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Welcome to Me with Kristen Wiig: Stigmatizing Mental Illness for Laughs

Updated on May 5, 2015

Funny and insensitive


Henri Bergson, a noted French philosopher, wrote a landmark treatise on laughter titled, (translated into English) “Laughter, an essay on the meaning of the comic.”

It was, in essence, a collection of three essays that delved into the matters that promotes laughing as it pertained to the comic and various potential comedic situations.

One of the more standout assertions from his work was that there need be a certain amount of indifference for laughter.

He further felt that it was “difficult for one to laugh if they were fully aware of the serious of a situation.”

Fair enough.

Mocking the Afflicted is Bad Taste

In Welcome to Me, a newly-released comedy film starring Kristen Wiig, the erstwhile queen of laughter during her tenure on Saturday Night Live, she plays a lonely woman on a borderline personality disorder (BPD) disability who goes off her medications then wins a massive amount of lottery money, which she uses to buy herself a TV show.

So, here is where the late Mr. Bergson might find fault with my thinking but I find the notion of someone with a mental illness to the level of a disability and gone of their medications to be one of the most incredibly unfunny situations one can imagine:

  • The National Institute of Mental Health explains that persons with BPD have “problems with regulating emotions and thoughts; impulsive and reckless behavior along with unstable relationships with other people.”

Mental illness, in general, is one of the most expensive health care burdens on the economy, with over fifty seven billion dollars annually going towards treatment and costs from unemployment, “social supports” as well as other indirect costs.

Further worsening the costs are those associated with persons whose mental illness conditions are untreated.

The Stigma Itself

Compounding the challenges with Borderline personality disorder are the long-held stigmas associated with mental illness.

Issues associated with the stigma include social distancing, promotion of the overwhelmingly false concepts that mental illness is a sign of weakness; persons with mental illness are unpredictable and violent.

Most persons with mental illness who pursue and follow treatment can go on to lead productive lives.

That notion seems to escape many in film and television production.

While there are a number of attempts to realistically portray mental illness in movies and TV series, the truth is, the overwhelming amount of those creations are nothing more than negative stereotypes. As a result, they bolster the stigma.

A simple internet search while will bring up lists of many examples of the above-mentioned where one can judge for themselves.

You think you have problems?
You think you have problems?

A Personal Matter

If I am being overly sensitive about the negative treatment of the mentally ill persons, it is because the matter has affected my own life by way of duties in a former job.

It involved standing guard in a hospital emergency room over persons with in various forms of crisis related to their mental illness.

The source of the crisis largely stemmed from those individuals quitting their medications.

Unless you have witnessed such situations up close, you cannot possibly understand how heart breaking they are.

That’s not an overstatement.

The Media's Take

When I write film previews, I do so with the intent of finding some interesting angle that might encourage viewership.

Such was my intent when I learned of the release of this film.

Kristen Wiig is clearly a beautiful and talented actress with a huge legion of fans so I figured there might be a high level of interest in Welcome to Me.

Part of the process includes surveying the available media to find a potential point or points of interest.

A number of articles and reviews into the process, I was stunned by the lack of interest in the subject matter behind the film.

In fact, a number of the writers mislabeled Ms. Wiig’s character’s mental illness as bipolar disorder.

To me, this shows the high level of a lack of awareness.

One of the very view members of the media to approach the matter with a modicum of sensitivity was A.O. Scott of The New York Times.

He said: “To build a comedy around the predicament of a mentally ill main character is to risk either gross insensitivity or a maudlin romanticism that is just as offensive.”

To that end, another article in the same newspaper, by Melina Ryzik, featured an interview with Welcome to Me director, Shira Piven.

Ms. Piven is the wife of Adam McKay who is one of the film’s producers along with longtime collaborator, Will Ferrell.

Piven, in talking about the film, implied approaching the mental illness matter with awareness by way of mentioning having an aunt who struggled with schizophrenia. She said that she had occasions, as a child, to laugh, not at her aunt but “at the absurdity of the situation.”

With all due respect, that’s nowhere close to anything resembling awareness. Because while it is absurd; it is not funny in the least.

Ferrell & McKay don't come across as sensitive types.
Ferrell & McKay don't come across as sensitive types.

Being Realistic

I realize that taking issue with what I perceive as a lack of sensitivity isn’t about to change anything.

It’s clear that people just don’t get it.

To that end, Welcome to Me isn’t likely to win recognized by mental health advocacy groups any time soon.

Simply stated, the powers that be will go on to further endeavors that will earn them morepiles of money because there really is no business like show business.

Welcome to Me, most probably, will be remembered for one particular scene involving Ms. Wiig. I’d mention it but that would definitely broach spoiler alert protocol.

It is naïve of me to think that Hollywood types would take more caution to realize how their actions influence audience opinions and how that, in a wider sense, impacts our culture.

At the end of the day, they are no different than the rest of us. It’s just about making paydays and putting food on the table.

Remember, theirs are ultra-huge paydays and extremely large tables.


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