Friday, July 22, 2011

Playing with disability

“Sadly, the cost associated with taking the medication to control that illness was that he completely lost what he called ‘the pep.’ The pep stemmed from that manic energy that would compel him to just burst out into song and write and create music. Once he started taking the medications, sadly that ended. He was no longer Wild Man Fischer... He became Larry Fischer.”

Yes, it was sad, but for who?

It is bad - and sad - enough - or perhaps I just find it irritating enough - when disabled characters, especially those with psychological illnesses, are portrayed as oh-so cool, even hip. I’m talking about movies like Benny and Joon and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, in which the eternally cool Johnny Depp puts up with being responsible for his schizophrenic brother played by a young, hot Leonardo diCaprio. There’s also Girl, Interupted, in which the hip, pre-shoplifting Winnona Ryder plays a young woman chills out in a mental institution.

I can list other films, but I think you get the point: Being crazy, being a freak can be cool and entertaining, even fun.

However, these are just movies. What about the case of Larry “Wild Man” Fischer, who died last month? According to the large obituary in the Los Angeles Times, Fischer was a mentally ill man who hung out on the streets of Hollywood ranting like many others. But his rants were particularly creative and entertaining and caught the ear of Frank Zappa and other who got him gigs on recordings and shows.

Fischer got to be a star, a cool, hip star of sorts, but this stardom depended on him for being sick, on him being a freak. As conveyed in the quote above by Jeremy Lubin, a documentary filmmaker, when he sought to get more sane and “normal,” he lost the ability to be entertaining. He lost “the pep” and was no longer a star.

Again, who was this sad for? Fischer, who was relieved of the demons in his head, or those entertained by his creative and cool rants?

I have also been thinking of Jared Lochner, charged in the mass shooting in Tuscon in January, who is being held in a mental ward, having been deemed unable to stand trial. That has been a legal fight over whether he can be forced to take drugs that will enable him to stand trial. A court has ruled he can’t be forced to take drugs for this purpose, but I just read this morning that he is apparently being drugged anyway.

This literally doesn’t make sense to me. I don’t know who’s crazier - Lochner, or those who want to dope him up so he can be tried and convicted.


  1. hmmm... i'm not saying it's right, but i thought that if one can be treated medically to be made "competent" to stand trial, the court could do so? and in the absence of medication, wouldn't he be sentenced and treated anyway?

    seems like a catch 22, yeah?

  2. eh, the mentally incompetent are sent to a facility where they may or may not be let's say unable to stand trial. What's worse is the system is designed to let prisoners out on good behavior and the like, but if your insane or act like it with or without meds, the facility or institution you are deemed by court for treatment may be for life, instead of doing time.