ll get an office!”

Sam smiles. He hates his cubicle.

You can just imagine how these ideas are started. Oh wait, are you in the TV industry? Do you feel this is unfair? Welcome to my world. Welcome to the world of nearly ten million Americans. We are the sixth leading disability in the world and some of us are watching, and our loved ones and shaking our heads. And people who don’t know us, love us, and who have seen us struggle, triumph, be hospitalized, manage at home, cope, work, be unable to work and live day to day, have now formed an opinion. They may already have one, they may not. And thank you, now they have one based on your show.

Flying above Manhattan with a cheap background? Really? When the character was near her hotel ledge I had flashbacks of my own hotel in NYC. And it made me think of a very real, twice actually, suicide attempt. Her character was laughing, looking at the sky, while her chauffer who she was getting it on with poured champagne. If I, or anyone I knew, ever felt that good I don’t think we’d ever take our meds. Nice try. It sure looks theatrical and Gatsby. You should have someone with bipolar disorder consult your makeup team. You need: red eyes, wild hair and bruisees from not eating. Add a dazed look and you’re close.

Oh, and no one gets manic in a day and then snaps back to “normal” the next folowing one. Unless you’re a rapid cycler; but you may think I’m talking about a bike rider. We’re not buying it.

We’re on the same page here, NBC and I think your far-fetched fiction will fail.

Can I write a show about you? I have an idea of how I think you are. I might ask a consultant before I write the script and call them from time to time. There’s a person I know who used to be in the business. Maybe they can view the pilot for feedback.

You’ll like it, I promise. You don’t mind looking a little crazy though do you? Or some bad decisions? I’ll try not to make you look inept at your job. I wouldn’t want all media professionals to look bad. I care. How is it shaping up, by the way, for the main character on “Black Box”?

Don’t worry, Mr. TV Executive, I can write. I’ll get you your ratings.

 

Wendy K. Williamson is the author of two best-selling books: I’m Not Crazy Just Bipolar and co-author of Two Bipolar Chicks Guide to Survival: Tips for Living with Bipolar Disorder. www.twobipolarchicks.com  www.wendykwilliamson.com

 

 

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2 thoughts on “Black Box Schmlack Box

    • Yes it does. I’m surprised it’s still on the air. I saw it on the “on demand” listing when I was searching for another show. So far fetched and absolutely does us a huge disservice. I feel it sets us back a decade; that is if we were speaking strickly about shows and perception and impact on the public perception.
      Anyway, I don’t blog often, so you know it got under my skin. I was disappointed and found it incredulous the moment she received that standing applause from a room of doctors when she discussed not taking medication blah blah blah and they agreed and gave her a standing ovation. Never would’ve happened. Not now. Not in the past few decades. Not in the next, I suspect. Waaaay waaay off.

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